My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir A Review

 

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Title:  My Soul Looks Back: A Memoir

Author: Jessica B. Harris

Hardcover: 272 pages

Publisher: Scribner (May 9, 2017)

 

Like several books previously reviewed, My Soul Looks Back, was an accidental find. I hadn’t read any prior reviews, knew little of the author (except she did something in the culinary world), and, based on the cover of the book, couldn’t begin to imagine what I was embarking upon. But, as the book began, I was instantly awestruck and inspired.
Harris is a writer, chef, thespian, critic, and academic who, aiming for this outcome or not, struck my core with vivid memories of European travel, the exciting journey into the tastes of the unfamiliar, and the beautiful faces and physiques of an alien world seemingly etched by the gentle touch of Bernini or Rodin. If was her meeting and admiration for James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, and a dozen other writers that solidified my desire to read further, to delve into the deepest parts of the book, not realizing that there no shallow areas.
Jessica Harris is an academic who writes, speaks, and lives academia. She elaborates on the people, places, and objects with the tongue of privilege, but admits, directly and indirectly, that she was fortunate in meeting the people who knew the people, places, and things and that without them she wouldn’t have had a story, of this sort, to tell. My Soul Looks Back is not a conventional autobiography, it explores friendships and acquaintances and time in space. It is a diary of events throughout history (without being historic), of life, love, passion, peril, birth, and death. Through Harris, the reader is offered the highly revered Greenwich Village and the mystical magnificence across the Atlantic (including Africa), enhancing our desires with both broad and absolute longing to taste, hear, and smell and an emotional core that we would never be able to adequately or accurately describe.
My Soul Looks Back, as wonderful and billowy as it often is, can sometimes feel heavy. Harris’ experiences are not everyone’s experience (which is okay), but her approach and consistent infusion of French phrasing, name-dropping, and self-inflation can and occasionally does feel a bit… well… heavy, especially if you do not speak/read French or have not had the opportunity to travel extensively or eat Choucroute Garni. This does not take away from the overall beauty of the book’s language, nor does it lessen the sincerity that Harris effectively projects, but it can potentially be problematic to those who are not versed in the art of braggadocio.
Fortunately, many of Harris’ experiences mirror my own, and as a result, I devoured her every word. She mentions the names people I have befriended and praises the many places I have grown to love. This made the book, for me, personally; a time capsule, a portrait of people, places, and objects, I was sure to forget as time progressed. My Soul Looks Back is a breezy walk through artistry and aesthetics, friendships and heartbreak (she writes about the start of the AIDS epidemic and its direct effect on her circle of friends). It will inspire some to throw caution to the wind and others to wonder if they had spent time wasting time. Regardless, you will not be able to help being moved, or at least stirred.

 

 

 

This May Be My Undoing: A Review

this may be my undoingmorgan jerkins

You should’ve known I was coming. — Morgan Jerkins

In late 2016 the writing of Morgan Jerkins, a phenom who orchestrated phrases with amazing fervor and openness, slammed upon my literary landscape like a Sikhote-Alin meteorite. She’d been around for a minute, I’d later learn, as I Googled her name and scrolled through a canon of her articles and blogs as far back as 2014, but, as I had just become familiar, she was [for me] a welcomed fresh face and a new beautiful mind.
It was Jerkins’ lyrical sensibilities, word-aerobics, approach to common themes and colorful social nuances with artistic insight that separated her from the massive ensemble of similar writers. I was encapsulated within her comfortable literary cocoon. In articles from Buzzfeed, Catapult, and Fusion (just to name a few), Jerkins (not Jenkins) gives a head-first dive into her transparent world and in doing so made us better, even if we didn’t know we needed to be.

In her debut and eagerly anticipated book, “This Will Be My Undoing,” Morgan opens a glass door into a place you’d want to linger past closing hours, just to ensure that nothing is missed. She begins with confessions that in this age of Black Girls Rock and Black Girl Magic would certainly raise a few eyebrows. She writes:

“When I was ten, the only thing I wanted was to be a white cheerleader. Bone straight hair. Thin nose. Saccharine voice. Slender body. ”

She continues:

“When I was ten, I realized that I was black. In some ways, that had nothing to do with actual cheerleading, but rather with what blackness meant, writ large, learned from the experience of trying to force myself into this pristine, white, and coveted space, which spit me out before I could realize how much I had been abused.

