In Search of My Father

This blog is an interactive tool for my book:

In Search of My Father.

First and foremost, it was a therapeutic rite of passage for me. But I've realized there's also an opportunity for others to heal.

If you'd like to write a letter to your father, I accept reader submissions at shade.ashani@gmail.com.

An excerpt from my Father’s Day reading at Mt. Zion Baptist

Fathers are given this incredibly powerful opportunity to bestow a settledness and assurance of identity. So whatever your presenting problems: addictions, depression, self-destruction, low self-esteem, I’m here to ask you, can you trace it back to a father wound?

If you’re not sure, here are some of the symptoms: in response to these wounds, we make VOWS to ourselves. Do you hear yourself in these lines? We reflect on our childhoods and say, I will always, I will never… I will never repeat what my father did. I will always make sure my daughter knows she’s beautiful. I will never let anyone hurt me like that again. I will never trust anyone fully other than myself. And these vows become barriers around our hearts.

In some ways, our mother’s love feels like a given. She’s biologically wired to love me! She chose to have me. When mom sacrifices we love her for it, but we EXPECT that from her. When our fathers sacrifice and love us, perhaps in part due to because of the American culture of divorce, this feels like a choice. My father chooses to love me and be there for me and he doesn’t have to. When he shows up, it feels optional, extra special. He chose my ballet recital over a playoff basketball game or work or other important obligations; he chose ME over everything else. He delights me in and cherishes me. I, in turn, am free to feel that way about myself.

When a father appropriately loves, validates, affirms his daughter…she just doesn’t need to run off with the first boy at 14. When we don’t get that, a girl’s need for male attention becomes absolutely bottomless. The absolute number one predictor of sexual promiscuity in teenage girls is no dad. The tripling of teen pregnancies since the 1980s starts to make sense when we line it up with the divorce rate.

As young women, we need our fathers to confirm to very important aspects of life for us: in my own experience, it was value, worth and beauty. A father’s participation in our lives answers the questions, do you see me? Am I valuable to you? Am I worth fighting for? Am I wanted? If our fathers do not answer those questions, we will take those questions out with us for the world to answer. And the answer we get is no, because it is NOT a 17 year old boy’s job to tell you, you have infinite value. I will endure any and all of your insecurities and you will not exhaust me. I will put you and your well being before my wants because I love you unconditionally. It is a father-wound a boyfriend and one-day husband cannot heal. We can try to put extra curriculars, sex, drugs, food, eating disorders, awards, beauty queen crowns, clothes, attention from men, other relationships into that void but it is a FATHER SHAPED HOLE. Nothing and no one can fill it, but there is good news. You can HEAL it.   

An exercise:

As an exercise for the conference I’m speaking for at the end of the month, I was asked to write a letter to my young self. Which is really funny because that’s how I approach each of my speaking engagements, especially the ones at sororities. They become my baby sisters for the evening and I think to myself: what did I need to hear? what tools can I give them so they can avoid some of the pain I endured or mistakes I made? 

I loved the exercise to make it a concise letter to little Shade…and I felt something healing about it :) So I thought I’d share. Ya’ll know I love to share. Feel free to share your own letters with me and I’ll post them here or of course I can keep them private too. 

xoxo,

S

Letter to my young self:

Precious,

You are so, so beautiful. 

You are worthy of love. 

You are worthy of respect. 

You are worthy of joy. 

Your worth is not dependent on whether or not your father keeps his word to you. Your worth is not dependent on how others treat you. You are a princess in His kingdom and anyone who doesn’t treat you as such is not worthy of your time, let alone your tears. 

Boys, awards in sports, pageant crowns, straight A’s nor any other material thing will fill the hole in your heart your father left behind. You must acknowledge it and heal it for yourself. You have everything you need inside of you and you are far more capable and brilliant than you even know. You will have the opportunity to dine with presidents and kings and you will stand before Congress to help change the lives of the broken and the lost one day. Start letting go of the pain so that you can have your awesome destiny. 

