"The Sun don't come out for many, like Annie/
half orphan, mama never had an abortion/
papa sorta did, still I managed to live..."
~Jay-Z, "Brooklyn We Go Hard"
Father's Day, that holiday always in the shadows of the sugary sweet hoopla of Mother's Day, was on Sunday, yet I've spent the week still contemplating fatherhood. I thought of my friend Isis*, who is now facing trips to family court because of her decision to finally file for custody- and child support. While she told me about her son's father's ugly (but expected) reaction, her preschooler laughingly made a not-so-super Mario spin to his repeated death on my Wii. Isis' decision was far from rash. Her son has lived with her his whole life, even when Dad checked out. She paid for the majority of his expenses, including food, the doctor and medicine. His father was more apt to plunk down a hundred bucks on baby Jordans than diapers. He was constantly late in paying the day care bill, so she often had to take care of it. Enough was enough. So Isis went down to the courthouse and did what she felt was best. But she remained guilt-ridden.She wondered if she had just destined her son to the life of half-orphan that she had lived through as a girl.
My friend David and his son Beniah, husband and son of my best friend Giddel.
On Sunday, in my texting blitz to the fathers I know, I sent one to my best friend Giddel's mother, Veronica. Over the past thirteen years, I watched as she worked, scrimped, saved, paid and loved her way into raising three beautiful, responsible and hard working kids. She received plenty of help from her parents, but still the brunt of the responsibility rested on her shoulders, and so I didn't think twice sending her a message of happiness. She responded with a surpised "Thank you". But I still couldn't help think of all that her ex-husband had missed. He's since passed away, never having a chance to even meet the grandchildren he should be doting on.
In "A 'Vogue' Idea", Carrie wonders if her father's absence from her life has left a void she spent years trying to fill through relationships.
There's an episode of "Sex & The City" where Carrie actually ponders how her life might have been different if her absentee dad had stuck around. She types away at her laptop for her column, asking "How much does a father-figure figure?" Her haunting hypothetical question always lingered in my head. And although never fully played out, I wondered if Ms. Bradshaw's final season decision of who to be with- the older, wiser, worldly Russian or the older, elusive worldly Mr. Big- revealed just how much a father, even absently, figures into some of the most important life decisions a woman can make. Even fictional ones.
Jay-Z has money, power and respect, what The Lox swore you need in life (hmm... where are The Lox anyway?). Yet mixed in with all he has, he still bemoans what he never had. Or rather, who he didn't have.
Back in the day, when I was saying "adios" to high school and a timid "hello" to college, Jay-Z had a huge hit with "Hard Knock Life". Sampling little Orphan Annie, Jigga compared his often chaotic youth in Brooklyn to that famous little parentless red-head who was confined to an orphanage. Life was hard. Life is hard. But you live and learn. Yet, despite the "kicks" and "tricks", the sun would come out. At least it did for Annie. She was adopted by the kind-hearted and rich Daddy Warbucks. Her "tomorrow" came.
It's been over a decade since "Hard Knock Life" was released. Jay-Z is married to one of the most famous woman in the world. He's a platinum artist, part owner of the Nets. He's helped launch the careers of Kanye, John Legend and Rihanna. He's Mr. Morebucks. But his references to the father who wasn't there, to being partially aborted reveal a dark cloud that still seems to shade his sunshine. On "So Ambitious", he talks about the male authority figures who were in his life:
"I felt so inspired by what my teacher said,
Said I'd either be dead or be a reefer head,
Not sure if thats how adults should speak to kids,
Especially when the only thing I did was speak in class,
I'll teach his a--,
Even betters what my uncle did,
I pop my demo tape in start to beat my head,
Peaked out my eye, see if he was beating his,
He might as well say beat it kid, he’s on the list...
I had to lace up my boots even harder,
Father is too far away to father..."
My stepmom Kathy emailed me from the hotel she was at a couple of days ago with my dad in North Carolina. They had attended my great-uncle's 85th birthday party, an event that attracted family from all around the country. She had enjoyed herself, but her heart and mind was in Wisconsin, with her daddy, who's been sick. She's gone through car accidents, heart breaks, sicknesses and a host of other trials, but- her daddy, who she is a female dead ringer for, being sick... is crushing. Maybe she doesn't know that her words drip of despair, that somehow the keystrokes reveal fear. But her email was jolting. She is a grandmother, her parents in their eighties- and still the thought of losing the first man she ever loved is reverting her to a girl.
My brother-in-law Manny, with his kids Justin and Sophia.
Eventually Isis pulled her son away from the powerful clutches of the Wii, aided by my husband. It was late, he had school the next day. She placed a little red retro Nike cap on his head, similar to one Will Smith wore back when he was still The Fresh Prince. "It's cute," I said. "Yeah, it's a gift from his father."
The two walked out, hand in hand, home.
*Isis is a pseudonym. Like "Dragnet" names have been changed to protect the identities of the innocent.