An Open Letter to My Black Father

I was in the middle of writing a piece about another topic, but seeing everyone out and about with their dads has me really missing mine this Father's Day. Also, with the constant conversation about how dysfunctional the black family is in America and why kids are being accosted by police, I need to refute that stereotype and talk about the presence my dad had in my life. Yeah, we have our shit as a community, but not all of us come from broken homes. So here's an open letter to my Dad.

Dear Daddy,

Nearly sixteen years ago, you suddenly and without warning died. I wasn't prepared at all. I should say, there've been many times that I felt like I wasn't. In hindsight though, many of the adult lessons I've learned and challenges I've faced on my own without parental guidance... are lessons that I would've been ill-equipped to learn if not for your sufficient foundation. You did prepare me, I now realize.

A good amount of my positive attributes came from you, Keith Chisolm. Some of the negative ones too. You always told me, "You ain't shit if your word isn't." And it's true.

What I miss most about you is how much bigger than life you were. You were one of the most mesmerizing conversationalists. I learned all my vocabulary from you. What I loved about you was that you were so worldly from real life experiences. You had a blue-collar job and only finished a year of community college, but were more eloquent than most people I know to this day. And you were from "Bed-Stuy-Do-Or-Die," so you totally knew how to keep it street simultaneously. No one could give me a tongue lashing the way you did... laced with so many $10,000 words that I knew you'd easily rock a perfect SAT verbal score... yet doused with enough profanity that any sailor would wince.

What was best about you though was your constant, unrelenting evolution as a man. As a parent, you'd admit your own shortcomings and tell me to learn from your misdoings. Hence my need to to be authentic, true and self-accountable through any obstacle.

When I look back on all that I learned by being your son, I think it was meant to go this way. I recall how you commandeered my seventh grade science project; making me pose the question, "Was AIDS man-made?" as you wanted me to understand the implications of lack of treatment for certain populations during the Reagan years. And how whenever my friends and I would get caught in neighborhood mischief, you were always the parent who would be called versus others. Our neighbors knew you were the parent who'd not only put his foot in my ass..., but also would bring me to their homes to apologize for whatever havoc our shenanigans created. Sometimes I'd cry, "But Daddy, it wasn't me!! I was just there when they did it!!!" And you'd say, "What have I always told you? Condemnation by association. Either steer your friends right or make yourself scarce when they act." Self-accountability and self-determination were things you were adamant about. You were an ex-con from your teens to early 20s and made no secret of your own past mistakes. You taught me that the only way to be better is to own up to my actions and to continually do better; encouraging others to do the same.

Maybe this is why I've never been one for pretense. I recently had a conversation with an acquaintance who remarked that he could never seriously date a woman who made less than a certain amount of money or who wasn't of a certain "standing." When I said none of that matters to me, he balked, "How can you say that!?!" I replied, "I wasn't raised to care about pedigrees. I could date a man who pumped gas for a living... if he did so with integrity and honesty and realized that he is just one part of a whole universe not limited to his own microcosm... is respectful of that and knows that he is just one interdependent part of a whole grand scheme where we're all connected. People's worth comes from who they are. Some of the best, brightest people are what you'd see as common. My dad drove the A-train, but to hear him speak you'd think he had a doctorate in linguistics. He was magnetic, eloquent and profound. You can learn from anyone. When I think about who I want in my life... it's people who realize that worth doesn't come from where you grew up, how much money you had or where you went to school. People who are unapologetically themselves, proud and confident, but also humble... who realize that there's always more they can learn from others."

Thank you, Daddy. I hope that everyday I can be just that kind of person that you taught me to value.

Love you always... until the end of time,