ROAD RULES by The Rev. Anthony Payton
In each of our lives, there are those painful moments that mark and define us. They are made of the collective seconds of our pain. These moments are the chisel in the hands of time, forming within us our psycho-social-emotional and spiritual disposition. They are the life to come.
For me, one such moment came when I was 13 years old. I remember I was pulling weeds from my grandmother’s flowerbed. When I looked up, I saw my daddy walking by. He did this many times during the course of a week. His mother lived less than a block away from my mother’s mother. So, I had become accustomed to seeing him pass by…. And, that is just what he did. He would seldom stop and when he did he was usually drunk. He mostly waved like one would wave to a neighbor or stranger in the street. It was more southern hospitality than the greeting one expected a daddy would give a son.
On this particular day, however, he departed from his routine. He actually walked over to me and started talking and he wasn’t drunk! To this day, I can only remember one thing he said, “I get paid on Friday and I am coming to get you and we will do something.” When he walked away, I thought my world had changed. My ship had come in and I ran and told my grandmother the good news.
Now, my grandmother was protective of me. She tried to cultivate in me a healthy balance of masculinity and emotional health. She had what the elders referred to as a “mother’s wit.” She knew the damage that was awaiting me because of the actions of my daddy. So, in an effort not to compound matters, she never said anything negative about my father, even though there were plenty of opportunities to do so. On this day she came closer than ever before. She walked up to me and responded, “Tony don’t get your hopes up.”
She was too late. My hopes were already soaring. I was like Jimi Hendrix, but instead of “Purple Haze” in my mind, hope was in my mind and all through me. I was ready to say to the world, “Excuse me, while I kiss the sky.” My daddy was coming to get me on Friday and we were going to do something! The fact that he got paid on Friday was secondary—Friday was coming and we were going to do something!
Well, Friday came and my daddy didn’t! I walked and stood in that hot Mississippi sun all day waiting on Daddy. Finally, Nana, my grandmother, said to me, “Tony he’s not coming. Come on the porch out of the sun and sit down.” I stood there with my back to her trying to fight back the tears. I didn’t want her to see me cry. I was crushed! She was right. I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up!
Then came the moment that would mark and define me for nearly 20 years. It was a hard and targeted blow from the chisel in the hands of time. The collective seconds of my pain folded into one moment. In that moment, I made a declaration to myself, “I will never cry over anyone or anything again.” With those nine words, I embarked on a sadistic Bar Mitzvah. I became a “Son of the commandment” (the literal meaning of Bar Mitzvah). What was the commandment, you ask? “I will never cry over anyone or anything again” was the commandment, and I followed it! This was my rite of passage—at least I thought it was.
What I didn’t know at that moment, but know in this moment, is the fact that my effort to protect myself, was the means to destroying myself. I embraced a thought; said thought became a habit. The habit became a lifestyle and the lifestyle led to me becoming a menace to society. I became what I was protecting myself from—my daddy!
Any effort to understand, heal and stop the violence in our communities, must start with the daddies of our communities. The first violent act a young African American male experiences isn’t a drive-by, but rather a drive away by daddy! It is the embodiment of a father’s rejection that leads to dead bodies in the streets of our community. It is the semi automatic fire of a daddy’s broken promises, that leads to the semi automatic gunfire in our streets. It’s the daddy in name only, that leads to a son’s search for identity in designer named clothes and it’s the slack in a daddy that leads to the sagging and slanging of a son.
Now, there is a way out of this: Both daddy and son must comprehend and be apprehended by the love of the Father of the Universe!
To be continued…
The Rev. Anthony Payton is pastor of Come As You Are Community Church in Fort Wayne.