(Dedicated to the great artist Raekwon’s song called, “Marvin.”)
This article came as a necessary communication about family, especially those black fathers who grew up in the 70′s and remember the transition time warp of the 80′s. So many things to reflect on within that 20 year period. As some understand it now, this mark in cultural and creative energy also represents a strong and intense pain, still showing in the scar tissue of time.
We watched with youthful eyes as they propped up the new digital technology. Some things in this advancement made it easier and accessible to escape the feeling of grief or loss from our basement’s dusty album collections. The analog sound of record players that helped share the emotions, stories, and memories of a two parent family household was packed up and probably sent to a storage unit. Exiting fathers moved out the house making the way for tapes and cds to symbolically (unknowingly) destroy our sense of cultural stability.
In a recent conversation my Virginia Union Brother of Umoja told me this time of technology represented a move from collective sharing to individual experiences of self preservation. The prideful coffee (living room) table showcase of black family photo albums were torn apart and missing pages, they were unable to survive in this kind of change and disruption of order.
How did we get to this place? The questions of art reflecting life as contracted script writers removed James Evans from our weekly Good Times toward more programming. I know i’m not the only grown man feeling suspended in time. I can’t be the only father who grew up in that era acting like I’m cool but screaming on the inside for help and understanding?
The empty voids of missing fathers and fragmented family relationships has been a major impact on the health of our community, it is a large silent stress that appears in our bodies and any emergency room hospital across the country. What does it mean when those painful holiday spirits visit us? How do we handle memories of a lost Father or a broken family? A conclusion of another year always presents a personal survey of inquiry. Filling paperless self evaluations in still moments of silence. Asking questions of time and how much is still needed for an ongoing recovering process of healing.
The shared experience of missing fathers and lost family traditions had no boundaries of impact in the black community, that bullet hit all social class levels from the hood to even the newly settled suburbs. Holidays took on new meaning when your mom’s energy was directed to hold herself together due to the absence of a promised life partner or soul mate. Many young boys of that time had to develop an unconscious feeling of damaging spiritual loss. Our mother and father’s pain were unable to communicate the realities of compounded family trauma.
I believe the year was 1993 and I worked in downtown Manhattan, just blocks from 42nd street’s time square. My day time hours were spent interning for an Independent Black Family Owned entertainment company. Hip Hop still had it’s organic energy and I was handling some college, street, and radio promotions for an upcoming hip hop group from my mom’s birth place of Staten Island. This group had a posse song with a new sound inspired by karate flicks, the single was called “Protect ya kneck.”
At that time the dark cloud of energy over New York City and other black community landscapes across the nation was a lot different than a few years prior. Looking back this was an intense transitional period of great significance. 1988 represented a power of self love, this was identified in Africa medallions and greetings of, “peace black man” or “peace my sister.” 1993 started a new norm of language when Saint Ide’s malt liquor became popular and the greeting changed to, “what up my nigga where the bitches at? ”
Albums like the chronic were examples of street manuscripts written by highly medicated youth of war torn villages. The messages in a lot of our music during the 1990′s (my children’s birth years) were stories of fallen prophets, incarcerated fathers and the intimate relationship they both had as growing casualties who were targeted by biological/chemical weapons of mass destruction. Newly acquired corporate radio stations blasted a form of hypnotic “war music” by hand selecting their playlist in coordinated satellite synchronization. Area weed spots, liquor stores, and corner food shacks carried a virus of distraction as family connections continued to be torn.
How did fathers of my generation maintain balance in this unbalanced environment? Where did all the elder men that pass the lessons of life experiences and wisdom go? What does a relationship look like when it becomes almost normal for a woman to have three sets of fathers for her three children? Do hurt fathers who loose their children and families cover their pain by substituting the next woman or women as unhealthy forms of self prescribed anxiety treatment? Are women forever frustrated by a shortage of scared men searching for their attachment to disconnected roots?
Some have achieved a certain level of escape during our holiday visitation of spirits. Money and the routine of shopping doesn’t cover up family dysfunction but it helps not fully being exposed as a perceived failure of fatherly (parental) duties. I now understand the challenges of the prior generation. Fathers had a hard time feeling love because the unequal perks society has established for Black Family wealth and stability. Maturity, wisdom and personal experience opened doors to the complex historical pressures that exist in the super character role known as “Black Manhood.”
It takes time to really teach any student to graduate in levels of applied knowledge. In the classroom of life, I have made an observation that most peers in similar age may agree with. No amount of purchased gifts or money could ever replace the presence and good deeds of a caring father. Seeing striving examples of family bond and relationships is helpful but the closed societies of the church or suburban neighborhoods of retreat cant be the primary pathway for display.
Some fathers have been hurt to the point where their escape route and chosen absence had to yield to a different role. They substituted a risky (OJ Simpson) chase of personal validation from “them folks” (America’s Social Norms) over preservation of family (Good Times) for the people.
Our journey as broken pieces of an ongoing chain has produced unfortunate coping strategies where our survival and security as a people has turned to the development of “experimental families.” Ya know them kinda families that are usually a response to a passed down disappointment of how the permanent graffiti wall of divorce shifted a trust in the institution of marriage.
We have expected the new version of family to work like an NBALive PlayStation grudge match. Key players are substituted, traded in, or dropped out from all franchise activities. Control of these “unofficial games” are only used by temporary joysticks of emotion which assist in triggering the memories of previous victories and failures of our first team.
This year’s end the Holiday Spirits came to remind me about these things and more. I found myself alone surrounded by a form of intense grief. Listening to the song Marvin at this time of the year was like hearing the power of a full choir sing to an eager audience. Writing this was an affirmation of feeling trapped by history and the present realities of where our collective challenges may take us in the near future.
I know Black Fathers and our connection to how we deal with the pain of fading memories and lost families need more attention!
(Chrous to Raekwon’s song called, “Marvin.”)
CeeLo Green Sings…
Marvin, the sound of your voice sets fire to my soul, what a glory to be hold.
Marvin, my heart, my heart still wonders how I just hope you’re happy now.
It’s the sound of the music