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Happy 2nd Birthday Son; in 2 years you get to pick your own Switch

On Monday my son turned 2. Over the weekend Adrian Peterson faced child abuse allegations. I saw the pictures of Peterson’s 4 year old son: http://www.tmz.com/2014/09/12/adrian-peterson-indicted-for-child-abuse/. I didn’t want to see them; I wanted to see them. I viewed them begrudgingly. I knew it’d hurt my soul to see lashes and lesions on such a tiny, harmless, being. I thought of my own son—in all his innocence. I thought of his innocence even when he’s misbehaving—the ways in which he’s simply trying to solve the whole existence thing: what it all means, how we’re supposed to behave, what’s acceptable, what’s taboo, his attempts to answer the most fundamental life question: who am I?

I wondered what drove a bulldozer of a man to that place (have you seen Adrian Peterson)—the place of handling your 4 year old like a man who’d just slapped your wife. I knew the narrative behind his childhood and his off and on again relationship with his father (his father served prison time, I believe). Hell, I’ve been a Peterson supporter since his first snap at Oklahoma. I knew this had to be some kind of learned behavior. I didn’t necessarily blame Peterson. I thought what he did was fucked up, but I wasn’t pointing fingers. I knew the diagnosis he needed was outside my wheelhouse—I’m not a psychologist—I know some fucked up shit when I see it, but I can’t pretend to always know the whys behind it. And in observing the public’s reaction to it all, I realized there were a bunch of other things I didn’t know. I didn’t know this incident would elicit disgusting enabling, didn’t know it’d provide a canvas for us to brag about getting our asses beat like criminals, didn’t know so many people are so satisfied at what they’ve become—who they’ve become.

We didn’t do much for my son’s birthday weekend. For the most part he was allowed to pig out and poop unapologetically. The boy had muffins, cupcakes, and tacos galore. He had a blast. His happiness sprayed across his face as if it was permanent—tattoo like. On Sunday we watched the Packer game and blasted Wiz Khalifa, “We Dem Boyz,” each time a touchdown was scored—his dance moves seem to improve every week. I was curious as to whether he knew it was his birthday. I’m sure he knew something was up (normally his diet is closely monitored), but I’m not sure he knew it was his birthday.

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As we celebrated last weekend, I kept seeing Peterson’s 4 year old in my son. I wondered how much more weight my son would gain in the next two years (he’s about 28 pounds now). How much more height he might add. I thought about the hurt in his face when I’m slightly off balance and slightly raise my voice in the name of disciplining—the look he gives reminding me of the things I stand for.

Look, I know raising kids ain’t easy. I know kids will push us to places of self-exploration we had no intentions of going. I’m not interested in holistically telling folks how to raise their children (although I tend to believe we belong to the world—I’m uncomfortable with the idea that we have the right to mold our children into anything we’d like). This considered, it’s difficult to explain how disappointed I was to hear so many people excuse the abuse of the child in this particular case. And I hoped that I’m surrounded by people who would never excuse me for behavior anywhere close to this (emphasis on close). I was astonished to hear people speak so glowingly about the time their fathers, mothers, grandfathers, grandmothers laid a switch, belt, paddle, hand to them; how many people reminisced and high-fived at the memory of getting their asses beat, how many people proclaimed “I turned out ok.” Did you?

At the end of last week, I was listening to ESPN radio and Colin Cowherd’s radio show. He was discussing the Adrian Peterson situation and speaking to the public’s embracement of corporal punishment. And at one point he mentioned the whole “I turned out ok” rebuttal and asked a question I’d been thinking about for a few days: did you?

