I once thought that I was just a weird little girl. I have never fantasized, for instance, as a young girl or now, about the design of my wedding dress, the colors of my bridal party ensemble, the look of my imaginary husband, or location/church/flowers of my wedding (in junior high school, I decided me and Prince could be a good couple but his cross-over after Purple Rain turned me off and so I have moved on). I do believe in celebrations but not those defined by European histories of female domesticity. I never wanted to play with a Barbie Dream House as a girl though I did have Barbies: I simply re-designed their outfits. Poverty certainly discouraged materialism in my childhood; in contrast, creativity was inserted. Instead of the Barbie Dream House, which we could never afford, my mother gave me cardboard and my father gave me scraps of carpet and wallpaper. It ends up that I was, in fact, quite domestic… I made my own damn house. Sometimes I would do a house for kids, or one for basketball players, or one for grandmothers; there was never a nuclear arrangement. Today I realize that my girlhood was filled with alternative expectations and opportunities.
My parents were divorced when I was very young so I was raised by a single mother. Because my mother’s family disowned her after she gave birth to me, I was raised with and around my father’s very large family, a gift that I attribute to him. I have grown closer to him in my older years and, now as an adult, one of the things I realize and cherish most is that he never imposed patriarchal roles on me even though he was certainly raised in a patriarchal culture. Today, I will set the dining room table, buy all of his dishes and glasses, recover/re-paint/re-stain/re-place his chairs and table, and I have mostly decided the furniture layout at his house. But I have never been expected to cook or wash dishes or do anything considered “woman’s work.” My father is quite the cook so I never even equated cooking with women’s work. Though I really like stainless steel gas ranges and have a nice one, that’s about as domestic as I get in the kitchen. This fact leads to GREAT laughter from my father: he insists that I don’t need a fancy stove given how little cooking I do. According to him, the only thing on my stove is dust. He is right that my range is still newish, but there is NO dust in my house. The way that my father delights in telling this story convinces me that he likes that I define femininity differently (i.e., buying my own home, remodeling my kitchen as my own GC, installing and deciding upon my own appliances). In his own home, my father made a cut-out on the living room wall, like a picture frame/ plant ledge, that looks into his kitchen. As a child, I would stand on the sofa on one side of the cut-out, peek through and talk to him as he cooked on the other side of the cut-out. This is something that I still do now, kneeling where I once stood, always also emboldened to similarly tear down and rebuild walls in my house too. In the summers, while he was cooking, I was outside playing softball and kickball with my childhood friend, Damon. Whenever my father did buy me things, he bought me dirtbikes, big wheels and race cars and was one of the few people who would oblige me in adorning everything in my favorite color as a child: BLUE (pink sent me into hysteria). It didn’t occur to me until now that while he couldn’t overturn the expectations of patriarchy in his own life, he did for me. When my female colleagues suggest that I don’t have a man because I don’t like to cook, I laugh, wonder why they have never witnessed a man cook and why their fathers let them center men in their lives. Then my stomach starts churning when I think of who they are married to. If I had to cook for THAT and be married to it too, wellllll, Houston, we have a problem. I’m not suggesting that cooking makes a woman domesticated, oppressed, or that it only consigns us to patriarchy; nothing is that simple. But I am talking about imposed expectations and having a father who chose something else for his daughter. So, on this father’s day, I am speaking as a working class black daughter: the greatest gift a father can give, the one that I received, is the rupture of patriarchal expectations.
I want the story of my father to defy a dominant cultural script. I am reminded of Denene Milner’s blog where she describes having ice cream at the mall every Friday with her father, a black man who adopted her when her biological mother left her on a doorstop; she connects that to her own husband reading The Snowy Day over and over again to his daughter at bedtime, as many times as the little girl requests. spelhouseLove describes playing monopoly with her father, having her father always cheer for her at her track meets, and commemorating her childhood by creating an album for her that captured photos of her along with the verbal exessions she made at the time. Eric Payne at MakesMeWannaHoller.com talks about his realization that the smiles from his father have been his greatest treasures, a gift he strives to always give his own daughter. I highlight these blogs because they might be the only media spaces where we see black men acting as fathers who know how to deeply love children and families in a world that suggests they cannot. This seems to explain why sites like BlackAndMarriedWithKids have been so popular amongst black families since positive images and STORIES are so difficult to find. I stress STORY here because I truly believe that you can deny a group’s humanity with the kinds of stories you tell about them. What is told ABOUT us does not need to be what we tell ourselves though. I am grateful for the kinds of story that I know and can tell about my father.