The Winehouse in Our Houses

I must admit to a fair amount of angst over the reaction to the loss of Amy Winehouse.

She had an awesome talent; her voice brought to life just a small part of the pain she obviously carried. When listening to a Winehouse CD, you’re transported to a jazz club where a sister simultaneously ministers and self-medicates with a shot glass in one hand, a mike in the other.

Her death (joining Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison in Club 27) reminds us that in the midst of fame or anonymity, wealth or poverty, ballin’ or project livin’, it’s all irrelevant when it comes to the plague that is drug and alcohol addiction.

People are quick to share their opinion that addiction is a deal-breaker, a non-conversation, a reason to get up and go. But how many of us have a brother, father, ex-husband, or friend with the same struggles as Ms. Winehouse?

Addictions tear marriages and families apart every day. The heroin scourge that tore through Harlem in the 1950s hit my family hard and the vestiges of that drama are still at play today. If I post that my Uncle Bubba died from a drug overdose, will you respond with an outpouring of concern or will you share a kind word while quietly wondering how “one of them” ended up in my family?

Families are hurting because of the shame and the stigma of addiction. Children act out in school, rather than share the root of the problem. Women go to work, holding on to their sanity by a wing and a prayer, in fear of revealing that the monster of addiction is wreaking havoc in their home.

The next time you hear of a brother struggling with addiction, say a prayer. Understand that his pain is no less tragic, his walk is no less painful to watch, his need for grace and mercy is no less warranted than that of any media celebrity.

Take a minute and look for the good in him, too.

A Second Chance

When I finished grad school, I found myself in a classroom, sharing my other love – history – with high school students. Developing lesson plans, grading papers, contacting parents, and administrative duties left less time for my passion – getting men and women who are no longer committed to one another to channel that lost love and language into the lives of their children.

Rationalization is such a drug!

And then one day, as part of a classroom activity, I had my students list one major thing/event/social structure they would change if they could change anything. The second part of the activity would be a discussion on whether the change might occur via radical or gradual change.

We never got that far.

The students who were willing to share their critical change wish all shared one critical – and chilling – area of change; the relationship between their mothers and fathers. Unwed. Divorced. Separated. Missing in action. Whatever the legal status, my babies were stuck in the middle of parents who didn’t talk. Wouldn’t talk. Refused to talk.

Does this communication instead of chaos thing really matter? A wide-eyed, tiny little teen shared “when I’m supposed to be at my Dad’s house I can be out all night because he and my Mom don’t talk, so I know they will never find out. I just tell him I’m with a friend who lives near Mom”.  Asked how that made her feel, she replied, “I know its not good, but its their fault. If they would talk to each other, I couldn’t get away with it”.

Children in chaos have no boundaries. That’s a cute tee-shirt but a loathsome life. Talk to each other, y’all, talk to each other. By the end of the school year, my tiny little girl was pregnant. In ninth grade.

I’m thinking they are talking now.

Back to Where I Should Have Been

I’ll be honest. It’s been a while since I’ve been on the blog scene. Not a big confession, though, since the dates of the blog posts make it obvious that it has been a minute since I was on the scene.

Fatigue. Chasing the dollar in other places. Survival. Parenting – yup, I do that too. Church. School. All those things that pushed me away from where I should have been.

But I’m back.

And what sealed the deal was a workshop session I gave in Baltimore on April 16. Heal a Woman, Heal a Nation is a wonderful – no, make that tremendously vital – grassroots organization that deals with the real issues and questions facing women who are raising children alone.

By grassroots, I mean that the focus wasn’t a guest speaker who flew across the country to share knowledge – and we can always use that – but this conference had real “I drove in today” sisters, of all denominations and hues, talking about who they were, where they wanted to go, and how their success was so integral to the success of their children. Working-while-powerful people like me and you.

The conversations after a session always allow me to go home uplifted and encouraged. For some reason, though, as a sister talked about an ex-partner who kept taking her to court out of revenge, or a three-year old who had no relationship with his father while she wondered if that would be okay in the long run, or an older, very polished sister who said that successful single-parenting is possible but gee, it hurts…I realized three things.

Black men, black fathers, have a job to do that can be done by no one else. They can pass it off, they can fake it, they can ignore it, but to be done well it must be done by them.

Black women, black mothers, have a job to do to make black fathers welcome in the lives of their children. Fake it, yeah, chant, meditate, pray, hold back that tongue–whatever. Some brothers need that space and permission to do their job.

Lastly, I have to do the job I was given. Bills, students, a case of the it-doesn’t-fit-right, an attack of the is-anybody-listening, none of that matters. I have to do my job, and not where I want to be but where I should have been all along.

improving the dialogue between single mothers and absentee fathers. In support of their children. One word at a time.

A Different Independence

July 4th, commonly called Independence Day.  Freedom from the British, freedom from tyranny, freedom from unfair taxes.

If you’re coming out of a divorce or an unhappy relationship, though, independence can come on any day. Although failed relationships initially bring sadness and a sense of failure, the resulting period of reflection is usually followed by a sense of relief, a ‘wusah’ moment that allows us to breath and realize that we can start over again.

There is no independence experience for children. For thousands of years offspring have attempted to disconnect from their parents by legal separation or “emancipation”, by moving to different parts of the globe, or by simply refuting the existence of a mother or father. To no avail – regardless of the health of the relationship, one’s parents will always remain as an irrefutable element of physical bonding, never to be undone.

As the world scrambles to determine who are the parents of Prince Michael II, Paris, and “Blanket” Jackson, it becomes apparent that the answer will vary depending on the respondent. No matter what the accepted answer, however, their parentage is already a fait accompli….they are the offspring of one man and one woman and that can never be modified. Manipulated, perhaps, but not modified.

As we watch this dark and distasteful pursuit of parentage with a little bit of shame and a lot of interest, it gives us an opportunity to see the cares and concerns of our own children in a different light. No matter who left whom, who died, who won’t marry whom —  for children, parents are for life. We must reciprocate.

The cost of parental independence is much too high.