I know because I asked.
I had to be 7 or 8
My mom’s fingers splay out over the blue and white checkered tablecloth that she kept meticulously clean while we lived on Alexander Street.
She seriously contemplates for a moment before looking at me and saying “I really don’t know why I kept having sex with him. He wasn’t very good.”
It was pouring rain the first day I saw him… this man that was so unimpressive and unsatisfying in bed that it seemed to be the only thing my mother remembered about him.
That should have been my first warning.
I am 12
When an envelope slips through the mail slot late one Sunday evening and lands at my mother’s feet. She grabs my brother and me from the couch and throws open the door.
“Wilfred!” The one word is a bit of a growl. “Wilfred are you gonna met your children?”
This large man pauses, he turns around and looks at us. His face is the exact replica of my brother’s when he’s been caught doing something he shouldn’t have.
I don’t remember much about that first meeting aside from the fact that he started dropping us money because his new wife was afraid he would go to hell for not doing something.
Even though he did the least my mom still makes me go over to his house.
and it’s a shock at any age to walk in to a room full of people who look like you and know your name but you don’t know them. It’s weird to see a wall full of pictures of you there too.
And it’s fucked up that I seem to be the only person unnerved by this.
Turns out this man is the professional photographer that worked the schools my brother and me went to since kindergarten.
I want to know why he wasn’t around but instead of telling me the truth he gives me a Bible and writes in the inscription
“Honor thy father and mother”
“lean not into your own understanding”
And because I think that’s a bullshit answer I refuse to participate in the farce.
By time I find out the truth
and it passes to me like a flood from the mouth and memory of his first wife.
About an hour after my younger half sister tells me that our father said he is intimidated by me this woman tells me about how he told the court he was seduced so that my mom could have a love child with her best friend who was a woman. I find out how he moved the photography business my mother helped him build in to his mother’s name so he could show that he isn’t making money. I find out how he stole thousands of dollars and cheated on my mom while she was pregnant.
So I was like fuck him.
Until I wasn’t.
I am 25
and writing texts once a week that never get responses. I’m filled with hope that because I am laying groundwork, showing neither expectation nor animosity he would eventually respond back just one time.
I go home to New Orleans and he phones me on my last day to say he was sorry he missed me but tells me if I’d stay an extra day if he’d come see me. I spend hundreds of dollars I don’t have to change a ticket for a man who never came.
After that I am done done.
My mom tells me if I don’t talk to him I am going to go to hell. “Don’t let this man stand between you and heaven”, she says. She quotes the bible and my obligations to honor him. She says that I will regret it when he dies if I didn’t talk to him.
and the nigga is dead.
And even though I got no regrets it still stings when I find out that my mom’s been going on secret dates with this man for nearly a decade.
The man that 35 years prior looked at her half dead two year old daughter strapped to a ventilator and asked her “Why you got her looking like a pickaninny?” before walking out.
My mother is a pickme for the man that called her own daughter a pickaninny. Her digits were stored in his phone under my name presumably until the day he died. I know this because she tells me.
She says it as she presses his obituary into my hands. A missive that doesn’t mention me or my brother’s name among his legacy. She says it in the same nonchalant tone she had when she told me I wasn’t a love child.
and Father’s Day snuck up on me and kicked my ass a little less this year. Because even though I never felt like a loved child I have been putting in work.
I’ve been reparenting my self.
I’ve been giving my self the protection and boundaries and nourishment I didn’t get then.
I and my child, we are able to receive great, lasting and real kinds of wildly magnificent and satisfying love.
So no I wasn’t born into love. But I sure am living in it.