A looooooong time ago my dear friend Amy Juicebox tarted a social media campaign called “Love Letters to Black Men” – a way for Black women to show support during a sensitive time when Black men were increasingly under attack (quite literally, in many cases). She asked me (and countless other Black women) to write a love letter to Black men. And well, I never completed the task. I just didn’t know where to start. It’s such a huge task to sum up my love of the men who raised me, taught me, inspire me, motivate me, and most importantly love me. I didn’t revisit this task until my aunt asked members of my family to contribute to a memory book that will be given to my Father on his next birthday (in a few weeks – the day after mine). It took many hours, many tears, and many laughs to complete my contribution for my Dad’s memory book. It’s a love letter. I love Black men because of the love and respect I have for my Dad. Everything he is encompasses a rich Black history, Black experiences, Black thought, Black pride, Black beauty. I love Black people because my Black father loved me and I love my Black self.
For many who follow me on Twitter, you may have heard me discuss the hilarious antics of Papa Gem. My Father’s larger than life persona is quite legendary (among his circle of family/friends, my mom’s circles, my brother’s circles, and certainly my circles) and yet he’s a complete mystery to me, wrapped in an enigma, encased in a riddle. Locked in a cryptex. He’s a constant, finite force, while altogether surprising and unpredictable. And since my Father can’t be confined to the type of simple linear regression models (i.e. a straight line) he solves in his spare time “for fun”, neither should my love letter to him. So here it goes…*
Dad, it’s easy to say “I love you” but hard to say what that means or how that feels. Defining words with more words is more an exercise of flipping through a hard-covered dictionary (and though I much prefer dictionary.com these days, I still have the dictionary you bought me when I went off to college) than of defining feelings in a manner someone else can understand. You taught me that what you say and how you say it, is of utmost importance. Whether reciting timeless verses of Robert Frost (voice inflections, the right emphasis on the right words, and hand/face gestures are important details) or supporting an argument for why rap music will not rot one’s brain (it won’t, trust me, I’m a doctor), expression of words requires thoughtfulness, animus, and grit. And a dictionary. So when I tell you I love you, I’m telling you my mind is replaying our time together because loving you is directly tied to our journey through life together.
School shoe shopping (I blame/thank you for my sensible over fashionable shoe purchases). Hospital nurses’ stations. MLK tennis courts. Jazz. Car Talk Radio. What you did to that glovebox. Trips to see “the little people” (especially when playing Santa’s Helper). Amateur boxing matches. Poinsettia and Holiday Bowls. Aztec, Padre, and Charger games. Battle of the Bands. You being present at every single swim meet and band performance (parade, field, concert) – with thousands upon thousands of photos to show for it. Video footage of my childhood. Trips to Hawaii, Vegas, Disneyworld. Pilgrimages to Howard Universi-tay. Witnessing incomparable friendships with Dan Gaither and John Golding. Being exposed to a positive, intelligent, assiduous, flourishing community of Black professionals. The ambiguity of your so-called time spent in China. Made-up Spanish. Story telling. Driving lessons. “We didn’t get you perfume for Christmas, Mommy.” Wrapping presents. Teaching you how to use features on your computer. Grade school projects (the Mission, the Indian village, Andrew Johnson, Emperor penguins). Not learning how to play chess. The father-daughter waltz at my debutante ball. Thinking of the right song for us to dance to at my wedding. Telling Jesus on you. Playing the trumpet as a wake up call at my birthday sleepover. Singing at my door and pretending Mom is playing the radio too loud. “What it is? What it was? What it will be? What it could be? What it should be? [Etc…].” Ninety second phone conversations. Batman movies. Calling me George (or mistakenly Patricia, Shari, or Delilah). Watching you be a grandfather to my nieces and nephews, and eagerly awaiting the day you meet my future kids. Always challenging me to think harder, smarter, and wiser. Brutal honesty. Your love of knowledge (even your geeky obsession of words and math). Being the funniest, smartest, most generous person I know. Setting a standard for the main man in my life.
These are a few of my favorite memories. This love letter will never quite be complete because there are so many more reasons that you will give me to love you for the rest of my life. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy!
Papa Gemmie’s Little Girl
* This letter is slightly modified from the one that will be in his memory book. Because you always think of something else after you’ve finished your “final” draft. And it’s Father’s Day 🙂