Last year, my father sent me a “Happy Father’s Day” text message. It might have been the funniest, yet most ironic text message that I’ve ever received. I didn’t reply. I couldn’t think of an adequate response; that “Eat a dick” response was waiting in the draft folder though. If it’s not obvious by now, my father wasn’t really around while I was a kid.
Of course you know how the story goes; moms made due. Since he wasn’t around he wasn’t kicking up any dollars either so it’s safe to assume I missed a few pairs of Air Jordan’s growing up. I wasn’t rocking Payless sneakers but the air bubble on my Nike’s were way less prominent than the ones my classmates were wearing. Somehow, someway, I managed to get Christmas and birthday presents every year. There was always food in the fridge and we never had to make tomato soup out of old McDonald’s ketchup packets or eat mayo sandwiches. My jeans always touched my shoes and my feet never managed to bust out of a pair those Nike’s. I wasn’t really lacking financial support as a kid so I can’t say because my dad wasn’t around I was missing meals or wearing hand me downs. It still would have been nice to say that I had a few pairs of these retro J’s when they first came out too, though.
Now, I’m not one of those guys that can’t point out my father in a room full of Black men. I know exactly what he looks like. I have about 3 (maybe 4) concrete physical memories of this guy prior to my 18th birthday. Mostly, he bullshitted me over the phone talking about how my mother was keeping him from me and how he couldn’t wait until I was 18 to make my own choices and move in with him. The funny thing about my mother “keeping me away from him” was that he knew where I lived and went to school. And to top it off he had free reign to call the house. Honest to God, if Martin Lynch’s name popped up on the caller ID my mother would hand me the phone. Remember those stories of the kid sitting on the front steps waiting for a dad who never came? Yep, he got me with that one a few times.
Because of my upbringing, I'd never say that a woman can’t raise a man because here I am as a product of a single parent household. Make no doubt about it; I am a grown ass man. With that being said, there are still things that can’t be conveyed to a boy coming up the way another man can. The local drug dealers taught me how to go about talking to women. Real talk, if it wasn’t for the niggas dealing death in my community I’d probably still be handing out “Do you like me? check yes or no” notes. Well… most likely not, but I have to credit a good share of the cheeks I acquired from the ages of 15 thru 19 to the dudes repping 11th and Girard. My Uncle Glen gave me my first beer and taught me how to ride a bike. My Uncle Rennie showed me how to drive then years later taught me how to drive a stick. The Mini Page in the Washington Post taught me how to tie a Windsor knot so I pretty much picked up my manly lessons where I could.
For instance, I remember growing up watching shaving commercials with the white men using razors; it’s very rare to see a black man in a Gillette ad. Those white men led me astray with those Mach 3 razors because my face was leaking like a faucet and that white shaving cream was pink when it hit the sink. My first few shaving experiences were like slap boxing with Edward Scissorhands. And speaking of fighting, since pops wasn’t around to show me the “old one two” all my training was on the job. Shouts out to fight club, better known as Eugene Meyer Elementary. A few busted lips and bloody noses got my hands all the way together so no worries, pops.
I have a little girl and I can’t see being away from her. She drives me up a fucking wall most days and costs me a small fortune but I couldn’t see it any other way. I couldn’t live with my daughter feeling about me the same way I feel about my father. I don’t hate the dude or wish him ill will; I just give zero fucks about him. If I got the “Your dad passed away” call I’m almost 100% sure my response would be “Welp” and if my daughter didn’t care if I was breathing or not it would kill me. Now that I think about I’m kind of glad he wasn’t around; I think I’m just that much better of a father because I know exactly what not to do.
Thanks for busting the nut though.
Jean DeGrate is an Uptown DC native. Like most great thinkers of our time, he got his start writing on MySpace enlightening strippers and ratchets before they were a 'thing'. You can find him on the streets of DC looking fresh as hell in the case the feds are watching and clowning folks who think that means being Gucci down to the socks. And if you're looking for him on social media, the name's always the same - @JeanDeGrate.