Dear Pops

Pops, sometimes I wish you would have left before I was born. Leaving when I was nine years old made me wonder why you didn’t like me. I felt abandoned, which led me to become very insecure, and develop low self-esteem and a lack of confidence in myself. At the time you left I didn’t understand those feelings, nor was I able to put names to them. In fact, I wasn’t old enough to even think about how your leaving would impact me emotionally. I just knew that you were around one day and the next you weren’t. We moved to North Carolina a year later and that’s when I began to feel the effects of your leaving me.

I missed you coming to pick me up and talking about what a man should or shouldn’t be doing. I missed having you buy me things that I didn’t really need but made other kids jealous of me, like those sky-blue Nike’s that I didn’t like but my friends thought were “fly.” In North Carolina I was lonely and isolated. I first realized that we were poor after moving to North Carolina. Instead of having things other kids didn’t have, my family was the one that didn’t have “fly” stuff. I got picked on by other kids, I was depressed and didn’t feel like I fit into my new environment. I longed for the positive attention I received when I was in New York, which gave me self-confidence. The confidence to challenge a bully or attempt to befriend people. I had become scared of being myself and of rejection. I would think, “If my Pops didn’t want me, why would anyone else.” I began to hate you for leaving me and sought out other “father figures” to help me understand manhood and to gain confidence.

Hip-Hop was my source of information about being a man. KRS-One, Rakim, and Chuck D. gave me an appreciation for my African heritage, a love for the power of the spoken word, and an appreciation of the importance of community. They introduced me to Black historical figures and authors like Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, and Chancellor Williams. Through these figures I developed a new sense of confidence in myself as a Black male. However, as I grew older, Hip-Hop began to change and I began to change with it. I began hearing more about the street life and hustling. I began noticing in school how the “bad boys” had the respect of other males and got attention from females. Those feelings of inadequacy began to resurface. Without having you around to talk to I got my cues about manhood from my peers. I began hanging with the “bad boys,” and doing the things that bad boys did, ultimately becoming a bad boy myself.

It wasn’t long before I started drinking alcohol and using drugs. This “liquid courage” became the best thing to ever happen to me, or so I thought. I wasn’t scared anymore. Not being scared of rejection I made friends to drink, smoke, and party with. I discovered that if I did something embarrassing while blacked-out drunk it actually brought me more attention. I even adopted an entirely different persona. There was the quiet, shy me, then there was the “blitzed” me after a few drinks. I LOVED the attention I got from being blitzed and liked that person more than the quiet, shy me.

Pops, I won’t go into all the details of my life while trying to fill the void you left. Just know that for over a decade I was a semi-functional addict. I lived on the streets and in county jails, made it to and through college, got married and divorced, all the while never being satisfied with who I was and using alcohol and drugs to mask my depression, low self esteem, and insecurities. Over the years I tried many times to get sober and failed just as many, leading to more abuse and disappointment in myself. It wasn’t until my first year of law school when I HAD to meet with a psychologist that I began the process of healing the wounds your leaving left.

Therapy was transformative. Through therapy I learned that I had unresolved issues about your leaving me. I thought I had long since forgiven and stopped hating you, but realized I hadn’t. I also discovered that I never learned to like myself—the “me” who my mother raised. I learned that it was okay to be shy and introverted, to want attention but feel uncomfortable when attention was being paid to me. I better understood what it meant in scripture to see myself as GOD sees me, “wonderfully and perfectly made.” I discovered that the self-worth and confidence I had been seeking all my life began with accepting me for who I was, perfectly flawed but growing to perfection. Therapy taught me that emotionally, I was still 16 years old, the age I began to suppress emotions with substances. I realized that through sobriety I could experience life for the first time at age 30—experience the emotional pains and joys and frustrations that are common to everyone, things we have to experience to truly mature, that excited me. I also learned how to forgive.

So, Pops, I forgive you. I forgive you for going missing because I know that my Father in Heaven didn’t leave. I forgive you for leaving because it may have been the best thing for you and for me. I forgive you for not reaching out to me when I was a teenager. Also Pops, I’m sorry. Sorry for the hatred I stored up for you in my heart. I’m sorry for rejecting you when you tried to reconnect with me.

Pops, I want to mend our relationship. Let me reintroduce myself: I am your son and I would love for us to get to know each other.

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