And your husband? He’s out there. Stop looking for him. You have the rest of your life to be married. And you will not heal or undo your parents’ mistakes by trying to start your own family faster. You cannot heal anyone or attract a healthy mate while you are still unhealthy. You have a beautiful, compassionate heart. But your partner cannot be one of your charity cases. Please be gentle with your heart. Be careful who you share it with. You only have one. You were not made to be bitter, jaded and abused. 

You were made to shine so that others could see Him and know Him when they see you.

Right now is your time. Find your passions. Find what makes you feel alive. Have FUN. Spend your money on what brings you joy and you’ll never regret it. Dye your hair. See the world. Enjoy being with yourself. Read everything that sparks your interest. Fall in love with the essence of what makes you unique. Start your never-ending conservation with Jesus as soon as possible. Preferably sooner. If you don’t know how yet, tell Him that. 

Lastly, be unabashedly unafraid to be yourself. Because you are one of the most incredible, loving, giving, joyful, bright, hardworking, and faithful young women in the world. There are others like you. You may feel lonely now, but if I could tell you anything, above all else it would be this: 

You are not alone.

You are beloved,

Shade 

Father’s Day

"It is Father Day this Sunday. I want to thank all the Dads that realized the significant part of their family and children’s lives that they are responsible for . My heart felt sympathy to those who did not know their Dads. I am glad that no matter what faith you hold dear; There is a God to turn to. Our Nation is having an epidemic of Fatherless families. Being there as a positive role model is important. Thank you to all the Uncles, brothers, Grandpas and men who understood and help children cope. And a praise of respect to women who are and have tried to fulfill the lives of their children in both roles."—-@Carol Ramnarine thanks for saying it better than I could :)

For his father, The Legend Bob Marley

You taught me a lot about being a man.

My father died more than 30 years ago from heart disease at the age of 50. I was 25 at the time. If I were able to talk to him today, here is what I would say.

Dear Dad,

It’s been awhile since I talked with you, so I thought I’d just kinda check in. When I first heard that Rickie Lee Jones song, I thought of you when she sang,

“I remember you too clearly, but I’ll survive another day. Conversations to share. When there’s no one there, I’d imagine what you’d say.”

Every time something good happens to me, I want to call you and tell you about it so you’ll be proud of me. Of course, you wouldn’t let on that you were proud, but I’d know. Remember when I got my first real job and I called to tell you about it? Remember what you said? “Your mother will be pleased.”

I found that less than satisfying as a response, I want you to know. You taught me how to play golf right before you died, but I didn’t get any good at it until much later. When I broke 80 for the first time, I really wanted to call you, but I didn’t have your number. You taught me a lot about sports. I think you changed over the years. You were a wonderful athlete when you were young. The way I remember it, you had about 2 million trophies: bowling trophies, basketball, softball, golf. You even had a trophy from the time you and Mom were in that round robin bridge league. A bridge trophy! Now that was quite a trophy. A figure of this Grecian looking guy with a loincloth, a laurel wreath, no shirt, and washboard abs, holding his arm out with a handful of playing cards, all fanned out. How heroic. I suspected that most bridge champions didn’t really have washboard abs. I think most of them probably had washtub abs, actually. You had so many trophies that there was a special shelf just for them. Well, what else are you gonna do with trophies but put them on a shelf? That way, when people come over, you can ask, “Would you like to see my Shrine to Myself?” Not that you would have ever said that. I think those trophies made you a little self conscious; I don’t ever remember you looking at them or talking about them. I’ll never forget the day I came home from college and all the trophies were gone. The shelf was full of family pictures. I said, “What happened to your trophies?”

“I threw them away.”

“Why?”

“After a game is over, it’s over. A trophy is a way of pretending that it‘s not over.”

And I realized that you were right. There’s something about the present tense in sports. Watching a game on videotape just isn’t very interesting. It has to be happening now. And I realized that a lot of professional sports is mostly just a big pile of bullshit: retired jerseys, Stanley Cups, old timer’s games, championship rings, halls of fame- –all so old guys can pretend they’re not really old, and so the rest of us can pretend we’re not getting old either.

