My last post about Michele Obama and the long-overdue respect which black women are now enjoying, sparked a stream of memories about unpleasant run ins I’ve had with certain black men. I’ll put my disclaimer at the end of this post about the good black men who win a lot of admiration from me, but upfront, I’d like to make something clear. Too many black men, unfortunately, have fallen into the habit of abandoning and profoundly disappointing black women, in one way or another.
I’ve got one long-running situation and an anecdote that bear this out.
I didn’t grow up with my father. Truth be told, we had contact once when I was seven years old, and then 29 years later after I had already gotten married, settled with Hubby in the Garden State, and shortly before I realized I was pregnant. I never even memorized his name until I was required to get it to apply for a marriage certificate in Jamaica, where Hubby and I tied the knot. There is plenty of responsibility to go around for this estrangement. My parents were only together for a very short time, and I have reason to believe that my mother decided to carry on with her life without him because of an untenable circumstance in his life. Also, apparently, he and my eldest half brother (there are 6 of them, plus one half sister) knew all about me, and my brother’s family tried to establish contact with mine, but the offers were rebuffed. Who really knows what happened. My philosophy is that the responsibility for this rests on my parents’ shoulders, it’s their history and I shouldn’t complicate my life by trying to get to the bottom of their mistake. My whole life, mother refused to talk about my father, except to frame it in the context of being angry with me about something or another and suggesting that we would both be better off if I lived with him. At the end of the day, the man who by all rights is the primary male figure in my life … just wasn’t. He hasn’t influenced me one way or another at all, and knowing my mother’s aversion to talking about him, I never thought about him for fear of aggravating her. So it’s like he never existed. That made me, as far as my paternal lineage goes, and in the words of a Southern saying about people disconnected from their past, a cut flower.
And the anecdote:
When I was a freshman in college, I lived at home and had a part-time job in a neighboring town. One evening, a co-worker, a black man, offered me a ride home. Now folks, fear not. He didn’t try to take advantage of me and I didn’t feel apprehensive about riding in his car. Maybe that’s because I noticed that he stuck precisely to the route I gave him. Anyway, he lost my respect after the police pulled him over, ran his plates, realized that he was driving with a suspended license, and arrested him. I looked straight into his face through the rearview mirror as the police pushed his chest down on the trunk of his car and handcuffed him, and I’ll never forget the look. More so, I’ll never forget the fact that the police never helped me to get home. That’s right, gentle readers. I was stranded on a commercial road that connected several towns and two counties in north Jersey. At that time of night, all of the businesses were closed, except for a pizza shop. I stopped in there, called my cousin and asked her to give me a ride home, which she did.
The only major consideration that those situations had in common is that both men had handled their lives a bit carelessly at one point, setting them up to essentially drop the ball at a critical moment. I don’t know why black men often find themselves in situations wherein they desert black women. Maybe a lot of guys create too many children than they can reasonably tend to, start over with a new woman, find themselves overwhelmed and ashamed of their actions, and end up estranged from their children. Maybe they are heartless, and simply don’t care about the lives that they change, often for the worse, when they leave.
I don’t resent my father for the past. It would be a waste of valuable time and energy, and at that stage in my pregnancy, it would have put too much stress on me. I visited him this past summer. When he picked me up at the train station, he recognized me right away, without me having sent him any pictures of myself beforehand. He practically walked on other people to get to me at the train platform, grab my bags and give me a huge hug. Over those few days, he struck me as a guy who really regretted what happened all those years ago, even if he was completely lost as to how to make amends. He did his best to explain the past, answering all of my questions with more completeness and openness than I ever got from my mother. He gave me a gold necklace and bracelet one afternoon, and while I adjusted the bracelet around my wrist, I glimpsed him walking away and looking back, sort of smiling. Maybe he was relieved that I didn’t hate him (and still don’t) and that I was willing to visit him and keep an open mind after all those years.
In the case of that co-worker, maybe he represents men who are are struggling to overcome mistakes in their past. Yet at any moment, a minor mistake can lead to a major headache, as past mistakes come to the fore. Whatever the reasons, abandonment is not acceptable, and black women shouldn’t tolerate it.
How, you might ask, should black women avoid being disappointed, even if the guy’s present-day intentions are good? Well, I don’t think it’s that hard to recognize a decent, dependable man when he comes along. He dresses neatly. He holds gainful employment. He is connected to a community of people who depend on him, like a church, community organization, a sports team, an extended family — heck, even an investment club would do! As long as he is surrounded by solid people who can speak well of him, you know you’ve got a potential keeper. Notice I didn’t tick off the usual list of trappings in an Ideal Black Man: Plum job, nice car, huge net worth, real estate holdings, college degree, etc. All those things are icing on the cake, and if you find a guy with all of those things going for him, then bravo! At the end of the day, he has to be a reliable and considerate man with a steady moral compass. A guy like that won’t let you down, but if his character is lacking in those things, then you should agree to remain casual friends (without benefits!) and wish him well in life.
Obviously, if a solid guy comes into your life who does not happen to be black, don’t overlook him. Even if you don’t have the right rapport, or enough buzz to sustain a long-term relationship, at least get to know him and come away from the experience with a good friend, a better idea as to what you want in a guy and some good memories. At the very least, it wouldn’t be the wisest thing you ever did to bypass a guy like that, especially if you want to place a high value on marriage, kids and a guy who can be the rock of the family.