The detail of this opening is vital to the content of the book. Although racial issues (Jerkins says she was accepted more by the white girls than by the black and brown girls but in time that changed) are not the basis of every essay, it does linger in the wings, entering like an apparition, to prepare Jerkins for the real world, her world, and a series of ‘uncheery’ cheerleading (read social) try-outs. But Jerkins doesn’t allow the past to completely color her present. Instead, she uses the experience to rain observations and truths upon the pages of “This Will Be My Undoing” with enough force and fervor to make the reader quiver. Indeed there were many moments when my progressive mind was shaken. Morgan, although small in stature, is mammoth. She is a force shouting from a Harlem brownstone, Princeton classroom, Russian square, and New Jersey high school; shouting phrases that are usually whispered behind glass doors.

Morgan Jerkins writes of being different, sometimes in a manner that is self-depreciating, searching, longing, and uplifting. She is different. She is mesmerizing. She is a welcoming warm gust and a needed cool breeze. Never quite fitting the pre-requisites of social popularity, she, throughout her entries, was always searching for her place. As one of few African-Americans on the campus of Princeton, for example, she found an odd alienation, of sorts, from the Black men. Perhaps it was a matter of association, climbing the proverbial ladder of success, or being accepted by a culture that could uplift them to higher heights, that kept these men distant. Her relationships with men materialized from daisy fields and butterflies to post-date rides on the last train home; lovely and initially tranquil, but lonely. It could have been because of her, or them, or both. It may simply have been… Too bad for those guys.

But Jerkins brilliantly and beautifully finds that place, in the printed word and through passionate thought, where she is whole and becomes, in essence, a veritable juggernaut. She writes of relatable issues, human matters that beat upon the brow of the common and uncommon. Jerkins treads with a heavy foot along paths that many fear to tread, detailing events that keep the pages turning and the readers hungry. Her essays cover a spectrum of subjects and styles that are academic, real-world, and foreboding, changing her tone from chapter to chapter (often at the end), showing that, like a jazz musician, she’s got chops. There are moments when she sounds like (forgive this comparison) Carrie Bradshaw (Sex and the City), cosmopolitan, hip, contemplative and impassioned, then there are the other moments when she delves into the arena of the bards, thunderous and commanding; professorial.

“This Will Be My Undoing,” is a huge undertaking, much more profound and prolific than a review could possibly relay. In it, Jerkins gives an amazing ride on a Ferris Wheel full of ups and downs, highs and lows (from childhood to adulthood). She pulls at the reader’s heartstrings in one piece then has them longing to reevaluate themselves. From her very beginning — from those articles and blogs that captured the attention of multitudes– Jerkins was on a journey to the fantastic creation of this book. She hinted and warned us, and in the end, she climatically states: “Surprise. You should’ve known I was coming.” Surprise, Morgan. We are glad you came.

 

 

 

 

 

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane

 

Confession first:

Before reading this book, I had only listened to three or four Gucci Mane songs… maybe.

I am a child of the seventies and eighties, a New Yorker, jazz head, bibliophile, art-nerd, musician, whose taste in Rap is more “puritanical” than what began to emerge from the genre in the mid-nineties and the new millennium. The repetitive bass line, synthetic-hypnotic rhythm, and heavily slang-filled accented lyrics kind of lost me, but that is not to say that I was not open to rappers from the south. Actually, I was digging them. Their raps covered life as they knew it and educated those of us who didn’t understand. Through them, we grew eager to see the alien contours and crevices of the planet they occupied, and rushed in droves to Atlanta, North Carolina, Florida, Texas, Memphis, and New Orleans to be enveloped by their often harsh-told realities and to tread upon their planet.

I first learned of Gucci Mane while a Dean in a Memphis performing arts high school. From the middle of a relatively quiet room came a screeching howl, “GUCCI!” and the room exploded in laughter and echoes of “GUCCI” raced across the room for what seemed like an hour, quieting only when it lost its comedic appeal. Still I hadn’t heard anything by this Gucci dude until a student pulled a CD from his backpack and put it into a player behind the classrooms. The CD was “Murder was the Case,” and it was both familiar and extraordinarily foreign. It was the sound of the south, the story of forbidden zones and hidden realities, of ‘life in the game.’ It was raw and vivid, sad, tragic and poetically profound. It was catchy and definitely not my jam, but I could see why it was theirs.

Then I heard about the book.

