During the summer of 2020, we’re celebrating the fathers, grandfathers, and other parental figures in our community. We are proud to share their reflections on what it means to be a parent and how their lives have been enriched by the experience.
I had a very brief relationship with my father. He and my mother split up before I was born, I was the youngest of three. My mother came to California, from Georgia in 1963 with me and my older brother. I distinctly remember my father being referred to in derogatory terms by my mother. It was always, “You aren’t going to be shit just like your father,” or “You lazy as hell, like your nothing ass father.” After getting in some trouble in the summer of 1976, I was sent back to Georgia to stay with my grandmother. While I was there she asked if I wanted to meet my father. I jumped at the opportunity to meet this guy that I so much did not want to be like. He arrived with what later turned out to be my younger step brothers. He had another family, with three boys and two daughters, and he was a deputy sheriff of the county that he lived in. He told me that the reason he and my mom broke up was because while he was off to the Korean War, he sent his money home. When he came home his money had been spent, and he got upset. I stayed with them for two weeks. He and I hugged, and I told him I loved him. I came back to Georgia again in 1978 while in the Marine Corps. Spent a few days with my father. He passed away in 1986, I believe it was a heart attack. I was in the California prison system at the time on a fire. I was in the fire camps. I was taken off the fire line and taken to the local county jail in Eureka, and transported back to Susanville. That was the extent of the relationship I had with my father.
I just wanted to be a part of my children’s lives. I did not want them to learn about me from others. Just before my last term in prison, I was riding with my mom and my son, and I asked my mother to always let me be a part of my son’s life. I knew I was coming back to prison, because of my drug use. I mentioned to my mom how negative she had always been about my father, and it turns out he was a good guy. I said if I would have listened to her I would have thought my dad wasn’t shit. He was a dignified man, who was respected, and he took care of his family. I begged her not to let my son find out about me from others. A year or so later I started my last prison sentence, and shortly after that my mom passed away. Mom’s son was left in the guardianship of others, who chose not to allow me to visit, call, or write my son. With the help of people like Jody Lewen who told me to continue to write to him even if he doesn’t get the letters. After six years my son wrote me, and we have been in touch since then. It has been rocky at times. He has recently moved out of his adoption home, and he speaks with me regularly. I have the relationship I wanted with my son today.
Prior to having my son, I did have a daughter in 1980, and her mother didn’t want to have anything to do with me. I located her in 1982 after getting released from prison the first time. It was the height of the crack era, and I was a full blown addict. I wanted to be a father, but when offered the opportunity to walk away I did. I later regretted that decision. You see so many of my friends were having children and settling down. I was coming home from prison for the second time and I wasn’t even 30. I tried to find her again, in 1988, but the people who knew them, had no way of contacting them. I returned to prison again in 1992 and upon my release I put in a good effort to locate her. No one knew how to find her or her mother. In the meantime, I had two women tell me that the baby they were having was mine. In both cases they were lying, and playing on my desire to be a father. Well during my last term in prison a relative of hers saw me and gave me her address. I wrote to her in 2014. The person she knew of as her dad had just passed away on fathers day. She was 34 years old with 4 kids, about to move to Berkeley along with her mom. Upon my release in 2015 I met with her and my three granddaughters. My grandson, her oldest, was in prison. A year later I got a place in Berkeley, In 2017 I took my daughter to Georgia to meet some of her other uncles and aunts. We have a great relationship to this day, and I am the father I want to be.
Having children had a profound impact on my life. I wanted to be better, and do better for them. Not being in their lives for so long has had a negative effect. Me and my children have made a deal to just move forward from here. We realize the past was not the best, we could try and place blame, and waste energy on something that could never be fixed. So I try to keep us in the here and now. Although every time I have a drink with my daughter, she will revert back to wanting to know. Why? It clears up in the morning.
Some things I implement into the relationships with my kids is I ask them, “How am I doing?” Here is an example of the last time my youngest granddaughter and I had that conversation. “So, how have I been doing as a grandfather?” “You, okay, I guess.” “As a granddaughter. You suck. You don’t call, or come by. I only stay up the street. Only time I see you is if you want a ride somewhere.” “Okay old man, I will call you.” She does now that I have moved to Arizona. All my grandkids call me regularly. I learned in group [therapy] that you can’t take it for granted that you are doing alright. You have to ask, that way there is no room for misunderstandings. I ask how I am doing?
I really wish this world would allow my kids the opportunity to be self expressive without censorship. I wish they could go through this life and not be judged by their skin color. I want them to have the same opportunity to earn and learn as the most privileged kids in the world. I wish they never have to see the inside of a prison.