Father’s Day And The Ghosts of Negroes Past


Daddy as a toddler

Last year, I wrote a post about my father and why I dread Father’s Day each year. This year is no different. I started working up a to a sad two weeks ago, particularly because this is the second year in a row that Father’s Day has been preceded by strange occurrences.

Early last year, a good friend of mine passed and that was horrible. And this year, I’ve had a parade of Ghosts of Broke-Down Negroes Past to contact me. (GBDNP for short.) It seemed that every man I had dated since college showed up. Yes, I did say, “What. The. Hell?”

Men from fifteen or more years ago, when I didn’t know how to dress, wore unfortunate hairdos, and didn’t have an emotional backbone to speak of.  In particular, one past GBDNP “friended” me on Facebook. He was the only man out of my past collection that would have been suitable as a mate, at least on the surface. He was smart, hard-working, seriously pretty—and dark brown-skinned, unlike my daddy (which used to be very, very important to me when I was younger. Not so much now.) Problem was, this GBDNP was completely lowdown, and in addition, he was one of them intellectual, double-talking Inscrutable Chocolate Sensei types that you’re never going to get any apology or emotional truth from.

Usually, past lovers showing up doesn’t bother me. Once we’ve had a real relationship, a GBDNP never gets another chance to make a fool out of me, not matter how fine and chocolate he is. After all, if he had acted right I would have never broken up with him in the first place; we’d be married right now with some Inscrutable Chocolate Juniors running around.

After my last conversation with this particular GBDNP, though, I started having strange dreams of my daddy. In past dreams, I’m terrified of my father; then, I end up fighting him in the dream. I’m hitting him or kicking him, and it doesn’t take a therapist to figure out that’s all my anger coming out.

But in dream of a few days ago, we were sitting in a car going somewhere and he was trying to talk to me, calmly; he put his hand on my arm for emphasis–gently, not in a pushy way–but I kept talking loudly right over him. “I’m not trying to hear that, Daddy,” I said. “So please just shut up right now. And don’t be sitting so close to me, neither. You stay over there on your side of the seat.”

Before this, I hadn’t had a dream of my father in a few months, and I haven’t had one to disturb me in about a year, not since I experienced what I think of as my “womanhood epiphany.” Yet here I was, letting my father bother me again, after he’d been dead for twenty-five years. I woke up from that dream completely sad and drained. My bones felt heavy. Then, I started coming down with a cold, even though I had been taking vitamins and taking good care of myself.

And so, finally, I decided it was time to do what I’d resisted for so long: forgive my father.

I’ve thought about forgiveness for years, but couldn’t get there. No matter how much I loved my daddy, he wasn’t a nice man, at least not inside our home.  There was no happiness in that home; the only happiness I remember is from visiting my mother’s family Down South in Eatonton, GA. I never wanted those summers to end.

The happiness I have in my life now is not the kind you might imagine, where you effortlessly float into  joy as a natural consequence of wisdom. I’ve met some of those naturally wise people and frankly, sometimes they get on my last damned nerve, all that  serenity and whatnot.

No, since my childhood, every bit of happiness I possess, I have clawed for. It was a bare-knuckled, back-alley fight, and I was determined to be happy to spite my father. I wanted to show him that he had not succeeded in destroying me. Every time something good in my life happened, I would talk to his spirit and say, “See, I told you so, Daddy. I won. You didn’t.”

Of course, I know that’s not healthy, so don’t be shaking your head at me right now. I didn’t say it was healthy. I said it was a fight.

And in the same way I fought for happiness for myself, I fought against forgiveness of my father. My resistance had a lot to do with the anguish I saw raining down on my family, so much of it because my father hadn’t dealt with his own pain, but expected us to put up with his meanness out of a sense of his own emotional entitlement. He denied his wife and children the knowledge of his insides and then blamed us because we didn’t understand him. He would be so nice, and then, a sudden rage would come out of nowhere. I learned to be constantly on edge as a child and not to trust anyone.

After my father died, several Brothers that I dated stood in for my father in different ways. I tried to understand them and carry their emotional loads, too, hoping that would make them treat me better.  But sometimes, I thought about my emotional load. Besides Jesus, what Black man had ever gone out of his way to know me? What about my pain? What about my feelings of not being a full woman in this racist society?

Certainly, the message I received from my father was that I wasn’t lovable, pretty enough, or a good girl. As an adult, I retreated into my rage against Black men.  I decided if Brothers wanted to do me wrong, and then, when I got an attitude, call me “an angry Black woman”, I would oblige them and then some. Just try me and see how angry I could get. I can’t tell you the number of Black men that I have verbally eviscerated using the defense of “don’t start none, won’t be none;” there used to be nothing that gave me greater pleasure than to take a Black man’s pride from him. I admit it, and I can’t say I’m sorry. But once I grew emotionally, going toe to toe with anyone took too much energy. Sure I go off still, but far more rarely these days.

A while back, I’d stopped trying to get present boyfriends carry the burden of my childhood pain, but I learned these past few weeks that no matter how much I have grown, and fought for happiness and peace, the past was going to keep coming back, if I didn’t finally deal with it.  As one of mentors likes to say, there are no accidents. Even if I couldn’t give the burden to anyone, it was still there.

I knew it was time to forgive. This was the final frontier.

When I rose yesterday morning, I had to remind myself that I’m forgiving Daddy not because I am making amends to him and/or saying he was a good person and a Positive, Strong Black Man. He was what he was, good, bad, and in between, and he hurt me terribly.  But a grown woman doesn’t find her joy to spite somebody, even a mean somebody; she finds joy to celebrate herself.

As Lucille Clifton (my favorite poet) wrote once, “Won’t you celebrate with me/what I have shaped/into a kind of life?”

Forgiving my daddy completely—which might take a long, long time—doesn’t mean what happened between him and me was okay. It means that I finally can lay this burden down, by the riverside, the roadside, or outside my house before I walk into the sanctuary of my home.  And that doesn’t mean that I won’t remember what happened in my childhood. It just means, what happened won’t have anymore power over me.

2 thoughts on “Father’s Day And The Ghosts of Negroes Past

  1. If you lived near me, I would want to hug you now. I am crying for you now and also for the little girl you were, the young woman you were, yet I know you have just made a very positive decision in your life. I wish only the best for you and wish for the pain to go away. Love, Barbara

  2. A poignant piece and one that many can identify with when they were children and are still struggling with as adults today. Peace to you and remember as Toni Morrison states that “you are your best thing”!

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