I feverishly read “The Autobiography of Gucci Mane,” because of Morgan Jerkins. She interviewed him for Vulture magazine in 2017, and from that interview penned an article entitled ‘Gucci Mane Got Out of Prison and Wrote a Book. Here’s How It All Happened.’ I figured that if Morgan Jerkins found him worthy of writing about, and millions of people love him and his music then I had spent an unrecoverable decade missing out. By the time I finished reading his autobiography, I realized that indeed I had.

Gucci Mane’s story is the story of America. Not the pigeon-holed, stereotypical images perpetuated throughout the media, but the real day-to-day. It is an uplifting tale of rags to riches and dirt paths to gold paved streets. This autobiography was a graphic music video based on its own sound-track. And it brought to the forefront that, tattoos, accents, drugs and all, Gucci is a bad MANE!

At the opening of his story he writes about his ability to read earlier than his peers, thanks to his school teacher mother and his inexplicable interest in the written word. It was the word, ultimately, that would save his life a dozen times, and would equally make his world an orb of fire. Words produced poetry, poetry produced rap, and rap, at least for Gucci, produced money, power and chaos. But the other part of his DNA was provided by a father who knew the importance of hustle and respect, and Gucci, whose real name is Radric Davis, followed that often sordid path. He was thought to have a speech impediment (at age nine Gucci and his mother moved to Atlanta where verbal inflections may be different from its neighboring states) but it seems that his Alabama accent was so thick his words didn’t sound quite right. As the years progressed, Atlanta introduce and influenced young Gucci, exposing him, almost illuminating him, to a life of trapping, profiling, and grandiosity; certainly not a life he would have found in Alabama. He became disenchanted with formal education and, after high school, never fulfilled any academic commitments, dropping out of college and trade schools. But words remained his strength.

The Autobiography of Gucci Mane rockets through Gucci’s existential life so quickly the reader feels as if something was missed. This sonic movement from period to period is, perhaps, the principal misfortune. Admittedly, I may have missed some of the fillers or statements that closed those holes, but I doubt it. From the point when he becomes a drug dealer to when the heavens opened and he begins to realize his talent as a rap artist, it seemed to be a blur, particularly the bump from buying beats to bagging gigs. Suddenly his music takes off, soaring well beyond the skills of his peers and he is crowned and quickly revered.  But, in all fairness, it is obvious that Gucci was a pursuer of his personal passions and thrusts himself into the spoils of those passions. He followed the credo of the very successful: Never Apologize — and throughout the narrative abides by that credo. Regardless of the outcome, he never made excuses and he never apologized. Then another phase emerged: Prison.

Being imprisoned for possession of firearms in 2013 (this was not this first rodeo and it wouldn’t be his last) was his metamorphosis and, in many ways, the beginning of his rebirth. When admitted, his body was wrecked from an addiction to a codeine laced cough syrup concoction that affected him so profoundly he gained a mass of weight and suffered chaotic side-effects. Eventually a doctor urged him to discontinue its use, but that was not a part of his immediate plan and he continue to sip syrup until his environment prohibited access. Prison, as implied by the book, detoxed him. He was gradually getting clean of the damaging poisons and in doing so, clearing his head. The decision to engage in a self-developed exercise program (if you want to call it that) led to an eighty pound weight loss by the time of his release. When his term ended (of course there are stories about his time behind bars) the beats of his life and the rumble of the streets welcomed him back.

Ultimately, The Autobiography of Gucci Mane was surprisingly well developed and absent of chapters of indecipherable rhetoric often common in autobiographies about musicians, especially rappers. I was shocked by his candor and his willingness to speak about a multitude of [personal] issues that other artists would avoid intensely. His transparency in this book was golden and elevated him, I believe, to a status that he would not have gained through music alone. Would I recommend this book? Absolutely! Not because it speaks to the life and success (or failure) of a known personality, but because it was everything one would never expect a book about a known personality to be. It seems that Morgan Jerkins also found this to be true. So, now, after a decade free of “trap” music I am trapped, bumping several Gucci Mane tracks locked securely in my musical repertoire. The magic is that these tracks clarify many parts of the book I only subtly understood and left me, randomly, if not hypnotically, yelling… “GUCCI!”

 

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian

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I am a fan of W. Kamau Bell. The sort of fan who would watch or listen to him if the media he was on was available or I happened upon them while channel surfing. How could I not be a fan? He represents a part of all people. That part that is, more often than not, afraid to face the discomforts of race, sex, politics, religion, friendships, tolerance (thank you 45) and acceptance.

