Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there, especially those raising our melanated babies!
Father’s Day is bittersweet for me. This will be the fourth Father’s Day that I’m celebrating without the first man I loved and who loved me in return: my father, Sterling Hopkins. Some people say losing a loved one never gets easier. I wouldn’t say it’s gotten easier but as I aim to live a life filled with more and more gratitude, I realize that I could cry about the fact that he is no longer physically here or I can look back on all of the gems that he gave me and continue to live a life that makes both of us proud.
This helps me to look forward knowing that I am who I am because of who my father was. This post is a letter to him/conversation with him/reminder for me/reflection on all of the dope ass advice that he gave me during our 30 years together and the ways that I have attempted to apply it in my life.
Although I am one of six children, I had my own special relationship with him. We all did. So Daddy, here are the top lessons you taught me that I hold near and dear to my heart.
- It’s better to understand than to be understood.
Can I just start by saying, “Daddy, you be knowing.” I remember when I was as young as 4 years old and like all kids who frequently got in trouble (in the house, not outside cause you ain’t play that shit) I wanted everyone and their mother to hear my side of the story. I had to have a comeback for everything; I had to say my piece before I would even try to hear what the fuck a person I knew was wrong had to say.
Grandma and Mom would always say, “Sterl, come get your daughter” as you were the only one who could calm me down when I was on 10. I’m convinced that I should have written that 0 to 100 song before Drake. You would always hug me and hold me and speak so calmly to me. You’d let me yell and get shit out of my system. You made me comfortable with my emotions. You honored my anger although sometimes I know you didn’t understand how so much rage could be in such a tiny ass body.
Once you calmed me, you would say to me, “Meatz, are you done?…This is gonna be hard, especially for you, but you need to seek to understand not to be understood.” First off, I thought you were the smartest and wisest person I’ve ever known. It would be 20 years before I would read The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and immediately hear your voice. I also didn’t understand why you couldn’t understand that I needed to be understood. Clearly, the world revolved around me.
This is still a work in progress but your words came to me about two weeks ago when I encountered a Black woman who felt it was her business to tell me that my T-shirt that had a pro-Black message was “unprofessional, inflammatory and offended her.” I swear to you Daddy, my first reaction was like, “Biiiiiissshhh, who TF asked you?” But I heard your voice as clear as day saying, “Understand that she’s ignant and move from there.”
I politely but firmly told her that “I hear her and I understand that she’s had to navigate professional settings in a very specific way in order to survive but I choose not to show up in the same way.” She kept pushing her crazy ass point and I just dismissed myself from her raggedy ass energy. Sorry Daddy, I tried. All skin folk ain’t kinfolk. But I no longer kick and scream to get my point across. Your words were the equivalent to today’s “Unbothered.” I have learned to see where people are coming from but I know that their thoughts don’t dictate who I am. What is understood by me about me no longer needs to be understood by anyone else.
2. Always keep $20 tucked in your draws.
One of the things I loved about you was your ability to just be my dad and give me practical advice. Any time I went on a date, you’d make sure that I had at least $20 tucked down in my draws. This is the emergency, “if-that-nigga-crazy, jump-yo-ass-in-a-cab” money. You didn’t waste your time telling me unreasonable shit like, “You better not be fucking nobody.” I already had a whole baby by the time I was 15 years old so that wasn’t necessary.
More than anything, you taught me that there was no room for shame when you were around which taught me that I could walk in the world without shame. Let you tell it, “I was a Hopkins and I was yours so I couldn’t be anything but great.” I could literally tell you anything and you never turned your back on me. To this day, people look at me like I snatched their whole throat when I tell them that you were the first person I told when I lost my virginity.
You always said, “I’m your best friend but I’m not your fucking friend.” I parent that way. My kids know that they can come to me about anything but they definitely can’t talk to me any ol’ kinda way. You were basically telling me to be open and honest but be respectful and you deserved every damn ounce of my respect and more.
I think about that as your granddaughter continues to grow and change and figure out who she is. I’m fully aware that she doesn’t tell me all of her business FIRST but I can safely say she tells me 99.9% of her business. And while I’ll never be as cool and calm as you were, I make it clear that I’m her best friend but damn sure not her fucking friend.
People commend my relationship with my daughter and ask me how I can hear/handle some of the things she tells me. That’s still my daughter and no matter what she tells me, I can never think any less of her. I might disagree with her choices but I will never dictate them. Daddy, you gave me the space to figure out who I was and who I am still growing to be and I just want to give my kids that room to breathe and just BE.
Remember the two times I went out with those White boys? You knew I hadn’t fully developed my consciousness despite all of our household discussions about White folks. When I told you I was going out with a White dude, you asked me again just to make sure I didn’t mean a Puerto Rican and I had to assure you that it was a White White like, mayonnaise, Staten Island White.