Things could be better. Things could have been better. When I think of the folks I know personally whose parents beat their asses growing up, they all seem to have an array of behavioral complications—starting with emotional. The obvious response is that we’ve evolved and things that were acceptable, culturally, 30 years, 40 years, 50 years ago just aren’t accepted anymore. This is true. But this aside, I think it’s valuable to consider the ways in which our life experiences may have shaped us, not just positively, but in problematic ways. Just because you don’t rob or hit people over the head don’t mean you turned out ok. For me, I could’ve done without the times I was called the N word on a playground of the predominantly white elementary school I attended, my aunt could’ve done without the time that guy went upside her head, and my sister could’ve done without my parents’ divorce. But hey, we turned out ok.

I can remember almost every time when growing up I thought my life was in danger: the time when they were shooting around the corner, or down the street, or 50 feet away from me. I can remember all the times we ran from gunshots, or the times some divine intervention saved a dire situation. And I turned out alright? Fuck that. I don’t want my son to ever experience these things. And while yeah, maybe, I turned out alright, I’m sure if I sat down and spoke with a professional, they’d have some things to say about the lifelong effects of these life experiences (possibly why every time I hear any loud noise, I instinctively am prepared to duck). And while yeah, maybe writing books of poetry and teaching is really cool, in some parallel universe I may be curing cancer or helping to feed impoverished communities. And you, maybe instead of that job you detest so much, and that spouse you argue with so much, and those kids you yell at so much, you could love going to work, have the ability to be more affectionate with your children, know the power of words when negotiating or disagreeing—maybe, just maybe, if you didn’t have all those ass whippings you like to laugh so much about.

And I’m not suggesting we come down on our parents, uncles, aunts, or grandparents who raised us and how they raised us. They did the best they could. But I am suggesting that we take time to reflect on right and wrong, on our responsibilities to the information we have, on how child abuse is just that. And I’m saddened to know that if something like this was to ever happen to my son (in some parallel universe where I’m not really me or his mom is not really her) there would be droves of people who wouldn’t come to his defense, who wouldn’t protect him, who would proclaim they “turned out ok” and assume my/OUR child will.

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Shame>Less

So my boy began daycare again last week; this after a summer of much spoiling by grandmothers, aunts, and cousins. I worried how he’d readjust, especially since he was changing daycares and had finally gotten off the waitlist for what we’d deemed the daycare of all daycares. The “Mothership,” if you will.

That’s right folks; he was attending the “Fort Knox” baby university daycare where all the babies’ baby dreams came true (see my earlier post “A Tale of Two Daycares” https://derrickharriell.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/a-tale-of-two-daycares/): this daycare provides parents with special keycards for entry, large playgrounds separating different age groups, and…and…wait for it…a real pool with appointed lifeguards and swim teachers (not that I’d allow my two year old to swim without me, but the ambiance is pretty pimp. And for him to be able to say, well he can’t really talk now, but possibly in the future he’ll tell someone to “sit down. You don’t know nothing about ballin’. I had a pool in my daycare. I been ballin’ since I was a toddler.”).

What was ironic about this new daycare journey as opposed to the previous one is that the previous experience was only for a few weeks while I taught a summer course. I knew we’d get back to our regular schedule of him and I being home all day together once the summer session ended. And that’s how it was. I’d completed the summer session in late May and he and I proceeded with our house-raging behavior. I knew the next time would be different—it’d be forever. Once he began daycare this fall, he’d be going permanently. And once he became too old for daycare, he’d start one of those Pre-K things—he’d never be my house buddy again. And while this thought made me a bit somber, I can’t front, I counted down the days, hours, and tiny seconds that led us to last week: that led us to his new daycare adventure.

Life has a way of making you feel like shit for the things you want. I remember when I first started graduate school, and how often I’d imagine my life ten years down the road (you know the ten year question: “where do you see yourself in ten years”). And yes, I envisioned myself in a tenure track teaching position, and those days I wasn’t teaching I knew I’d be writing, working out, or golfing—what else was there to life (I don’t fish, I don’t do video games). While I knew I wanted children, somehow, my silly mind skipped the born part and everything else before the age of 6. In my head, I imagined kids, and poof, they were in school—and I was golfing and writing and shit.

