Hilly, Kobe, Healing: An Open Letter to Black People on Father’s Day 2020

“Embrace the “beautiful struggle” of our existence, persistence, and resistance.

Fourteen years ago this week, I became a father overnight. On Sunday, June 18, 2006, I said “I do” to my beautiful bride, Bobbie, and I also officially said “I will” to Jalen, our handsome 12-year-old son, who walked his mom down the aisle, with Bobbie’s father on her other side. It was a Father’s Day and I not only became a husband, but that day I publicly accepted the calling to be a dad to a young man who had tragically lost his father to cancer a few years prior.

It was an exciting day for Bobbie, Jalen and me as our new family formed, yet there was complexity, as is common with blended family transitions. Most of our complexity came from navigating the vitriol of those struggling to accept that Bobbie had found love again—and of all people, love again, with me.

Shift

Bobbie’s first husband and Jalen’s father, Mandell (affectionately known to many as ‘Hilly’) was an amazing man. His death had shaken many in our small community. Ironically, Hilly’s battle with cancer intersected with the tragedy and ‘shift’ of September 11th, 2001. After Hilly passed in 2003, the subsequent disillusionment and displacement that many in our small community felt was not entirely dissimilar to the shift that others may feel now as a result of Covid-19 and the uprisings for justice—a new normal was upon us and life would never be the same.

Our marriage—our new normal—ruffled feathers. It was a unique time in life, an odd season. I was young. I quickly learned the difference between relatives and family, friends and frien(d)emies. People literally asked me prior to our wedding if I felt I had to compete with Hilly. There were no comparisons to be made on our end. Just a new season.

I knew, loved, and missed Hilly too. Bobbie had cared for and loved Hilly in sickness and in health; over time, she had healed and accepted that she could only go as far as the grave with him. She was ready to love again, and she was grateful to again have a life partner to raise Jalen. She never wanted to raise a young black boy by herself.

Black Dad Anniversary

I never wanted a blended family; I knew blended families could work based on my own unique family

Hilly and Jalen.

journey; but my dream was to have a “normal family,” consistent with my picket-fenced vision of all my children having the same last name. And I certainly didn’t want to set myself up for a young man to be able to say to me–as I once rudely said to my dad who adopted me– “you’re not my daddy!” But I loved Bobbie. I believed that she was the one that I had prayed for. And I loved Jalen and I knew I was called to do for Jalen what my dad did for me: to love, raise, and accept someone else’s son as my own. Many black men do this. Brothers, I see you. I appreciate you.

So my anniversary of marriage is also the anniversary of becoming a dad; my personal Father’s Day.

In addition to being the best husband I could be, I was determined to honor Hilly’s legacy by committing to do the best I could to raise his/ our son. Before the wedding, I took Jalen to visit his dad’s gravesite. We each picked three flowers at different points along the motorcycle ride to the grassy hill where his dad rests—one flower for his dad, one for Jalen, and one for me. It was there that we sat, we reflected, we prayed and we committed to each other one more time before he shared his mom with me and walked her down the aisle.

I was no longer “Ty” to him; he had chosen to give me the name “Daddy-O,” a name I loved from the start.

A lot has changed in 14 years. A lot has changed in 4 months! Jalen is finishing university and he is now a big brother to his doting little brother, Essien—our handsome 12 year old, and budding soccer player. Essien’s admiration for Jalen is such that when I recently asked him where he gets his athletic ability from—assuming he would proudly say ‘you, dad’ —he said “Jalen!”

So what does this have to do with Kobe Bryant?

Kobe, COVID, and Me

Well, January 26, 2020 was another one of those ‘shifting’ days for the world, for us, for sport, for fathers. Jalen’s 26th birthday was on January 26th. Bobbie, Essien, and I had already facetimed with him to celebrate his birthday! We are big sports fans in our house, especially soccer. Jalen and I are Lakers fans. We loved Kobe.

Young Hilly, and Baby Jalen.

When Kobe’s helicopter tragically crashed on Sunday, January 26th, 2020, Jalen was the first person to call me to share the sad news. His deep manly voice could not conceal the concern. I instantly knew something was wrong.

“Daddy-O, did you hear about Kobe?”

“What happened to Kobe?” I retorted with alarm.

“He died.”

The news sucked the joy out of Jalen’s birthday and the restaurant I was in as news quickly spread. News of the passing of Gigi—Kobe’s daughter, and the others on the helicopter compounded our grief. Named after Jalen Rose like so many others of his generation, I could sense in my Jalen’s voice that Kobe’s death ‘hit different.’

This wasn’t just about the passing of a basketball legend; it was the loss of a #girldad, a husband, a beautifully, imperfect Black man who we got to see transition from youthful exuberance on the court to responsible satisfaction in life beyond basketball.

More than this, there were some airy parallels for Jalen’s loss of Kobe on his 26th birthday on the 26th. Hilly died at 41 and Kobe was 41. Kobe looked like Hilly, like seriously! The eyes, chiseled nose and all. Had Kobe lived beyond 41, Jalen probably could have gotten a glimpse of what his dad would have looked like in old age. But that was snatched away on his birthday.

Father’s Day That Hits Differently

So much has been taken from all of us since then, COVID-19 canceled much of our normal. We’ve lost Armaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and many others to the bullets and knees of racist police and systems that make it difficult for Black folks to breathe.

And yet, we are still here. Still strategizing. Still marching. Still fighting. Still demanding justice and systematic change. Still taking care of our children and “other people’s children” too, in the words of renown educator Lisa Delpit. We’ve had to homeschool and reorganize. We’ve had to share space, and wifi bandwidth, and extended time with our families—our Black families; and while it has been hard for many of us, we are still here. And we needed this time to remember that our ancestors endured so that we could be here.

