My father and I haven’t spoken in 14 years and last weekend he passed.
When someone passes there is an unspoken norm that you are to only acknowledge the good times, because acknowledging anything else would be disrespectful. I’m not sure where this norm came from but I think it’s unhealthy. I am not saying that funerals should become the last chance platform to tarnish one’s character. No, absolutely not. I am saying that we should never suppress speaking our truth.
My father and I haven’t spoken in 14 years and we haven’t had a relationship in almost 20 years. When we had a relationship, there were moments of joy and moments of pain. When the topic of my father would come up in random casual conversation, I would start to feel embarrassed because I knew I couldn’t answer simple questions about him. Questions like, “Where does your dad live?”, “What does he do for a living?”. I would google my father about once a year so I could have some type of answer and didn’t feel like I had to make up a story. I recall one casual conversation with someone I just met and they asked me about my dad in an icebreaker sort of way. I decided to take the risk and speak my truth. I said, “I haven’t spoken to my father in years.” They replied with, “Years? Wow. That’s your father. You only get one father. You should try to reach out.” I knew the person had good intentions but their words gave me guilt. I didn’t feel it was appropriate to go into detail about the painful moment that caused our relationship fracture or that I had made attempts to reach out but they just weren’t received. I simply replied “Thanks” and decided to stick to my googled facts to avoid the unintentional judgement of others privileged with intimate relationships with their father.
When I learned my father passed, the humane part of me was sadden by the loss of a soul but I didn’t feel as if I lost a father. The truth is that I had already grieved almost 20 years ago when I lost my father emotionally and spiritually, now I just lost him physically. If you have an intimate relationship with your father, this could be hard to comprehend. I didn’t have an intimate relationship with my father and that is my truth.
It’s rare that we acknowledge fractured relationships with parents. Society has created “rules” that family dynamics are suppose to look a certain way. Anything outside of the “rules” is not normal, something must be wrong with you, and you need to fix it immediately. Holding yourself accountable to imaginary rules that you can’t explain why they exist is always dangerous and unhealthy. We assume healthy relationships develop by happenstance when they actually require a lot of work, individually and collectively. Doing the work is hard. It takes time and commitment from both parties. Fractures can occur in romantic relationships, friendships, and family relationships. We love happy endings as a society but sometimes couples don’t get back together and that’s okay. Some friendships don’t make it past high school and that’s okay. Some fractured relationships don’t completely heal despite attempts and that’s okay.
It’s hard to find peace and forgiveness in fractures. It’s easier to manifest anger and/or create messages about your self-worth. I know because I did this for years. Anger and false messages will conceal the lessons to be learned or gratitude to be given. I have intentionally done the hard self-work through therapy that has allowed me to forgive my father, dismiss the self imposed guilt, and find peace in the fractured relationship with my father. I could be angry, emotionless, or regretful but with peace and forgiveness comes clarity of the lessons I have learned through our relationship and gratitude for the gifts I have inherited from my father.
My father was a genius…..seriously. He had a BS and MS in Biology and a PhD in Biochemistry. The first “C” I ever received in my life was in Chemistry 121 in college so I definitely didn’t inherit a love of atoms or elements but I inherited the value of college being a requirement and not an option.
My father was a product of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). He was an alumnus of Tennessee State University and Meharry Medical College. I didn’t have the pleasure of attending an HBCU but deeply value the unique role HBCUs play. Because of HBCUs my father had access to higher education. #GoTigers
My father was an educator. Definitely not a coincidence that I am one too. From my father I inherited my purpose.
My father’s name was Eric. From him, I received the “T” in “JT” which I am affectionately called by hundreds of scholars, staff, and colleagues each day. I inherited the gift of my name from my father.
From my father I received the gifts of four sisters through whom my identity and womanhood is consistently affirmed.
From my father I inherited a commitment to developing intimate relationships within my life. Our relationships with our parents form the habits we subconsciously exercise in our life relationships. Because of the relationship fracture with my father, I didn’t know what intimate relationships looked like or how they felt. Therapy helped me realize what my habits were and how they were showing up in all areas of my life. Therapy also helped me acknowledge that I have the power to interrupt a generational cycle before it begins. I am committed to interrupting.
A few weeks ago I started this blog to advocate for educators in Title 1 schools. A couple weeks ago, a friend sent me this article from a local newspaper and asked me if I knew the author. It was written by my father. I got chills as I read. I realized my father and I have been fighting in the same social battle against educational inequity. A passion for education, equity, and advocacy is in my blood and I thank my father for this gift.
The passing of my father has led to much self reflection including redefining happy endings. Happy endings shouldn’t be limited to just reconciliation. Happy endings can also be discovering inner peace, increased self-awareness, and/or personal growth. I am not angry at my father, regretful, embarrassed, nor dismissive of the role he has played in shaping my leadership. I honor his legacy and grateful for the gifts he has given me.