Needless to say, I’ve been enthralled by the idea of waking up, brewing coffee, opening the blinds, and sitting in front of a blank word document. I’ve been in fits of desire for fits of silence. I’ve listened to people envy my blessing of a child and looked back at them and thought, “You get to write all day in silence.” Life has this tricky way of making you feel like shit for the things you want. Because the times I counted down my boy going to daycare, I’ve felt conflicted, and non-appreciative. I mean, how many parents really get the opportunity to be home with their kid for the first two years of their lives—I knew that was a blessing. And while even embracing this blessing and all the planet-shattering love I have for him, I still wanted to write– alone (without changing diapers between stanzas, feeding between grading, or playing between shaving).

So here I am—writing this blog in quiet while my boy is at his cool daycare. And the coffee is exactly where it needs to be, as is the noises outside, as are the poems in my head. And I don’t have to teach for another 5 hours which means who knows what might become of this day. And I was just thinking this morning about how we contradict ourselves. For example, I expressed earlier how much I worried about his adjustment. I was extremely concerned he’d cry all day and be miserable. As a parent, the thought of your child miserable makes your stomach sick. But ironically, each day I dropped him off and his mother picked him up, he was content. The reports from his teachers emphatically highlighted his joy being there. And so how did that make me feel, good? No, I felt blue that he didn’t cry out for me/us. Deep down I wanted him to throw a fit and say “get my daddy, now.” But apparently he didn’t. And I wondered if he needed us. I wondered if we gave him to another family, after a few weeks of adjusting, would he simply forget us/me. Would the first two years of his life and all the days we danced on Frat House Fridays dissipate?

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Here I am writing this entry and it’s before noon and everything is as it should be. I do wonder what my boy is doing right now—if he’s wondering what I’m doing—if he knows I could always write perfectly fine with him right here next to me.

 

 

 

 

 

Funny

It’s been a few months since I’ve posted to this blog, and you should know that my absence was mostly connected to the reason I write this in the first place. What I mean is that I’ve often been conflicted in my attempt to post weekly and how it might interfere with my being a father—the amount of time it takes away from him (I discuss this in a previous post: “Since I Seen’t You”). And so over the summer I allowed the blog to take a back seat. After a semester of teaching and toddler rearing, I simply wanted to be: wanted to be present during our home visit, subsequent travels, and road trips.

You know what’s funny about a 12 hour drive from Oxford MS to Milwaukee WI with a 20 month old, is that sometimes your baby is asleep and you’re cruising through Missouri (don’t ask which part because I fucking can’t remember—but not St. Louis). And he’s only been asleep for about 20 minutes because during the first 6 hours of the drive, he bounced around his car seat in some molly-induced turn-up. And somehow you believe he knows how to torture you—how to play your buttons like Beethoven. Because he’s never gone 6 hours in the a.m. without a nap—normally he can’t go 30 minutes in a car without passing out—but he knows daddy prefers silence or soul music for these long hauls. But he don’t care. He gives daddy loud baby talk and whining. His eyes say “daddy what you gone do, huh, keep yo eyes on the road brotha.” He does this for almost 6 hours (through Mississippi, through Tennessee, and through Missouri).

But he’s sleep now, and you’re content. And you’re driving through some part of Missouri with something sweet on the radio. So here’s what’s funny about those twelve hour drives sometimes. Sometimes traffic begins to slow down, then really slow down, then really really slow down, and then come to a complete halt. And you find yourself thinking it must be some construction work ahead and start looking for which side to merge. But ain’t nobody moving on this freeway, and ain’t nobody merging. We all still like meditation. And it goes on just like this for 20 minutes until a young woman exits her car and casually strolls down the freeway. It’s obvious she’s trying to gain a perspective on what’s ahead. And like us Americans tend to do, everybody else begin to exit their cars. So now people are chatting, looking, and pointing. And you want to get out too but don’t feel comfortable leaving your wife and baby boy. But it’s really starting to look like some Tom Cruise Armageddon shit out there (imagine stacked cars as far as you can see in front and behind you—imagine people casually chatting on the freeway like cooks on a smoke break).

