Joe is one of my best friends on earth. I had the pleasure of meeting him my first day of undergrad when I walked into the shoe store he managed, and well, we hit it off. That was nearly 30 years ago. In that time, I have also been blessed to have witnessed the bookends of his fatherhood story: I was one of the first people to hold his oldest (who I just adore) and was the first person outside of medical professionals and his parents to hold the youngest (my godson as well, and let’s just say that little joker has some of my personality. Sorry about that.)
We talk about many, many topics, and I can honestly say that we bounce off each other. Some days, I liken us to Ellington and Strayhorn – one cannot exist without the other. He truly is a member of my kitchen cabinet.
This morning’s pre-coffee phone call included talking about how our parents formed and informed us, and how we do the same to our children. Specifically, we talked about how we believe our children should be self-sufficient, and how we also had to know how to take care of ourselves. This conversation also coincided with the anniversary of my maternal grandmother’s death, Minnie Stacks Ford, who died 20 years before I was born.
My mother never got over her mother’s death. In hindsight, looking at her parenting steps and missteps, looking at her actions and reactions, I realize that she was doing the best that she could with the information she had. At an early age, she insisted that I know how to be self-sufficient: wash clothes, cook, clean. She didn’t teach me how to be financially savvy, because, well, the deck was (and still is) stacked again Black women. My bonus mother was the same way, especially over making a bed. If it was not done correctly, she would “deconstruct” the bed – take off the sheets, flip the mattress, and I remade it until she could bounce a quarter on it.
At almost 51 years old, I only make my bed when there is company coming over to spend the night or if I feel like it. Bob makes beds. I don’t have to.
I now realize that both the women who formed and raised me mimicked how they’d been formed and raised. My mother lived with my great-grandmother and great aunt, and while they loved her, Mama knew that she was not their child. My bonus mother had her mother and grandmother, and while they loved her, they were not exactly “effusive” in their displays of affection. There is a reason for that – Black women don’t have the time to be overly emotional, because there is always something consuming their time: child rearing, housekeeping, ensuring that their sons make it home safely. When one spends their time worrying about everything else, love often comes off as harshness.
I am not the only person in my cohort who lived this experience. Several friends disclosed how they know their mothers “love” them; they also realize that their mothers don’t “like” them. I have heard story after story about mothers who never have a kind word to say, and that’s because the world hasn’t been kind to them. One can only take so much abuse before it becomes ingrained, and to prevent being hurt yet again, puts on armor that comes off as harsh and unkind. It’s not cruelty – it’s self-preservation.
And that is why I choose to love and honor the women in my world; they already have many factors working against them, so my job is to lift them up. I choose to love, unconditionally, because someone needs to love them with a love that requires nothing in exchange – just their presence, because let’s be honest:
A world without Black women is a colorless world.