I heard of Bell several years ago, but only in passing. He was described as the really tall Black guy with the equally impressive “free-style” Afro. That description did very little to pique my interest. I wanted to know what he was thinking, not what his physical characteristics were, but when I was told that he was ‘on point’ and spoke in an uncommon manner about common (if controversial) matters I sought him out.

Bell is principally a West Coast comic who was primarily doing a west coast circuit, or so it seemed. I remember seeing him for the first time on some forgotten television program (maybe Totally Biased). I was laughing aloud at his routine, Googling his name, and trying to understand exactly where he came from. Then, oddly, I lost track of him. But he left an impression, and I waited for the next time he would emerge with his commentary on social issues. A couple years later Bell reemerged as the host of the CNN’s REAL reality/ docu-like show, United Shades of America, and I, as if his apparition publicist, tooted the title from the bell tower (no pun intended) to all who’d listen. His work was genius, in a dry, academic, conscientious sort of way. The odd, edgy, thought-provoking show was at times unnerving (see the KKK episode and look at Bell’s nervous expression) and at other times addictive and hopeful.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, confirmed my appreciation for Bell as an Everyman. The book exposes Bell true character beyond the television personality, and perhaps, the on-stage comic. The reader is taken on a fantastic journey through his life. He writes about his never married parents (there are no stereotypes here, his parents were both professional people), the woes of childhood, his attraction to all things nerdy, his initial awareness of being “different” (must read the ‘no kiss for you’ part) and the importance of remaining steadfast even when against all odds. The book exposed him as the skater guy who couldn’t skate but cheered for his skate-able comrades because that’s what friends do. If Bell had never mentioned where he planted his roots, it would still have been obvious that he has a California heart.

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamau Bell: Tales of a 6′ 4″, African American, Heterosexual, Cisgender, Left-Leaning, Asthmatic, Black and Proud Blerd, Mama’s Boy, Dad, and Stand-Up Comedian, is part biography, part history lesson. Bell gives real thought throughout the pages of The Awkward Thoughts. His position and thoughts on racism, although he is in an interracial marriage, are both profound and powerful. His straight line position is that racism is an indicator of something other than the color of one’s skin. He projects that the racist is as he is because he feels that something of personal value (opportunity, usually) has been taken. But, Bell surmises, that is not the crux of the problem. The issue, on a deep dive, is not color but promises not kept and one’s inability to venture beyond their disparaging place for better opportunity. This trap keeps families frustrated, downtrodden and angry. Someone has to be blamed. And the flame of their despair is being fed by the ignorant rhetoric of the man behind the white curtain, further searing their souls with speak of immigrants (illegal) and others stealing their hope. Even a first-week psychology student knows that seething words of the blame on depressed ears feasters unreasonable thought.

Bell urges people to read. To venture beyond the rhetoric and develop one’s own opinion. He sites Ta’Nehisi Coates and Michelle Alexander as must-read authors. He speaks of his ‘not such a good student’ high school days, but how he was accepted into Penn State (although it was very short-lived). He shows that even the wayward can and often will eventually find their way, if only they listen to their inner voice, and venture along those paths that others may fear to tread. This, Bell states, is the story he’d tell his daughters, who seemingly settled him, but keep him hungry for the next level.

The book concludes with Bell writing about an incident that occurred during his birthday. He and his wife sat (outdoor seating) in a favorite brunch cafe in Cali. When the meal was over he left, temporarily, but his wife remained, engaged in conversation with friends. When Bell, all 6’4″, Black, and militantly coiffed, returned to the cafe, he stood over the table where his wife and others sat. Then, he writes, an overzealous waitress knocked on the window from within the cafe to get his attention. Not knowing who he was or why he was there, the waitress tried to ‘shoo’ him away, assuming that he was harassing the white women. Rightfully, Bell and his wife were infuriated. Shortly after verbalizing his embarrassment and humiliation he organized a meeting based on racial tolerance in the gym of a local middle school. The owner of the cafe attended and tried, passionately, to sympathize his way out of the issue, acknowledging the depth and seriousness of the misunderstanding, stating that the essence of the cafe was and always will be tolerance, but the more he spoke the more Bell and others realized that he didn’t understand. If tolerance was true, and not just a statement of liberal comfort, the waitress would not have approached or mistaken him [Bell] as a street person. After all, Bell writes — building upon the insult– she did not approach the white man with matted hair panhandling outside the door of the cafe for well over an hour, at all.