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Here’s what’s not so funny about some traffic jams: some traffic jams happen because a car catches fire on the freeway leaving travelers with nowhere to go (because you’re all stacked like canned biscuits and moving forward isn’t an option). Then you start to realize you may never make it to Milwaukee or even off the freeway or even to pee again—you think—what if I have to pee. And GPS can’t save you now. And because you’d been communicating with other travelers and traffic cops, your napping baby is waking up. This is when a 12 hour drive becomes 14: when you get to see parts of Missouri you didn’t intend to, when the invincible cloak of parenthood and parent intuition takes over, when you’re peering in the rearview mirror at the 2 hours of stop-go, merge-brake, horn blowing, and baby screaming you just left behind.

And once it’s finally all behind you, you remember that you have to go back the same way you came in a little less than a month. And because that ain’t funny, it becomes funny. And you and your family say a prayer for the driver of the car that caught fire. And y’all hope he/she/they made it out in time.

But what’s really funny is this post was never intended to talk about a Missouri apocalypse jam. What I wanted to do was catch y’all up on what’s been happening in the world of parenting since my last post. Here’s a few summer highlights:

Out of the blue my son started making this strange facial expression I deemed “sexy face.” What’s weird about “sexy face” is that sometimes it looks suave and other times like he wants to punch you in the stomach.

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My boy visited Chuck E. Cheese for the first time and balled out. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to go to Chuck E. Cheese as an adult without a budget—you can ball out in Chuck E. Cheese with just one kid for a couple dollars (I remember my mom passing out tokens like bread). In retrospect, I’m not sure if he went to Chuck E. Cheese or if I went to Chuck E. Cheese. I just know I’m thankful they didn’t have beer.

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I collected the MIAL 2014 Poetry Book of the Year Award in Jackson, Mississippi. And since we didn’t have a sitter on the first night, I popped a bottle in the hotel room and partied with my boy. See how excited he is. See how hard he turns-up.

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We moved at the end of the summer. And what was so funny about that is somehow my boy picked up an affinity for cleaning. He loves to clean (I’ll elaborate in a later post). In some weird way he sensed what was going on. He was eager to see what was on the other side of those doors.

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And so that’s most of it. Well kind of. There was that time he fell out of the bed, and the moment he started to choke intentionally, and the time he started banging his head against the wall when he was pissed, and the funny time when…

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.

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.

I’m From the Hood Stupid What Type of Facts are Those

“If you grew up with holes in zapatos/

you’d celebrate the minute you was having dough”

-Jay Z

In a few weeks we’ll head home to visit Milwaukee, and thankfully my son will have the opportunity to spend time with family he hasn’t been around since winter (Lord knows his grandparents are past due for a reunion—in fact, they may try and kidnap the poor boy). I’m often conflicted by the great things that have happened to me and us over the past year or so. While I’m extremely fortunate to live and prosper in Oxford, Mississippi, I often regret the potential for loneliness and detachment as it relates to my son; I can’t imagine growing up without cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, and family right down the street. My mother was one of nine, and everyone stayed in Milwaukee, so I was always surrounded by family. In fact, I remember hiding from cousins my age, or telling my mother to lie and say I was napping when I wasn’t—when I just wanted some quiet or personal time: when I wanted to dream a little. From about the time I was six until around ten, we lived in a duplex: my family occupied the downstairs unit, and my aunt’s family occupied the one upstairs. There was a back hallway that allowed us to freely walk in and out of each other’s spots. And yes, we utilized the hell out of it (“y’all got some cereal,” “want to go outside and throw rocks,” “let’s get a football game in quick”). While it became intrusive at times (I was a weird child who liked being alone—maybe still do), it fostered lifelong brotherhoods. Those cousins are my brothers.

