Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fellas, Do What YOU want to do

So this post is directed at present fathers (and by “present” I mean those who take an active role in the lives of their children. And by “active” I mean those who will not only die for but will play with their children); however, from what I can tell, more women seem to read this blog than men—or men who are fathers (shout to those who aren’t fathers and read). And that’s wonderful. Perhaps, ladies, you can relay this message to the men in your lives, or, if it doesn’t serve you, forget it all together, and persuade these men to do what YOU think they ought to do (this’ll make sense a little later in this post).

I’ve always been a bit confused by personal celebratory days. These are days in which the individual is celebrated (e.g. birthdays, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc.). And it’s not because I don’t believe individuals should be celebrated, quite the contrary. I’m really big on birthdays. Seriously, if it’s your birthday, hit me up—I got the first round. But I remember years ago coming to the conclusion that my birthday wasn’t about me—or perhaps about me, anymore, like it used to be. When I was a kid, it was all so simple. My mother would ask what I wanted for my birthday. I’d say some shit like a new video game and a pizza party with my friends. And voila, I’d get that. That was about me—or, that was what I wanted to do. And then at some point, I got married. And this became a bit more complicated. My wife would ask what I wanted for my birthday. I’d say some shit like sit at a bar, watch the game, and eat chicken wings. And voila, I’d find myself at some fancy dinner. Sometimes I’d find myself at a formal gathering wearing a birthday hat, thinking, I just wanted some chicken wings y’all (anybody know the score).

Last year was my first Father’s Day. And again, I was asked what I wanted to do. I remember standing there with the Frankenstein perplexed look (uh, what’s the right answer). To my surprise she was serious—you should do whatever you want to do (you deserve it). I placed one foot in the conversation (for real). Yes, she was serious, it wasn’t some mean, spooky, evil, voodoo, woman mind fuck—you should do whatever you want to do.

And so I did. The Heat and Spurs were in a highly contested NBA Finals (not like this year—don’t get me started on that) and game 5 landed on Father’s Day. I spent that morning and afternoon with my boy being a great American dad: we got outdoors, went to a graduation gathering, and chilled with family.

After that it was on—boy was it on. The boy went with his aunt and I was off to my favorite dive bar for wings, whiskey, and basketball. And it went down just like that. Other dads with freedom passes joined. We cheersed our children, jeered the Spurs, and talked dumb like drunken frat boys in dad button-ups and pleated slacks. It was a glorious day—some kind of dad nirvana.

This Sunday, I’ve made plans to golf with a few colleagues. Afterwards, I’ll have brunch with the wife and kid. And just as my food and buzz begins to settle, magically the Heat and Spurs will play a game 5 (again). You don’t beat this kind of day—well, a tight series would be nice.

I’m also thinking of my own father this week (I’ll call him on Sunday). I don’t remember spending any Father’s Day with him, formally. I remember saying Happy Father’s Day but can’t recall any dinners or formal celebrations. I know he worked a lot and when he wasn’t, he was probably at a bar watching the game and having chicken wings (who am I kidding—he was at a bar being a true playa). My dad was a throwback who more often than not did what he wanted to (didn’t matter the day). I used to believe that if you were a true man, a man’s man, you did what you wanted. I obviously don’t buy this stock anymore. As much as I kicked and screamed, I’m grateful for the people who celebrated me how they wanted: grateful for the awful birthday hats, awkward spotlight, and heartfelt speeches.

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These days I’m happy to put my tribe before me. But they say Sunday is Father’s Day. So, for a day, I’ll again hand myself a permission slip and unapologetically do what I want: yes, on Sunday, I’m hitting all the golf balls, consuming chicken wings, and drinking bourbon. My suggestion to other “present” (again, not deadbeat) fathers who find themselves wearing the birthday hat—take it off for a day—when asked what you want to do, say what you mean. Say it in a strong assured voice (it is very important to sustain eye contact when doing this: “I want to play video games” while looking right at her will work—my promise to you). The kid(s), diapers, and bills will be there in the morning.