Indeed Bell has experienced these situations, directly and subtly for a majority of his life. Indeed, and sadly, all Black people have, whether they see it directly or choose to ignore it. In The Awkward Thoughts… Bell not only found and projected his comedic voice, his talent, his story, he, without trying, found and projected ours.

Dig If You Will: A Review

Dig if you will

Author: Ben Greenman

304 Pages

Books that are written about an icon harbors expectations that often exceed reality; infusing an image of a giant with the curiosity and mystery of their journey to stardom. Readers want to get the details that would otherwise remain unknown.  Several months ago I wrote a blog about one such icon, and upon completion, which is the case for many writers, I hated every word, punctuation, and idle attempt to be savvy and captivating. I didn’t further edit that blog, opting instead to let it stand as a reminder of where  I was, mentally, at that time. In the late 1970’s I was a supersized ( in today’s measurement of girth, that youthful me would be considered ‘average-athletic’)  version of most newly minted teenagers. We were a deeply impressionable bunch, wanting to emulate, even ape, our heroes, including, perhaps especially, those in music. So, after a long and sometimes painful journey through the catacombs of disco, elevator rock, and experimental fusion, an unknown enigma emerged and soared upon the airwaves and into our lives, nesting there, incomprehensible, for several decades. And it would be his precocious music that leveled rocky paths– uniting cultures– like disco. The world came to know him as one ironic and terrifically appropriate name: Prince.

Tiny, androgynous, mysterious, and enigmatic, Prince quickly elevated to superhero, and then suddenly he passed. His unexpected death led millions of people to the streets paying homage in song, dance, costumes, and chants. Purple covered the skies.  Dig If You Will the Picture, by Ben Greenman, a biography, of sorts, about Prince categorizes in a way that often feels sanitized, the work and life of the artist. It was evident that Greenman had not interviewed  Prince and more evident that through independently developed accounts and personal opinions this book was created.  It cannot be questions that Greenman is a gifted scribe with tremendous interest in pop culture and icons, but this could be problematic as the book became, in parts, too academic which, although informative, lulled along. Greenman’s comparison of Prince songs to other works, from the literary to the philosophical, shows that he is encyclopedic perhaps beyond necessity. If Dig If You Will the Picture was placed alongside the many books existing and forthcoming (Prince: A Private View; Prince and the Purple Rain Era Studio Sessions:1983-1984; The Most Beautiful, and several others), it would glow and equally fall short based on its lack of personalization. There were no, or very few, points of passion, humanizing of Price as a person, or surreal effect on his fan base.

Fortunately, there is one thing the Greenman provided in the writing of this book. He allowed those who may not be familiar with Prince (imagine that) an opportunity to know the depth of his genius. His emphasis on Prince as an instrumentalist and determined lyricist, or Prince’s refusal to compromise his sound, look, or passion, illuminates the artist. Fans of Prince should definitely read Dig If You Will the Picture. Many will enjoy its details (I actually did) but expect the unexpected. I wasn’t wowed; I wasn’t disappointed, but I was not prepared for some of the content or the almost scrivener’s style.

Greenman had me reminiscing about nearly forgotten songs, flipping through old disks, and listening to unfamiliar Prince tunes. Pleasantly, I was transported back to Prince’s earlier works and developed a new appreciation for his newer music. I was a college student at the height of many of Prince’s greatest hits, sitting in a friend’s dorm room with a half dozen other guys sipping on the cheapest truth serum we could find and vigorously debating about the symbolic meanings of and hidden messages behind When Dove’s Cry,  I Would Die For You, or Darling Nikki, and the yet proven fact that his name, Prince Rogers Nelson, had 6 letters each (666). We’d watch his videos in silence, allowing the serum to work its magic and Prince to work wonders.  The book awakened that. In many ways, I am still in that dorm room saying with conviction, Dig If You Will….

 

The Man YOU Made–To Dad on His Birthday

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Dear Dad,

Happy birthday!

Man, when God made you, the mold was definitely broken. All I can say is that I am glad to know that I am a part of that mold. So, here’s the strange part,  despite the fact that I talk to you several times a day, every day, I hardly know where to begin without sounding commercial, forced or trite, so I will just start by saying, thank you.   I know you always tell me that I don’t have to give you thanks, but you do understand where I’m coming from and why I am coming from that direction. You know that through the years I have seen boys and men who have had no father to thank. So, I, Joey Bean-Head, with immeasurable appreciation, am thanking you.