My boy will not have this experience. And while there are tons of families who share this circumstance, it’s fresh for me. There’s always the opportunity for folks to visit us in Mississippi, but that’s an entirely different discussion. The folks in my family work to make ends meet. If these folks take time off, ends are not met. If ends are not met, well you know (thanks for coming to visit us, sorry you lost your crib and car).

Lately I’ve been seeing old evil Milwaukee reminders: violence, crime, murders. Milwaukee was just listed as a top ten most dangerous US city (http://lawstreetmedia.com/blogs/crime/10-dangerous-large/). The listing stated: “Milwaukee jumped 13 places this year to replace Buffalo N.Y. as the 10th most dangerous large city in 2012.” This phrasing sounds dumb as hell and suggests something positive occurred. Shouldn’t Milwaukee have dropped 13 places? Just last week an innocent little girl, Sierra Guyton, got caught in a cross fire. She was only ten (http://www.jrn.com/tmj4/news/11-year-old-shot-on-Milwaukees-north-side-260200611.html).

Growing up I knew the shadows that lurked throughout my city. In fact, some of these shadows were associates. Milwaukee will give you a sixth, seventh, and eighth sense. You grow to know the malevolent intentions of this face, that car, this eighty degree summer day. If you’re smart and brave enough, you’ll learn how to move, eat, and walk freely amidst it all. I’ve attended funerals and hospital beds containing young bodies’ disease free. I have loved and hated this place; luckily, this place has only loved me back. I’m often asked about political undertones in my writing or if I’m attempting to write “urban” based on the stories. I’ll quote Jay Z: “I’m from the hood stupid what type of facts are those.” When I try and write nature poems, the birds just don’t come (although I love any kind of good poem, nature or other—people who write about nature probably has spent some time in, well, nature—I haven’t). There are other more pressing voices that deemed me somehow special—ones who took a bullet on a stoop I’d left just five minutes prior. I know my role in the collective expression. I’m sure about the things I need and want to write.

(Back to Milwaukee in a few weeks) It’s different now being a visitor. It’s different being a father. I understand why my mother wouldn’t sleep nights I ran the streets: why my coming home was some cathartic experience for her. My son is almost two. And already I couldn’t imagine sleeping as he tore the streets in some near future. I wonder about these summers he’ll spend in Milwaukee: the things he’ll never learn about inner-city survival. Our family resides where they always have: in dangerous places—places where the dumbest shit occur. I wonder about my role in ensuring his safety—the things I can’t teach him—the things I can’t control. Earlier this week, I watched a comedian discuss her privileged upbringing and how it inhibited her (a black woman) ability to connect with classic black films (like Boyz in the Hood). “Why don’t they just move out of the hood” she cracked. And while I cracked up at that joke, I thought of certain family, I thought of my son and his summers, I thought of that precious baby Sierra Guyton.

I wonder if my boy will be like that comedian claimed to be: detached from inner-city realities—potentially detached from his own family—having lived a privileged country life. I’m not sure. I do know that after I’m done writing this post, I’ll go out for lunch. I’ll probably have a glass of wine with lunch and then wander a bookstore. I’ll pick my son up from daycare this afternoon and maybe we’ll stop by the park to run around a little bit. We’ll go home and sit outside—watch cars fly past the country highway. Not once will I lock my doors, or clench my fist, or make eye contact that suggests “I’m not the one,” or prepare to duck. Not once, I think.

Since I Seen’t You

You’re ’bout the flyest thang that life could ever bring

Like fresh air to me the blood I bleed sent to me

And I want, wanna build with you

-“Since I Seen’t You” Anthony Hamilton

So momentarily, last night, I forgot why I write this blog. All week I’ve been teaching until four thirty, and then picking up my son from daycare. Normally we make it home around five; I check his diaper, feed him a snack, turn on Nick Jr., and begin going over class stuff. If I don’t have too much grading to do, I transform into gym attire: the plan is always to write until his mom gets home from work, at which point we go over our boy’s daily briefings. Once this conversation is completed, she’s off to the gym and I continue writing (during this time him and I will have spotty moments of conversation or we may sneak in a book or two—children books are so funny because I never know if I’m reading enough—I sit down to read to him as if it’s this intense commitment, pick up the book and begin to read—the book is magically over in three minutes—if literature books went this quick, I’d be the most well-read motherfucker in Mississippi).