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Wherever I go…He goes

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This weekend I’ll head to Jackson, Mississippi for the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters (MIAL) 2013 Book Awards. It’s such a distinct pleasure to attend as an award recipient (my poetry book ROPES won the poetry category). This award has a strong reputation and many great writers (Natasha Tretheway, Richard Ford, Tom Franklin, etc.) have won in the past. Although I try not to be ruled by awards and acclaim, this feels good. It especially felt good when I first received the email informing me that my book had been chosen. I’m pretty sure I blogged about it in one of my previous entries (about how I was at my son’s doctor appointment and just happened to check my email. And how I had to contain my excitement so not to embarrass us—I think it was the “go blue baby” entry https://derrickharriell.wordpress.com/2014/03/21/go-blue-baby-blues/ ). Anyway, that day I saw myself at a formal event, waiting to give an acceptance speech, just as I had always saw since I’d began writing. I think if we’re passionate enough about something, we’ll tend to embrace these visions—these very specific visions (these are simply pre-manifestations).

A speech, I thought about what I’d say: who I’d thank. There was a bunch of conflicting shit that kept distracting this thought from being productive. I kept imagining a Kanye/ Michael Jordan version of myself, calling out all the publishers, old teachers, and graduate programs who didn’t embrace my work; those people who said it was either too “this” or “that” or not enough “this” or “that” (I know this is a lot for a book award—it ain’t a Hall of Fame speech—but you have to understand this is the first—so yeah, my initial thoughts were to go completely hood. I can’t act like I’d been there before. And ironically, I’m not even sure I’ve come across anyone who’s openly expressed displeasure with my work, but I’ve happened to effectively use the idea as a source of motivation—I’ve been ribbed about it all “nobody’s hating on you” ha—it’s worked).

I remember looking at the email again, and realizing we only had two minutes for our acceptance speeches. And I guess that’s a lot of time, but I had to make sure I got it all in (you know, all of the “made up” fuck yous). And although the MIAL awards isn’t that kind of party, it was fun to daydream a public diss-speech to my junior seminar professor (“Derrick you could read the phone book and make it sound good, but your poems need a lot of work. Have you read [insert old contemporary white poet]” See she’s a real one). And I kept asking if she’d read Saul Williams or Jessica Care Moore, but she’d never respond.

But this isn’t a post about poetry or craft. This is a post about dreaming and acceptance speeches. About how when I realized I wanted to be a writer and started visualizing myself making acceptance speeches, and being grown and sexy, and drinking fancy martinis and being a great politician and ambassador of writing, how I never saw a baby strapped to my neck in all of this. Even a few months ago, when I received the news in the doctor office, it took a while—him tugging on my pants while I spaced out—for me to realize how un-sexy this award weekend would be. Hmm…maybe he could stay at home with his mom (ah no, you don’t ask your wife to stay home for such a fancy event, not if you want to live). And even so, who wants to roll solo to something like this. Hmm…what if we played hot potato with him during the long, formal, event (ah no, while I’m comfortable being “that guy” on campus, in meetings, in airports, on airplanes, and in restaurants, I have no experience ruining acceptance speeches, not yet at least).

So where does this leave us? The same place it left us when we drove to Birmingham for a talk and reading last year, and when we drove to Nashville and Atlanta for gigs. It leaves us where it left us when we burst into the hospital just this past Sunday because baby boy had a high fever, and because this was unexpected, I’d had a few glasses of wine just before and sat buzzed in the waiting room as “that one’s” father, again trying not to embarrass us.

It leaves us winging it—I’ve grown comfortable being uncomfortable.

We have a few sitter leads for Saturday evening, but we’ll see where that goes: just as we’ll see where I go—I suspect it’ll be where he goes. Either way, I’m going to pack a smooth suit and some fly kicks. I’m going to hold the image of myself sipping a dirty gin martini real strong. I’ll plan to be sexy and a gangsta even if I’m wearing a two year old like a Jesus piece. This is how it is when your family is almost a thousand miles away. Your tribe becomes self-contained. Sometimes you make concessions to rigid rules, other times you hold steadfast. And so I won’t sling any fuck yous on Saturday night. I’ll thank the appropriate folks and be sure to especially thank my son. I’ll thank him for erasing old grudges and made up literary beefs: for being a better and more pure inspiration than any fabricated competitive source—because even when I don’t win, he’ll still want to kick it with me. And even if he rolls on Saturday night, he’ll still need to sleep—I’ll still have that drink.