Recently, a fellow writer — and poet — Abdul Ali, put together a series of posts with other writers regarding their experiences with their fathers or father figures. I thought about contributing to his efforts, but I couldn’t. I could’ve easily told any number of stories about being the father of Noah Michael Collins, my extraordinarily strong and sweet soon-to-be-seven year old. But I knew that I couldn’t tell that story in under 500 words. When it comes to growing up and helping others grow up, my life has been unduly complicated, bordering on suicidal misery. Especially in discussing fathers.
Today marks twenty-eight years since Maurice Washington whipped me like I was Kunta Kente for allowing myself to be mugged for $10 by Pookie at Wilson Woods Pool. That is, before I told him I hated him and was then nearly knocked unconscious and ended up with bruised ribs and a bloody lip. I’ve written about this before, in posts from July ’07, ’08, and ’09. That today’s date falls exactly on a Tuesday twenty-eight years later makes this a bit more unique.
No, today’s post has more to do with the motivations behind what happened twenty-eight years ago. You see, I learned later on that my stepfather was attempting to teach me a lesson in manhood by making a deal with the young wannabe thug Pookie to rob me. Part of the lesson was that I needed to defend myself against the world. The other part was that I should see Mr. Maurice as my one and only father, disregarding the fact that Jimme was alive, if not well, and still my father.
Even under the best light, the despicable act of putting a twelve-year-old at the early stages of puberty through some idiotic test of manhood was a form of psychological abuse so grave that this alone should’ve earned Maurice Washington a Joel Steinberg Award for the furthest thing away from a father. Otherwise, it was a cruel and calculated thing that my stepfather pulled, perhaps the worst thing he ever did to any of us. I wasn’t asking for a rite of passage, and even if I needed to pull my head out of books, was this the best way to do that?
I could think of a million more mean words to say about the bastard if I so chose. Only a sadistic sociopath could come up with a worse scenario for blaming the victim of a crime that he set up to happen and then punish the victim by perpetrating another crime. Yet, for a host of reasons, I can’t. I can’t allow myself the painful luxury of making this blog my version of revenge. And I can’t afford spend all of my time in righteous indignation mode.
I’ve often wondered whether it’s enough for me to take the 180-degree approach to discipline regarding Noah. That is, to mete out discipline — almost exclusively non-corporal in nature — tinged with grace and mercy, or to just take the path of my screaming with belt-in-hand mother and stepfather. I look at myself when I take Noah’s toys away, or deny him dessert or TV time, or send him to bed early. Those things actually hurt me when I do them, probably more than they do him. I feel for him, right in the pit of my stomach. That’s how I know that I’m nothing like the so-called father I had to live with at 616 for so many years.