Once she returns from the gym, I go to the gym (she feeds him dinner). Once I return from the gym, we eat dinner, put him to sleep, and then maybe squeeze in a really bad reality television show (I’m thinking Hip Hop Wives or The Real Housewives or The Real World—and yo, don’t hate on bad reality TV, I had an involved conversation with Anthony Bourdain about how wonderful these shows are and he happens to love them too, and he’s bad ass Anthony Bourdain, so there’s my unapologetic validation.). And once the reality show is over, the day is done. This routine has been on repeat all week. Wait, this routine has been on repeat for the past two weeks. (Damn, I’m thinking for some this routine is on repeat for ten, twelve, eighteen years).

My boy’s adjustment to daycare has been both hot and cold. Some days I pick him up and he’s despondent; as if he’d just ran a couple miles, wrestled ten two year olds, robbed a liquor store, and then meditated on top of the Himalayas. He’s different from the boy who’d stayed at home with me four days a week. On the other days he’s his normal self: tired but normal. And so I make bets with the baby gods on which boy they’ll deliver me. And ironically, in the midst of this adjustment (me teaching all day Mon-Fri and him adjusting to daycare), I’ve been holy-struck with the muse and new poems have been crawling out my body. And yes, I’ve been a crack head about it all: stalking my laptop like a fiend, running to it to type a line, a word, a comma, anything.

So last night was no different than the other week nights. We got home around five; I got his snack together, and then got into gym wear. His mom came home, we talked shit about the country bama’s at our son’s daycare (“how come they don’t do like basic shit, like let us know what he did all day, or when he ate, or the last time they changed him”), she went to the gym, I sat down to write this blog. And then something romantic happened. My son walked over to me just as I was about to start writing. He motioned me to pick him up, and so I sat him on my lap. He batted his little eye lashes at me—as if to flirt—as if to let me know he’s aware of my distractions, of the things that’s been holding my eye’s attention. I thought of those moments in romances when one partner screams to the other: “you haven’t looked at me in X amount of months” or “you look right through me but you don’t see me. And I want to be seen.” We smiled at each other as if he was inside my head during this revelation. I thought about this blog, the writing I was about to do, how I’d commit the next few hours to it. And then I felt dumb—you know—how the fuck am I about to write a fatherhood entry when right now I’m not present with him. And so I closed Sasha Fierce (the name of my laptop), and we dug into his toy box and emptied out its contents. And we wrestled and threw plastic balls. And I said fuck this blog and that gym. And all night we tore the house down.

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You get to be a Hero

You get to be a savior, a hero of some sort. When my boy started daycare on Monday, I had no idea how all parties would suffer: me, his mom, the daycare workers, him. It was a melancholy and anxious thing: playing the sentimental violin at 6:30 in the morning. I sensed somewhere, deep in his gut, he knew what was going on; he knew something was different about this morning’s funk. We all trudged the tiny condo as if someone had died, or was going to die, or somehow something had changed: paced circles pretending to be busy, non-committal to eye contact. We packed the required essentials: toys, clothes, diapers, wipes, blankets. He was going to some other people. He was going to be with them all day. He was stepping into the big world. After today, he would continue stepping into the big world.

You see, it all sounds so damn dramatic, it all feels so damn permanent. As if he’s heading off to boarding school, or college, or war. And even though I knew my prized masculinity was being compromised, I couldn’t help but want to shove a cell phone in his bag, or adorn him with one of those “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” panic joints. What will he do when he panics in that joint: who will he call, who will rescue him or resuscitate his innocence. His mother balled like he soon would. We walked to the car, I strapped him in his seat and knew he’d be different when I saw him next—he’d be stripped of something.