Both of those times you gave me an extra $20 just in case they were “White folks crazy” and I still love you for it.
Damn Daddy, how did you put up with me? I wish you could see me now. As a pre-teen, teenager and an adult, I remember wanting everything quick, fast and in a hurry. If I liked a boy or girl, I wanted them to like me back yesterday. If I took a test in college, I was a stalker-checking my grades every hour. If I wanted a pair of shoes, I needed the money like a crackhead. If I was learning something new, I had to master it immediately.
It’s an exhausting way to live and you recognized that I was spiraling. I developed really bad anxiety in college and I had reached a breaking point. You had to sit me down and give me another one of your talks. I had shed some pounds and I was looking unwell. Bitch was a scarecrow to be more accurate.
I sat down, ready to hear a story, a Bible reference or a prompt to get me to unload. But you didn’t do that. We sat on the bed, you looked at me and said, “Patience. Patience. Patience.” You rubbed my head as tears just poured down my face and I was allowed to just release. I had to realize how much stress I had placed on myself as one of the few Black English majors in my predominantly White institution. I just wanted to graduate already. Plus, my relationship at the time was fucked up and I wanted everything to get fixed. Not now but right now.
But hearing you repeat the word patience reminded me that I couldn’t control everything and I couldn’t sprint through my problems and my life. I needed to let the Universe do what it needed to and know that I was good regardless. I understood it then but I didn’t apply it effectively until very recently.
During the last year, my professional and personal life began to test me. People turned on me who I didn’t expect to and shit just didn’t make sense. But I am your daughter and as your daughter, I stay ready. I didn’t act. You always taught me never to take revenge on others. You used to say, “If I lend someone $500 and they don’t give it back (not because they can’t but because they won’t), I bought their ass for $500.” Basically, you paid for and learned the lesson and you’re done with them.
I watched you help others who forgot about you when you needed them but you kept your focus on your family and let the universe handle them. I’ve learned to do the same. There are people I work with who I wanted nothing more than to get away from and at one point I was scratching and clawing for another job. But then I understood that desperation never yields positive results. I needed to be patient. I had to realign with my purpose. I had to understand that people’s disloyalty had nothing to do with me. They hadn’t worked through their own shit. It was not important for me to be understood in those moments. I focused on my work and my family and those who lift me up. As I type this Daddy, the universe is removing those same people from my life and from my mental space.
You’d be proud.
4. Everything I say will make sense when I’m gone.
Daddy, I hear you everywhere. I see you in everything. I could not be who I am without you. You never asked me to shrink because I was a girl; you never told me what to do but was always confident that anything I got myself into, I could get myself out of.
I was at a school earlier this week and a principal said in our debrief that “ I live my values and beliefs.” That was such a testament to my character but a testament to the way that you raised me. You always said, “You have to have a law that you live by Meatz.” I have crafted my law carefully and I show up everyday as a Black woman of conviction, integrity and dopeness. I love hard and unapologetically and that pertains to the people in my circle and the work that I do.
I recently ran a workshop with a group of educators and we discussed Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I see so clearly how you tended to every aspect of my needs on that pyramid.
- You always took care of my physiological needs which no matter how much we struggled (and we did struggle), you made sure we ate, had a roof over our heads and clothes on our backs.
- You always made sure I was safe. I knew that you would protect me from others but I would never need protection from YOU. I was not only physically safe but emotionally safe and that has been a gift I can never thank you for enough.
- You always made me feel a sense of love and belonging and while we rarely said the words, “I love you” there was never a doubt in my mind that you did. Even when you stopped talking to me after I came to you and told you I was pregnant at 14, I knew I still belonged to you. I never felt orphaned or ashamed. You just needed time to process the changes that were coming to my life.
- You always held me in high regard which contributed greatly to my self-esteem and you respected my thoughts, feelings and opinions. You never let me think that I was anything less than “the shit.”
- With all of that, how could I be anything besides confident and self-actualized? I know who I am, what I am capable of and that I am worthy and deserving of nothing but great things. Who gon’ stop me, huh (in my old Kanye voice)?
As I close this letter to you, know that I felt and continue to feel loved and heard. You weren’t lying when you said that all of this would be clearer when you were gone. You come to me at the most unexpected and most needed moments. I used to randomly cry tears of loss and hurt and now I cry tears of gratitude and joy. You always said, “Never aim to be happy. Aim to have joy.” That’s dope sauce.
Can’t nobody do it like you did it, Daddy!
I love you.
I honor you.
I celebrate you.
Happy Father’s Day today and every day!
And if you don’t know, now you be knowing.
Khalya (a Black woman who be knowing)
Share your stories. Honor your fathers/men who raised you and drop comments.