They always say, “Game 7 of the World Series will be played on Sunday, if necessary.” Is any ball game really necessary? You didn’t think so when you got a little older. It’s the same with me. Don’t get me wrong. I still love sports. I love to watch; I still love to play. But I try and keep them in some sort of context. I try not to get depressed when the Orioles lose. Sports just aren’t that important anymore, and that’s a good thing. I haven’t gone so far as to throw my trophies away, though—either of them. A lot has happened since you left. I got my Ph.D.; I’m a professor at a small college. I’m not getting rich, but it’s a good job. When people ask, “What do you do for a living?”

I can say, “I share my thoughts.” Nice work if you can get it. I get to live in the world of ideas. Thinking back, maybe that’s what you had in mind when you got that master’s degree in English lit. There’s three great reasons to be a college professor— June, July, and August. Golf, golf, and golf. But the money’s okay. I’m making six figures now. Two of them come after the decimal point, but … . I bought a nice house a couple years ago. And I live with a wonderful woman.

You taught me a lot about being a man. Some of it was right; some of it wasn’t, but then, you didn’t know. I didn’t know it at the time, but you were still trying to work it out for yourself. You kept your feelings to yourself most of the time. That didn’t turn out to be good for you or for us. We wanted to know you better. I’m learning that most of this masculinity stuff is a bunch of bullshit. It’s a much richer life when you can just be who you are—sometimes emotional, connected to other people, sometimes afraid, wanting to take care of your health, having a balanced life. Now I know you were learning those same things, too. The last few years before you died, you were just starting to soften and open up a little bit. I try to imagine what it would be like if you were still alive. I like to think we’d be really close. We’d spend a lot of time together, you’d be interested in my work, you’d help me do my taxes every year; I’d get to watch you grow old. You were 20 years and 6 months short of the average life expectancy. I feel pretty cheated about that. But then, I can imagine how you must feel about it. You owe me about 500 rounds of golf, about 10,000 conversations, and a whole lot of advice that I would pay no attention to whatsoever. I still have those conversations with you anyway. I can’t help it. I carry you around with me, and you still help me all the time. So here’s your son—a decent man, nothing spectacular, a little bit of a show off. But you’d like him. I mean, what’s not to like? You were a great man, dad, and I’m glad I got to know you. Take care … . Oh!, by the way, remember that time you gave me and Matt boxing gloves for Christmas? What the hell were you thinking? –

Dr. Christopher Killmartin

Thank you for loving my mother

Dear Dad,

      Thank you for loving my mother and for teaching how to walk as a man of honor in this world. I will teach my son the same lessons. Rest in Peace.

Your son, Tom

My Fox8 interview on the Morning News yesterday!

This ad series by fatherhood.gov is my favorite.

Unlovable

You must be taught to be unlovable 
And we have mastered the lesson. 
Our fathers, former students, have become the teachers, 
Through unintended lesson plans with the “I’s” of illegitimacy and insecurity dotted. 

We are very intimate with childish games. 
They jump in and out of our lives like a game of Double Dutch 
And we are unable to dodge the sting of Their absence. 
Our birthdays share the relevance of Wednesdays. 
We ingest our sadness like cake and ice cream 
And allow it to eat us from the inside out. 
We bring our insecurity blanket for show-and-tell that keeps us warm, 
Far into adulthood 
and becomes a hand-me-down for our children. 
Shame is our second-skin. 
We wear it to graduations, football games, and dances. 

We must be taught to be unlovable 
and we have mastered the lesson 
That 2+1 does not always equal 3 when a child is born. 
That sometimes we grow up to feel like 1/2 a man 
And a fraction of a woman. 
We multiply, 
Carry the remainder into every relationship 
Without factoring our division into the equation. 
We then become the teachers 
Because we have mastered the lesson so well. 

Copyright © 2009 by Kristen Crockett