For the next three hours, I prepped to teach my first poetry inter-session (an intense two week summer school course—three and a half hours a day—Monday through Friday) class, and while I did this, a reel of his morning interactions projected beside my head: images of him pissing his pants, eating filthy children’s books, being punched in the stomach. That damn reel played on repeat as I tried to organize course materials. That damn reel was a drive-in movie lot scene: one with you sitting next to the girl of your dreams, but you really want to see the movie, but know you need to be watching her, and so fuck it, you commit to both. I was committed to being present with him somehow. If the first day of intersession had to suffer, so be it. And if my students somehow felt like I’d failed them—I’d just have to reassure them, like seasoned parents reassured me about daycare, it’ll get better.

I take a lot of pride in teaching. Ironically, I love it just as much as writing. I try to keep life tensions outside the classroom (this is kind of corny but works for me—I’m thinking of over hyped athletes who akin athletic competition to war—“leave the wife and kids off the field” “be ready to die” “don’t bring your problems on the court”). Normally I teach with a clean conscious; Monday I didn’t. That damn reel stayed fixed like a bubble thought. I knew he had recess at one; I wondered if he sobbed alone in a corner (the way his mom said he did when she drove off). In fact, there was a sub-reel, one where he never left the corner: where he somehow was lost, left to perish in the corner of a Mississippi daycare. I’d be damned if my son perished in the corner of a Mississippi daycare. I wished I’d given him that panic button.

Here’s what they never tell you. That at four o’clock, once you’re free from work, you start to feel like a damn superhero. Somehow a cape crawls out your back, and anyone in the way is super-kicked in the chest. You walk to your car on a mission; as if you’re rescuing a comrade. You might even put on leather combat boots—I can’t be sure. But you certainly drive with intent; push your foreign sedan like it’s a Humvee, spit out frat boys and their skinny pickups. You scream out your window “hold on soldier, daddy’s on the way” and know he feels you. You roll up on that damn daycare like commando, and even smash your hood through its windows. You flip out the vehicle and crawl on your stomach, soldier style—until he sees you, until he looks with recognition, until his face says I knew you’d come, until you put your hands on him, until you both feel whole.

Pink Muscle Shirts and Snow Boots

They’re little people. It’s crazy when I think of it. Not that this was something I didn’t know before, but it’s different raising this little person: more of a partnership than I expected. Growing up, I remember people would always affirm, “oh, you get this from your mother,” or, “that comes from your father.” I remember wondering, what I got from myself; what parts of me are distinctly mine. I’ve been around parents who claimed their kids were simply born a certain way. I can recall how odd it sounded—that this baby was a born comedian, or visual artist, or even asshole. I have a friend who used to let his seven year old dress herself. And when she would appear in ballerina tights under a ruffled skirt all fused with snow boots and a pink muscle shirt in the middle of winter, I would query his thinking. Like, what the hell does she gain from looking crazy? He would always laugh and liken her to a little Andre 3000. I grew to love her style, but still viewed it as a kid with way too much freedom. I mean, what kid wouldn’t love to put some crazy shit on. Just like, what kid wouldn’t love to be let loose in a candy shop. What if she wanted her hair purple?

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It’s a slippery thing to decide how much freedom to give our babies. My son, a year and half, is already showing idiosyncrasies that leave me rubbing my chin. For example, the kid consumes all of his damn books. And I don’t mean he reads them—this fool eats them. And I know this has nothing to do with a personality trait or maybe it does. But I had to mention it because just now, as I’m writing this, he walked in the room with a cardboard piece dangling from his mouth like a cigarette. Anyway. He’s always been extremely cautious. Unlike any child I’ve seen. I know this is why it took him so long to walk. He was too scared of falling. And maybe this is something he’s inherited from me or his mother—the woman who doesn’t fly without “happy pills” and a vodka tonic. Or maybe, he gets this from his grandfather—the man who locks himself in the house when not working, his years as a cop convincing him the world is evil and lawless. Wherever it comes from, I don’t like it. I don’t like when there’s something to be explored but he’s too cautious to investigate. Just the other week, during a festival, a group of kids his age played like it was The Last Recess. I put my boy down to join them. He watched from the sidelines. I nudged him. He watched.

