A Father's Kiss

I was walking through the airport and I was stopped in my tracks by images on television -- no sound -- just images: several rotating photos of a black man, middle-aged, dark brown-skinned, thick beard, wearing a baseball hat, with eyes that smiled strongly with pride as he kissed, hard, affectionately, and without restraint, the face of a black teenaged boy. It was the possessive, knowing, protective kiss of a father to his son. The image touched me as it reminded me of the way my father kissed me as a child and still kisses me as a man -- this is an image that is all too infrequently shown in our media. I was so captivated by the man's face that I didn't focus on the teenage boy's face. As my eyes moved to his face, I realized it was Trayvon Martin.

Imagine if the media did not portray images of black boys as aggressive, but instead, we were pervaded with images of black boys being kissed and held, as Trayvon was by his father, Mr. Martin. Imagine if the images of black boys that we were inundated with were not those of threats, but those of gentle children. Imagine if young black boys, instead of being told in urban communities to act like men, were supported to be what they are, children and boys. Imagine if norms of manhood allowed even more fathers to shower their sons with emotion and love. Mr. Martin has spoken of the loss of his son as losing his "heart and soul." He has said that one "never moves on" from such a loss. His words remind me of my grandmother, who when burying her second child, though both were grown men at the times of their deaths, told me it was "unnatural" and a "bitter pill to swallow."

Mr. Martin's proud and brave grieving, his unapologetic emotion in the face of a grievous loss, runs counter to the image of the black man as stone faced and without emotion. All too often black men believe that to show emotion is to show weakness. However, rage and anger are accepted expressions and characteristics of the hyper-masculine man -- and these are of course emotions. The lesson Mr. Martin displays is a powerful one; that emotion, pain, love and mourning are not signs of weakness, but signs of strength and of wholeness and of manhood. I am profoundly fortunate to have learned this lesson from my father. Trayvon, in his short life, was profoundly fortunate to have such as father as well.

My father kissed me hello and goodbye when I was a boy. He continues to kiss my brother and me as men. My brother and I are both over six feet, both over 200 pounds -- strong black men. And still today, I notice people on the street who look twice when my father kisses us. When I was a boy and my father would take us to elementary school and kiss us goodbye for the day, some fellow students, corrupted by their own misguided images of manhood, would taunt me and call me a "faggot." When my older brother would kiss me goodbye, they would do the same. After several fights the taunts stopped, but I remained aware that I had been raised by my parents differently from how so many others were raised.

This more human image of black manhood can save our black boys from so much internalized pain, from so much loss of self, and make them whole. This showering of love allows black boys to be children, to learn to be strong and properly heal from the trauma that all humans face in their lifetime. Unfortunately, this open love from black men to their children cannot protect black boys from violence, and racism, and prejudice and guns. Trayvon's life was taken by one historical legacy and image -- black boys being seen as threats. There is nothing that can be done to bring him back, but the inspiring image of Mr. Martin can be remembered to advance an all too infrequently highlighted image of black fatherhood: Mr. Martin loving, and kissing and embracing his son -- his boy, a child, as my father did with me.