This post has been edited to fix all of the disability related grammar issues. Sorry it took so long.
A lot of women bloggers took the weekend to write reflections about their fathers. Many were filled with ambivalence, pain, and resolution. Some showed the courage of the phoenix rising out of natal ashes. Many natal families are the first place we learn fear, violation, betrayal, and violence; these stories, and being able to tell them without judgment, are woven into a feminist commitment to ensure equality for young girls and women around the world. But when it comes time to talk about families, I feel like the thin girl complaining she is not plump enough or that she cries in front of her mirror too. I’m sure she does, but given the amount of body policing and psychologically damaging labels of ugly, lazy, and unlovable larger girls labor under it is hard to give skinny an ounce of sympathy. And so, like skinny, I keep my mouth shut. You see, my stories about my father are about systems of oppression not the scary man who we fear coming home from work, having too many beers on Sunday, or stumbling into the “wrong room” at night. My father taught me to be strong and wise and politically committed. His failing was in sending me out into a world of middle class people with working class revolutionary commitments and ethics. And our shared lack of compromise with polite people has led to our shared careers as the hard core wing of academe and social service, too smart to toss and to different to be included.
I could tell you stories about how my father missed my birth because he wasn’t the same color as my mother so the staff told her he’d gone out for a smoke and they couldn’t find him. I could tell you about the time that a group of men beat him bloody on his way home because they didn’t think he deserved to be in our family. And I could tell you the look on my first boyfriend’s face when he came to my house and met my father or the way the gf and my dad bonded to my mother’s chagrin. I could tell you these stories and watch you guess at whether he was lighter or darker than me and my mother. Watch you wonder if my stories of outside oppression color my ability to see it inside my home. But the thing is, my tears, though real. are not your tears and my father is still my hero.
So if I were to tell you a story about my dad, it would be about how such a strong man and brilliant mind inspired me to be better than I am. It would be about his escapades putting his life and his career on the line to stand up for Chicano rights, Black Pride, and the American Indian Movement. It would be about the bad-ss days of old when he and Angel Davis were in the trenches together instead of contrasted by hallowed halls. And it would be about how at the end of his life, this man is disrespected almost daily by young, white, gay and lesbians, and upper middle class white heterosexual couples and college kids who call him the “Man” while they mock him, antagonize him, refuse to serve him at restaurants and grocery stores, all the while waiting for him to die so they can tell their friends to buy up his house and own the whole block. It would be about how the onset of dimentia is making their disrespectful crazy-making around him seem legitimate to police and is transforming my dad from the kind soul who carried a big stick to the raging “old fool” on his porch in shorts in the middle of winter.
Then instead of lamenting how little he cared for me as a child, like so many others have done this weekend, I would have to tell you how sometimes I cry at the utter lack of control I have over how he is treated by those “neighbors” who think they are so progressive and so much more oppressed than he. I would have to trust you to understand that my PhD does not buy me the privilege to stare down the cops who ignore his calls or the neighbors who mock him. I’d have to trust you to know that the money I make may stop them from stealing his home out from under him as they did to black elders on the block, but it will never buy him security or the respect that he has earned but they still refuse to give. I might even have to tell you how I rage like an angry black woman at some of those people as they stand there shrouded in their white innocence, pointing and using my anger to justify their fear and hatred.
So no my dad is not the boogie man. I don’t have to swallow childhood shame to take him out to breakfast on Father’s Day or pretend my girlfriend is my roommate.
And so I keep my mouth shut. Because I know what a privilege it is to have a father, a real one, and not just some terror in the shadows who once donated his seed.
Perhaps this little glimpse into my life tells you why it is that every Father’s Day I post pictures of loving dad’s doting on their children and encourage us all to remember the fathers we did have, whether natal or chosen, who helped us find our way.