Love Your Son: Confessions of a White Father / Chapter 4: Dread, Pt A

It was 2007, and Isiah had been gone for three years. I’d just left a conference early and been home only a few seconds when Suzanne said, “You better sit down.”

“Isiah?”

“No, I haven’t heard from him.”

“Mom?” She was ninety and I expected to hear she was at the end any day, even though recently she’d been eating and alert.

“No, the A/C guys who were here this morning.”

The remodel of our house was almost complete, but the A/C was out and we’d been surviving the hot and unusually muggy weather that summer with our new ceiling fan that is close to the new French doors we keep open all the time in the heat. Since we’d been A/C-less for weeks, neither of us had been sleeping well. In other words, what was pressing was the news of our air conditioning unit and maybe the status of my mother, but the first thing I thought of when Suzanne said “Sit down” was that Isiah was in trouble again.

In a parents support group I attended once a week, we talked about the dread of hearing the phone ring. A knock on the door was worse. As with a soldier’s family, the knock could mean death. We lived with a lot of could’s in Isiah’s world producing the Pavlovian response of roiling stomach juices: especially after months of not receiving any information about him. When he made the call, we didn’t learn much, but any long stretch without word from meant trouble.

When he started college last year in Alpine, he had agreed to call us regularly, one way to ease the transition from the 24/7 supervision at High Frontier to self-care in the dorms. When we wouldn’t hear from him for a few days, we assumed he had been skipping classes or had received a low grade on a test. With college out of the picture now, a call could mean he’s in jail.

He was supposed to be paying his probation officer each time he saw her. We didn’t know whether this was to make sure he was looking for a job or that he was simply expected to cover some of the costs of his time in the justice system. When he last contacted Suzanne by My Space, which he accessed from public libraries, he said he wasn’t seeing his probation officer because he didn’t have money to pay her. Suzanne suggested it might be a good idea to see her anyway. But he couldn’t figure out the obvious, that seeing his probation officer kept him out of prison. Or did he actually want to go there?

Plenty of people have told us that his knuckle-headedness is common for a male his age. I told them that the stakes are higher for him but that he can’t be excused just because he has more to overcome. When the so-called normal kids have problems, they only forfeit a scholarship, flunk out of school, or lose a job. Isiah can go directly to prison (which happened in December of 2016. Christmas was on a Sunday that year and a few days later he was transferred from Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas to High Desert State Prison about 40 miles northwest). Or, as we often fear, worse. Like what happened with his freshman basketball buddy Leeban in 2010, killed only a few miles from our house.

We’ve told him many times that the primary cause of death for black males in his age group is homicide. So no matter what reasonable excuses there may be for his problems, he cannot afford to make many of the ordinary teenage mistakes.