This Father’s Day will likely ‘hit different’ than any other. It should. We’ve been through a lot. But I also hope it will be a Father’s Day that heals. A Father’s Day when we “Embrace the B.S.”—the “beautiful struggle” of our existence, persistence, and resistance. The “beautiful struggle” of our uniquely conjoined family arrangements, identities, accents and cultural accoutrements. The struggle of father loss, father gain, fatherhood, father strain, father pain, father joy.

Beautiful Struggle

The beauty of “I’m sorry,” of a text message to a distant dad, of forgiveness of self and others, of release from the wounds of long, life journeys. The beauty of a walk, of a talk, of a meal, of a smile, of silence—no violence, of hope, of healing. The beautiful struggle and gift of reflection, reconnection and resurrection of the possibility and promise that irrespective of whether your earthly father has been present, your Heavenly Father has always been with you!

This is the beautiful struggle of our individual and collective lives and existence; lives that matter—whether your father has been amazing and ‘there’ or whether the relationship has been a cause of despair. You matter. Black lives matter. Black fathers matter. Black mothers matter. Black children matter. Black families matter and we goin’ be alright!

RIP Kobe and Gigi…RIP Hilly. RIP to all our fathers and forefathers, whether they stood or were misunderstood. May God cover and comfort all of our children and families on this Father’s Day.

 




Good Fathers: Today and Tomorrow

#FromTheVault

This tough, demanding role calls for creative partnerships.

Fatherhood, a time-honored role, is presently in such a state of flux that many men, especially black men, hardly know how to handle it effectively. The medias has greatly distorted fathering with the use of such situation comedies as All in the Family and the not-so-good Good Times. With the increased independence of women and greater emphasis on children’s rights, fatherhood in the future surely will be one of the most demanding and creative roles a man will ever play. Successful fathers must possess the following qualities: a high degree of spirituality, respect for women, a balance in career goals, and responsibility for influence.

The successful father will accept the fact that as a human he is totally unable to direct and mold rightly the lives of his children without divine guidance. In matters of morality, the media is corrupt, the government compromised, and the church inconsistent. How can a father counsel his children against pre-marital sex when the Supreme Court has declared abortion on demand to be legal? With the large number of television programs, books, magazines, and popular songs promoting compromising or immoral behavior, a father must look to others sources for moral standards.

The effective father of the future must be firmly grounded in the Word of God. He must learn about the lives of Bible characters and teach his family about their failures and successes. His children must be familiar with great Bible truths and believe that the enabling power of the Holy Spirit can help them to live out these great truths as they run the gauntlet of temptations common to youth.

Constant prayer for wisdom characterizes the daily life of the effective father. The first fact every father must accept is that he is grossly unprepared for the many decisions before him. Only by bowing in humility before the heavenly Father can there be even a remote chance of true success. Indeed, the creative solutions to tough family problems have often been resolved, not through might or money or compromise but through divine inspiration and direction.

Fathering is but half the parenting process. Mothering is the other half. Many fathers have overlooked the fact that the best mothering is done by a woman who feels her husband respects, trusts, and appreciates her. Many a marriage and home have been destroyed because the mother felt that either she was left alone to make all the decisions or that she wasn’t involved in major decisions.

It is not wise of think of oneself as a successful father if the mother is not allowed to reach her full potential. Fathering, in the sider sense, includes supporting and encouraging the mother. The roles of a mother or father, as we have traditionally learned them, in many cases have changed dramatically. It’s important that both parents seek to support each other and do what is necessary to promote, nurture, and advance the family unit.

The effective father must be grounded in the Word of God.

Fathers who understand this relationship can then find joy in the challenge of dirty diapers, soiled dishes, unwashed clothes, and messy bedrooms. Fathers who help with the constant, repetitive, and often boring tasks of keeping house allow the mother to spend quality time with the children and also allow her the have cherished moments for rest and reflection. Too few fathers know the limitless joy of marital bliss when the mother is allowed to go to bed early and the father stays up to take care of the supper dishes, give nightly baths if needed, and do other exhausting evening activities before joining her.

For many men, the most difficult area of fathering is balancing career objectives with family commitments and responsibilities. Currently, fathers are measured by society on their ability to provide creature comforts and material possessions. A man who refuses to provide for his family obviously needs counseling. However, the father who provides every material need and want, yet fails to spend quality time with his family is planting the seeds of discontent and restlessness. There is no real wisdom in being a workaholic in order to acquire that home, that business, that vacation when, after having acquired it, the family doesn’t enjoy the “thing” because they really don’t enjoy the father, who by now has become nervous, ill-tempered, and restless.

The successful father will consistently have to do what many may consider very unwise. During the family’s formative years, the father will need to balance career goals with the emotional and spiritual needs of his family. He will not take a job, regardless of the pay, if the environment is harmful for the children. He will not recklessly move to a new area if his wife’s job or objectives might be severely affected. The father realizes that jobs come and go and that his first job is to promote well-being and contentment in his family. Moreover, what is the advantage of gaining a major career promotion and losing the sense of family that the promotion was supposedly going to improve? It is better to rear a successful and well-adjusted family than to start and run the world’s largest business.

Finally, the successful father will accept responsibility for his influence on those not of his home. Through his behavior, attitudes, deportment, and philosophy the successful father must attempt to demonstrate to other fathers the potentials for successful fatherhood.

In the church, in the school, on the job, and on the playing field, he will encourage the principles of toleration, compassion, strength, kindness, and generosity. He knows that the world needs men who are true to such family principles. He will seek ways to uplift, encourage, and help those in his circle of influence, as well as direct them to his heavenly Father. A variation of a slogan used by the Marines seems appropriate here: “The world is looking for a few good fathers.” Will you be one?