I want to thank you for what some may see as common, expected, or the responsibility of a father. I don’t know what that means: common, expected, or the responsibility of a father.  You fulfilled our expectations and nothing about you is or has ever been common, but everything about you is father. In my eyes, for all of my life, you have been more: a superhero, a disciple, a Giant! from the expanse of your chest, your confident gait, or the unselfish giving of your heart. Oh Captain, my Captain! You are what no other man could ever be, and what many fathers never took time to become. I am working on becoming ….

You were young when I was born, barely out of childhood yourself, yet in the eyes of an infant, you were monumental. You gave me your name. I honor that and carry our name proudly. I remember how safe I felt, how I knew, regardless of what the world projected, that no harm would fall upon me, that no demon dared set foot or claw in our den. I hold memories of those days, memories that perhaps should have been forgotten by a child of three or four, but for reasons that I cannot explain, they remain, vividly. I remember growing with you, maturing as you further matured, in awed by your strength and your passion for the unseen, later evidenced by what you accomplished. You said it and it appeared. You promised it and it became.  I remember being taught how to cut grass (“follow the lines made by the wheel!”), prune trees, plant flowers, build fences (or try) and make BIG ASS fires in metal trash cans.

Through the years (I call them my war years) I grew more complex, feeling at one point that I didn’t even know myself. I wanted for nothing, yet here I was. I was sixteen, maybe seventeen, my heart betrayed me as my forever love said love wasn’t forever, at least not hers. I thought myself smart, talented, athletic, a trifecta that would be irresistible, but that wasn’t, at that time, supposed to be, at least not with her.

I came home from school that day, broken, after wandering through the streets enshrouded in an impenetrable fog. It was warm. The sun was bright. The scent of Jasmine perfumed the air. Birds sang so beautifully that the Angels hushed to listen. To the rest of the world, life was joyous, but for me, my universe was in shambles. I remember little about what happened when I got home. For reasons forever mysterious, I was drawn to the bathroom. When I entered I collapsed on the floor and trembled, curled in a fetal position, tears streaming down my face and neck, wails calling out to God. The door was closed but as I lay there, confessing that life was no longer worth living, contemplating how I’d end this excruciating pain, you entered, still dressed in your uniform. I don’t remember what you said, or if you said anything at all, but I do remember feeling your warmth, as you lowered yourself in a tiny clearing next to me on that floor of Tremble, and embraced me until the chill waned. I thought I heard you whisper:

Now if you feel that you can’t go on (can’t go on)
Because all of your hope is gone (all your hope is gone)
And your life is filled with much confusion (much confusion)
Until happiness is just an illusion (happiness is just an illusion)
And your world around is crumbling down, darlin’…

(Reach out) Reach out for me…

I’ll be there with a love that will shelter you
I’ll be there with a love that will see you through…

You gave me a part of your soul that day. No one was ever to know and we never spoke of it again and life went on. And I knew on that day I was given undeniable confirmation that you were more than just my dad.

There were many similar stories as the years progressed. You accepted my sensitivities, made me accept my failures, encouraged my passions, and fed me with the fuel of brilliance. You let me know that there will always be people who wouldn’t understand my drive, try to discourage my dreams, hope to break my spirit, and project their self-hatred in my direction. You spoke of naysayers spitting fire in your path, but how the water on your soles kept the fires extinguished. I, too, now have well-earned soles of water extinguishing their fires.

Dad, I, in this letter, am trying to recall everything that you provided to ensure that I would live a life of satisfaction. I am hoping to remember so I can share those memories in several hundred more pages, with my daughter, my nieces and nephews, and people who approach me with curiosity, but even that would prove insufficient.  A million words would only touch the surface of who you are and what you are. But I do see that look from my child; that same look that I used to give you when I was her age; the look of amazement and awe, love and assurance. I never thought I could walk in your footsteps, but I realized that you never wanted me to. You instead encouraged that I create my own, and when I ventured into a world I didn’t know, surrounded by people whose language I did not speak, I knew I was making you proud.

So, here I am, humming your favorite tune, looking in the mirror at a facsimile of your face, enamored by the thought that your DNA is in two generations and that each time I sign my name I also sign yours. Today I pay great tribute to you on the day you broke the mold. I will continue your journey because I know that next to your giant footsteps, perhaps a bit smaller, and not as sure, are mine.

Love you Dad! Happy Birthday.