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A FATHER'S JOY 

 

 

By Mark Anthony Neal

 

Saturday/Sunday, October 4-5, 2008.

 

“…in the sun, she dances to silent music/songs that are spun of gold somewhere in her own little head/One day all too soon, she’ll grow up and she’ll leave her dolls and her prince and her silly old bear/when she goes they will cry as they whisper goodbye/they will miss her I fear, but then so will I

 

“Waltz for Debby” as performed by Johnny Hartman
(music by Bill Evans; lyrics by Gene Lees)


I can’t believe it’s been a decade since we first brought you home. I don’t think your mother and I have ever told you how much of a surprise you were; we simply didn’t see you coming. We had wished and prayed for a long time for a baby—and suddenly there was that phone call a decade ago that made you a possibility. There was little time for preparation.


You spent the first weeks of your life with a foster family in upstate New York; good folk, perhaps, who home-schooled their children and attended church daily—you in fact spent the evening of your third day on this earth at a church service. They seemed quite amazed about what a pretty little brown girl you were. We visited you in your second week, and I stand by my recollection that you pulled my eyeglasses off of my face.

 

Even then, there was just something about your eyes—you were asking questions with your eyes well before there were words to match your curiosity. It’s like what the Old Man said to Hawk, curiosity surrounds you like a landscape.

 

I am reminded of our recent bike outing on the American Tobacco Trail (I’m still recovering, BTW) and when I suggested we bring our Ipods along the next time, you said, “but then I couldn’t talk to you.” It seems it was like that even from the beginning.


The night before we were to become a family, your mother and I traveled back to
New York City. We had so little time (or money for that matter) to prepare for your arrival, but your Aunt Sonja and Uncle Frank opened up their hearts and gave us many of the things that nurtured your god-sister Imani in her first year. I still remember listening to the Met game on the radio driving back to Guilderland that night.

 

The next day we headed to Cortland, NY. I can’t even explain the sense of terror I felt, putting you in the car seat that first time and the sudden realization that all of our lives would never be the same.

 

Your mother remembers you awakening from a quick nap on the car ride home and simply letting out a small exhale when you saw us. Perhaps you already understood that we were a family. We named you after the first initials of our first names. In Hebrew your name means, “one who was taken from the water” and how fitting it was. (and yes, I just got the text you sent me).


I can’t believe that it’s been ten years. You should know that I think about you and your sister often. I have playlist on my Ipod called Whurl-A-Gurls that I listen to when I start to miss the two of you and it’s not just those times that I’m traveling, but some days I start to miss the two of you just five minutes after I’ve dropped you off to school.

 

It’s a reminder that every day the time we get to spend with each other is one day less; a reminder that each moment the two of you will need your mother and I even less. Right now I’m listening Chrisette Michele’s “Your Joy” and about to cry. That happens often enough, like when we watched the video for “Yes We Can” together for the first time and you only commented, that it would be nice to have a woman president.

 

And I’m again reminded of the songs you asked me to put on your Ipod, like Alicia Keys’s “Superwomen” and again reminded that I promised to finally work on your blog—Chocolate Granola Gurl.

 

I imagine that there are a long list of promises that I’ve made to you these past years that you simply pack away close to your heart, knowing my intent, even when I don’t deliver.

 

It’s one of the traps of modern parenting—my dad knew better than to promise anything other than a roof over my head, food in my belly and an example of how to be a man—a black man—and he kept his promise until the day he went home. I was so proud of you the morning of his going home service, reading scripture and comforting your own dad; I simply couldn’t believe how grown you had become on that snowy morning last February.

I really just wanted to let you know that I’m thinking about you. Hopefully we’ll spend some time tomorrow celebrating our annual family day—in commemoration of our decade as a family—over ice cream or maybe even Locopops.

 

Daddy may not always show it, but he loves you, and he’s had to take some time to really understand how difficult this really difficult year has been for a 10-year-old brown girl, who just wants to know that her daddy will always be there to talk to.

 

Love,

 

Daddy.

 

MARK ANTHONY NEAL is the author of four books: What the Music Said: Black Popular Music and Black Public Culture (1998), Soul Babies: Black Popular Culture and the Post-Soul Aesthetic (2002), Songs in the Keys of Black Life: A Rhythm and Blues Nation (2003) and New Black Man: Rethinking Black Masculinity (2005). Neal is also the co-editor (with Murray Forman) of That’s the Joint!: The Hip-Hop Studies Reader (2004).

 

He is a Professor of Black Popular Culture in the Department of African and African American Studies at Duke University. A frequent commentator for America's National Public Radio’s News and Notes with Farai Chideya Neal also contributes to several on-line media outlets, including NewsOne.com. Neal’s blog “Critical Noir” appears at VibeMagazine.com. He also blogs as NewBlackMan.

 

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