Pops called me last week and told me he got a job with the union.
Said he hasn’t been able to get back to me because he’s been working late.
The last time I heard this amount of joy in his voice was on my brother’s birthday.
(Black people don’t say half brother. It’s weird.)
He turned 9. This was right before my brother’s mother decided to get full custody of him through the courts. My dad had been churning ideas in his mind about how to celebrate. He settled on a barbeque at the park in Alameda surrounded by family and friends. I still remember that smile.
You remember that moment in Moonlight where Little asks Juan if he sells drugs and Juan says he does? And Little asks if his mama also does drugs and Juan responds with a “yeah”?
My mama does not do drugs. And my father is, was a drug dealer. I’ve known this all my life.
And I’ve loved him less for it. Sometimes more.
To my knowledge, he hasn’t seen my brother in three years. His last biological child. He put everything good that was left of him into my brother.
No. I refuse that.
We are not just the good parts that we put in other people.
Pops has adopted a daughter with his current partner and he loves her. Loves that girl.
When I was younger, I imagined my father as a less complicated version of Robinhood. He always had something for somebody. A zip. Some rocks. A quarter. A lighter. Successful drug dealers don’t use their shit. My father never used his shit. Still, he’s happy to get a “legitimate” job. I listened to the honor lulling in his voice.
Whenever he got out, he’d bring me shoes. One time I got three pairs of Nike Shocks at once. He took me to get two burritos on High Street at El Taco Zamorano. And I was so angry. I hated and loved those fucking shoes.
Now, I recognize some of the things Pops had to navigate, what was allowed and expected of him then and now. How fear, preparation, death and sadness have impacted his life. I’ve learned that we are both still learning how to be in this world. How to love each other despite it.
He’s still finding his place as this big Black boy from Alabama who’s good at math and didn’t have space to dream. He feels things.
I think about all the dreams and bodies Pops had to bury. I think about the anniversary of my papa, his father’s death. I think about my father’s face and body at every funeral we’ve attended together. How he is always a pallbearer, a holder, a strength. Even as his body buckles. Especially when his heart breaks.
One day he told me he didn’t/doesn’t know how to be a good father to me. We were listening to Erykah’s Baduism and I pretended not to hear him. I looked at him without moving my face and turned the music up. As a tear fell down mine, he wiped his away.
Does it matter that I “am too hard on him”? This once boy. Still boy.
My daddy was a hustler. Is a hustler. Does it matter what kind?
The title is a lie. My father is not a villain and his humanity doesn’t need defending.
I worry that this will get back to him/ his employers/ our family and that he will be angry. Or sad. Mostly sad.
To my maternal grandmother who was an alcoholic and died from something else. To my paternal grandfather who was an alcoholic and died from something else. And to all their children and children’s children worrying about dying from something else. And worried about the things that have already killed us.
May we move towards a world where we can all say I love you and feel it. Believe it.
To my daddy, who taught me that men need space to mourn and name the things that they experience. To my brother, who I haven’t seen in years. To the (lost) connections between them. To the women and people who have belittled these connections. I promise to always honor the softness in you. I promise to challenge you and myself and ask for more.
We will live.