Munk3000

Perhaps someday this will work in our favor: when he’s too afraid to touch the fast girl, or drive too fast. I do, however, think of all the things I missed being afraid of the unknown. I even remember my cousins and I were chased by a dog when we were kids, and I got caught—not because I was the slowest—but because I was too square to run in diagonals, too square to step on the neighbor’s lawn. So I ran in right angles, from walkway to sidewalk, sidewalk to the dog’s arms. I was sweet and he knew it.

My son likes to ram his head into the wall for fun. Again, not sure this is a personality trait. Well, it’s nothing like being musically inclined. Oh, but he can dance. And I’m not just saying that because he’s mine (well, we all say we’re not just saying that because they’re ours—I remember my boy telling me his nine year old was the next coming of Isiah Thomas. And he promised he wasn’t just saying that because it was his son. And I went to see his son play. And nope, he wasn’t the next coming of nothing but his non-hooping dad). I digress. My boy has rhythm for days (I really mean it). And so I wonder if he’ll be some kind of dancer. Or maybe, this will be a phase: mom, dad, y’all remember when I used to dance. You mean, before you could remember?

I encourage him to be his unique self. I try. I try to keep the word “no” locked in my throat; I try and allow him access to the ledge, to even fall from it sometimes. The internal conflict of my job as protector and soul enabler becomes contentious often. How can I say I love him and watch him fall like this? How can I encourage him to value his free will and not let him fall like this? This is why we’re here, right? To explore as much of ourselves as we can: to wear tap shoes, with overalls, with a hoodie, with gold chains, with gold teeth, with tattoos, and a helmet, and…

 

As I Walk Away

Munkatthefrontdoor

I walk to the window and watch you? and light a reefer as I watch you? and I die as I watch you disappear in the dark streets to whistle and smile at the johns

– “As you Leave me” Etheridge Knight

 

Leaving is an impossible thing. I don’t recall the first time, well, that’s a lie; I remember exactly the first time he was left with someone who wasn’t his parents. A colleague had been generous enough to sit, and she and her two adorable daughters watched our boy while we hot tub time machined into our early twenties, throwing shots back like college kids. And I won’t get into the fun of manning a baby with a hangover, but I’ve had better experiences. Then, he was too new to watch us walk away, to eye us down, to whine and moan as we abandoned him.

It can’t help but feel like walking away from a lover: there’s the flirtation with leaving, the coming back, the foot out the door, the “baby I love you so much.” I get to leave him on Wednesdays. The nanny comes, we go over the mornings details, and I walk away; or at least, I try walking away. And fifteen minutes before she arrives, I know he feels it coming on, I know he’s thinking “daddy, why are you putting on fancy shoes, you about to go to church?” Or maybe he’s thinking “daddy, that shirt don’t go with that belt, don’t go with those shoes.” What I do know is when the door opens, and the nanny walks in, he starts to countdown my walking away.

Most times he’s not interested in his favorite songs. He doesn’t want to hear about the hardheaded spider needing to move on from the damn waterspout. The wheels on the bus flatten suddenly. In fact, he looks at me with this look: this how could you, this, I thought you would never. And I don’t know how to respond, how to look back. I try telling him, “daddy gotta get this pap’a,” or, “baby need new shoes.” He doesn’t care. He doesn’t get it. Often I become a character in an Etheridge Knight poem. He wails as I exit the front door. I lean on the door and light a cigarette. We listen to each other’s quiet dying. We know we’ll dance this way again.