Since we’re all stuck (or should be) inside the house for the foreseeable future (despite various projected goals for peak contagion and flattening curves—shoutouts to the homies Dr. Fauci and Dr. Birx, y’all some real ones), the amount of movies and television shows being watched is about to put Netflix on par with Earth, Wind and Fire as a natural element of survival. I’m pretty sure there are others, but doing a Google search for “natural elements” leads to very confusing results so for simplicity’s sake, if Maurice White didn’t call it a thing, it ain’t a thing. Rest in paradise.
Last week, while perusing this new natural element, I came across the newly released Netflix Original movie Uncorked, which is about a young black man from Memphis, Tenn. named Elijah (played by Mamoudou Athie) who is the heir-apparent to a barbecue business though his dream is to become a sommelier. His father, Louis (Courtney B. Vance) is less than supportive of his son’s goals, as he’s been priming him to help expand and eventually take over the family business, as a young Louis did. It turns out, a young Louis dropped out of college—at his father’s request—to help his father and take over the family business. Mixed in with some hilarious family moments, fabulous black father one-liners from Louis, and support from his mother Sylvia (Niecey Nash), Uncorked is a good film with some solid performances, comedy where needed, and heartfelt moments that keep you emotionally invested.
While the movie is largely about a young man’s desire to step into his passion, at its core, it’s really about a father who wants one thing for his son, and a son who wants to forge his own path and the up-and-down relationship that exists between them over choices and life decisions. Even while watching, you can’t help but want Louis to support Elijah, who is just trying to gain his father’s approval to be himself. While watching this movie, and engaging in various Facebook discussions with people who had a similar familial struggle to Elijah, it made me reflect on my own relationship with my father.
Because it wasn’t anything like that.
While I was watching the movie, I mentioned to my wife how interesting it is to watch stories like this that I know are true and tensions that are clearly real, while not being able to relate at all. See, my father, as quiet a man as he is, has pretty much been supportive of everything I’ve attempted to do. And that’s not to say that he’s been an active participant during every journey—I’d wager that the vast majority of my family had no idea about VerySmartBrothas.com until well past the point where we could be deemed successful—but never once have I been told that I needed to do this, or that certain expectations existed for me. In fact, I feel like my entire relationship with my father and his belief and support for me can best be summed up by this story that frustrated me for years that I’ll bet my father doesn’t even remember.
Once upon a time not long ago (that’s a lie, it was probably fifteen years ago, at this point), I was visiting my parents at home in Madison, Ala., for some reason. I have zero recollection of why I was there, but it’s not important. What is important is this: My father decided to take me to the airport that particular day.
Some quick backstory: My father is one of those people who has largely left me to my own devices. Whatever I’ve wanted to do, my folks have let me do it, from taking instrument lessons to quitting them, to sports to theater, etc. Even when I was deciding on college there wasn’t a lot of push and pull about where I was going to go. It was all my decision. They were there to help out with whatever was needed but I was given a lot of leeway on a lot of things. What I do remember my father being adamant about was me picking up a major that would ensure that I was able to get a job after graduation, like engineering or math. When I went to college I started out as an engineering major and switched to economics, but with a math track. I then went to graduate school for public policy at a school that had a fairly rigorous statistical track. All so I could find a job, which I did. I found a job that had me working with numbers that was putting my degrees to use. Mission accomplished.
Back to that car ride with my father. It’s about fifteen minutes from my parents’ house to Huntsville International Airport. Knowing my father, it was probably a pretty quiet car ride. And then out of nowhere, he broke the silence as he is wont to do with a random question or statement that seems to come out of nowhere, as this did:
“Son, do you ever think you focused on all the wrong stuff in life? You’re good at music and writing and theater and artsy stuff. Do you think you should have done that instead of what you’re doing now? It doesn’t seem like you like your job much.”
Mind you, I decided to go the direction I did because of his guidance and suggestion to make sure I could get a job, and here goes my father wondering if I should have just done something that would have truly made me happy. Needless to say, I was annoyed as hell, while also laughing at the fact that my own father, in his own way, was telling me how much talent he thought I had and that if I wanted to do something else, he’d be supportive of that.
That came to mind while watching Uncorked; I wasn’t familiar with a life where one of my parents actively thwarted my dreams. My life was quite the opposite, but I know that it’s a reality for many folks; social media has shown me that. I owe a thanks to my father for that, for giving me the freedom to be my best self in whatever endeavor I chose.
It’s freeing. And freedom. And I appreciate my father for that. Even if I was mad as hell in the moment he wondered aloud if I shouldn’t be doing something better with my time and making me question my entire educational career. It’s funny how love works sometimes.