i am

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harlem, usa
same-gender-loving contemporary descendant of enslaved africans. community activist, feminist, health educator, independent filmmaker, mentor, playwright, poet & spiritual being. featured at, in & on africana.com, afrikan poetry theatre, angel herald, bejata dot com, bet tonight with tavis smiley, blacklight online, black noir, brooklyn moon cafe, gmhc's barbershop, klmo-fm, lgbt community services center, longmoor productions, nuyorican poets cafe, our corner, poz, pulse, rolling out new york, rush arts gallery, saint veronica's church, schomburg center for research in black culture, sexplorations, the citizen, the new york times, the soundz bar, the trenton times, the village voice, upn news, uzuri, venus, vibe, wbai-fm, wnyc-fm & wqht-fm. volunteered with adodi, bailey house, inc., black men's xchange-new york, colorofchange.org, drug policy alliance, east harlem tutorial program, imagenation film & music festival, presente.org, save darfur coalition, the enough project, the osborne association, the sledge group & your black world. worked on films with maurice jamal & heather murphy. writing student of phil bertelsen & ed bullins. mjt975@msn.com.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Father Farewell

my 80 yr-old father died of lung cancer saturday night january 17. i've been avoiding writing this blog & i'm not sure why. i neva thought i'd write about my father's death. when god called him home i was neither shocked nor stunned receiving the news from my youngest sistah, tracey, whom, i sensed, in making small talk, which i hate, was struggling with how to tell me. is there a right way to inform your brotha of the death of your father? to be honest, i anticipated a short struggle with cancer based on his age, failing health & my evolving spirituality.

the last time i saw him was in frigid chicago, mid-december, in his messy bedroom, sleeping quietly. i felt god's calming presence. god told me he would welcome my father home sooner than lata although he was unwilling to give me the exact date & time. real talk. the whole week i was home my father was in & out of the hospital troubled with dementia, loss of appetite & what seemed to be a restless spirit. for the first time in my life this proud man appeared defeated, shaky & vulnerable. i was frightened.

when tracey told me he died i was with a few friends & shared the news with them. each offered their condolences & vowed to check in on me from time to time. thank god for caring friends. i was relieved he was no longer suffering the hue-man condition yet i felt deeply ashamed bcuz, at age 48, i had no money in my savings account to go home for the funeral. instead of grieving his loss i was worried i'd be unable to participate with my family in his farewell. my youngest brotha, james, was generous enuf to pay for my round-trip ticket & i headed home for five days.

b4 leaving nyc i humbly asked my mother how i could be of service. she mentioned the obituary. instinctively i felt writing his obituary would be an honor & a privilege - nothing i eva expected in life yet something god prepared me for on my spiritual journey. my cousin lorraine's sensitive & selfless editing proved fruitful. unexpectedly, to my delight, another cousin, rod, officiated the quietly respectful morning service. when one of my father's gambling buddies shared a few words about their relationship my heart warmed with love.

the otha family members who were present for my father's funeral, despite their personal feelings & unresolved conflicts, made the difficult trip worthwhile. some folks we grew up with as kids showed up with hugs & smiles. cousin juanita, arriving fashionably late as usual, sang a couple of songs in her unique style: i like her voice. aunt maxine, whether you wanted to or not, could be heard quibbling about the integrity of my obituary. wateva. as lorraine e-mailed me earlier, this was my tribute to my father. she also warned me of a potential backlash; her mother didn't think my obituary was fair.

i had the police on speed dial.

almost a month has passed since he made transition & i've yet to shed tears. am i in denial? no. i've been missing my father more & more the last few days. i can feel it in my gut. those annoying phone calls at 8am have left a void which no one can replace. 80 years on earth for a black man in america is nothing to sneeze at. i'm at peace with our relationship because he was finally honest with me about issues i thought we'd take to the grave. for example, he felt unappreciated by his family & also told me he wished he'd been a better father - i told him he was the best father a son could ask for. he cried. he cried some more. he then hung up the phone perhaps embarrassed or overcome with emotion or unwilling to remain vulnerable with his son.

amazing what you remember when somebody you love dies. i was grateful he shed those tears bcuz black men are conditioned to be invulnerable. as paul laurence dunbar once wrote, "we wear the mask of silent unity." speaking of silence, the ride to the burial was creepy. we're talking dark shadows creepy ok? i shared a car with my mother, older brotha larry, older sistah marla & tracey. the silence was omnious. omg. was i the only one in the car who couldn't breathe? nobody mentioned my father's death. his casket, of course, was in one of the cars in front of us, yet we didn't talk about - him. we were all gathered together bcuz of, him. if it weren't for, him, we wouldn't be together, on this day, for, him. crazy, scary & tuggle to the bone.

my father was a veteran, having served in the korean war many years b4 i was an embryo. proud of his anti-church, anti-prayer, anti-religious perspective, he once told me when the enemy was upon him he had no time to pray. said it didn't matter who or what anyone believed in bcuz self-preservation is the first law of nature. don't ask why but i wanted to argue with him. after all, even the pointer sisters knew "you got to believe in something." but i digress. i'm good at that. digressing. yeah, that's me. i digress. if i don't do anything else i...ok. i need to compose myself, or something resembling sanity.

now i know why i avoided writing this blog...

something in me says writing about my father's transition represents closure - as if his casket wasn't already closed. there i go again, tryna make light out of a dark situation. tryna ease my pain with sarcasm to mask the grief, loss & sadness. it's surreal knowing he's not physically present. i used to wonder how i'd respond if he went b4 i did. life with a compromised immune system has been emotionally challenging; so many friends with aids-related complications have come & gone. i grew weary of asking god why am i still here? my father, interestingly enuf, helped me to accept what i knew intellectually: everything in life is purposeful.

still, there is something to be said for the written word. this is my second draft & i'm feeling better already. i have my father's obituary on my computer desk. i'm not ready to put him on the wall with the obituaries of otha family members & friends. not just yet. am i in denial? no. i know he's gone. but i want him now where i needed him then: by my side. close to me. like a father should be for his son. in the spirit of unity.

1 comment:

Lorraine M. said...

I'm glad you write, Mark, you do it so expressively, so wonderfully well.

And I'm learning some things... Was Larry really anti-church, anti-religion? Had he always been? That is truly fascinating to me given that he fell in love with and married a Catholic girl from a devoutly Catholic family. Wish I'd known that about your dad; he and I might have had some interesting talks (I have my own issues with religion, as I'm sure you've by now divined).

Keep your father's obituary on your desk for as long as you need it there, Mark, and when you're ready--and you'll know when that time comes--put it to rest. That tribute will always be a source of contention for some members of the family (though I sincerely doubt our Aunt Max meant to be obnoxious at her brother-in-law's service--her hearing, like so much else about her health these days, is failing) but in it you honored the father you'd always needed and perhaps, in his last weeks and days, finally found.

Peace, Cuz.