Celebrating Manhood

from the Jackson Free Press

Whenever I’ve had something I needed to say to my brother but couldn’tverbalize, I wrote him a letter. There have been two letters, in particular, that have proven to be the most important.And this, in a way, is an open letter to him, but it is, most especially to all of you.

A little more than a year ago, my brother, Reggie (or Brother, as I called him—my only sibling), lost a relatively quick but tough battle with pancreatic cancer. My brother and I were born 16 years apart. I was a surprise to our parents. More precisely, I was an accident. My mother fretted about when and how to tell my brother. When she told him, she’s since said, she braced herself for his disappointment or anger. He expressed neither; he was happy. She was relieved.

For the first several years of my life, I was more of an accessory than a sibling to my brother; our age difference is the obvious reason. The “honeys” he dated thought it was cute when I tagged along. I’d sit in the back seat of his Mustang, top down; the wind would barely move the miniature ponytails my mother had so carefully parted.

A couple years after he graduated from Jackson State, Reggie moved to Kansas City, Mo. Few summers passed after his moving that I didn’t spend a couple weeks with him.

The summer of 1991, the year John Singleton’s “Boyz n the Hood” premiered, we went to see the movie. The film’s gritty tales of life in the ‘hood—different than the one we’d experienced growing up in Starkville—was heartwrenching. I cried, and so did my brother. It was the first time I’d ever seen him cry. I saw his humanity, though I didn’t know that’s what I was seeing at the time.

I was in awe of him. As we grew older, our relationship grew closer.

By the time I was a freshman in college, my brother had gotten married, my niece had been born, and he and his wife, Courtney, were expecting their second child. This was the first time I’d started to see my brother as a man—a man’s man: The kind of man who could differentiate himself from individuals who merely have the necessary anatomical equipment to call themselves men. He had responsibilities. Real responsibilities. Chief among them, now, was to be a father to his
children, shaping them to be productive, contributing world citizens. That’s not the type of father we had, so I wrote him a letter.

In the letter I wrote Brother, I told him how important it was to me that he be a good father to his children. I wanted his children to have good memories of him as they grew up. I wanted him to be the type of father I’d always wished I had—the kind we deserved when we were growing up.

My brother called me some days later and told me he’d received my letter, had read it several times and that he’d cried after reading it. He promised me he’d be a good father to his children. And he was.

This year is my niece and nephew’s second Father’s Day without their good father.

And this Father’s Day, for me, is a reminder that dad’s day isn’t just about biological fathers. It’s a holiday that celebrates manhood—men who grew from boys, immature and purposeless, to individuals who recognize that if they don’t take responsibility for themselves and the people around them, their lives are unfulfilled lives. Siring children isn’t necessary for that.

So much of our time and energy these days is devoted to pointing out what men aren’t doing. The laws of the universe dictate that what we focus our attention on expands. It behooves us to be more purposeful in heralding the men who are doing what they should be. Yes, you should do what you’re supposed to do without congratulations or pats on the back, but it’s a lot easier to not grow weary in doing good and being accountable for the things you should be when someone, every
now and then, acknowledges that the truth and integrity of your character is inescapable.

The truth of who you are shows itself most easily in times when you’re too focused on other things to hide it—stress on the job, problems at home, just living life and, in my brother’s case, illness and the threat of death. Even while my brother fought cancer, I was in awe of him.

The last letter I wrote Reggie said things like:

“Over the past few months, I’ve been re minded why, as a little girl, I was mesmerized by you: You’re so freaking cool. There is only a short list of things you can’t do, as far as I’m concerned. Things like dunk on Shaq or be the first black president of the United States, since Barack Obama has got that one in the bag. … There’s nothing I at 9-years old or 29, believe you can’t do, if you want to.

“You’re smart, and aren’t jaded by cynicism but chose optimism. You have a big vocabulary and use slang effortlessly. You can talk to anyone—a businessman or a homeless man. You drive fancy cars. The list goes on. You’re not perfect. You’re human, and that makes you even more endearing and admirable. I’ve watched you evolve, and it’s beautiful.

“And now, as you fight for your life, I’m even more inspired. … As I fight my own
battles that pale in comparison to your current one (I’m determined that) I will not be overcome by trials of life. I will live out loud. I will live abundantly.

“I know you will live. I know you will grow. I know you will share yourself and life’s lessons with others so they, too, can grow. So in the meantime, I pray that God will continue to strengthen you physically and spiritually when you are weak and that you and I will have years to come to grow closer. I will you love you forever.”

Just like the first letter, my brother called and thanked me for my words. He said they’d brought tears to his eyes and that he’d read the card multiple times. He died a month later. I asked my sister-in-law if I could have the card back; she readily agreed. God didn’t answer my prayers to heal Reggie physically. Even still, I am in awe of my brother. I always will be.

Now that Father’s day is nearing, you’ve been gifted with the perfect opportunity to tell your dad, brother, uncle or the man in the coffee shop who always smiles reassuringly at you when you drop in for your cappuccino and scone how much he means to you. Not only do you not know if you’ll never have another opportunity to say what you’ve always thought of him, but it may be just what he needs to hear.

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~ by MsInklination on June 16, 2010.

One Response to “Celebrating Manhood”

  1. This comment was over on the Jackson Free Press’ website. I appreciated it so much, I wanted to post it here.

    WOW, Natalie, it’s very seldom that I can attach myself to a writer thru their peices. Well, that’s not all the way accurate, but shall I say the ones that I do connect with in such a fashion have transitioned, Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, etc…

    But here, you carried me thru this entire piece fighting tears and feeling the place that lead you to share this with us. BRAVO! I’ve been on this site many times and puposely didn’t read this article but I didn’t know why. Now I do, it has reminded me of my father who passed away 22 years ago. It has made me miss him even more than I do every other day. Still, I am thankful for having read this and thankful for the moment I must now take to let this tearful experience happen.

    VERY WELL DONE! Power, sister! Oh, and what a very special sister you were and are to your brother. Blessings.

    posted by Queen601 on 06/17/10 at 11:57 AM

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