by: Lanisha Porter
There was no way he could always protect me let alone be sure he was genuinely connecting with me in a way I would understand, given that there is a 43-year old age gap between my father and I. He could have lost my attention in any number of ways given the cultural rivals he had to raise me against.
He wasn’t rash in over-sheltering me, but he also wasn’t cowardice in not protecting me at all. He constantly told me I was free to make my own choices but also reminded me that consequences A, B, C or D could follow and he trusted that I would choose wisely. Let’s just pause. I’m sure, naturally, he had his fears that I could’ve turned out any number of ways. For a single father to raise a daughter especially in an urban setting—where I would consistently be bombarded with influences of sex, drugs, alcohol, sometimes violence, sexism, misogyny, poverty, mainstream media, and hardships—is completely scary. There was no way he could always protect me let alone be sure he was genuinely connecting with me in a way I would understand given that there is a 43-year old age gap between my father and I. He could have lost my attention in any number of ways given the cultural rivals he had to raise me against. However, with so many odds against him while raising an impressionable little girl, I suspect these are the 10 most important things he did do right:
1. Gave Me Freedom
My daddy gave me the creative freedom to engage in what I wanted. If I wanted to dance, he found a program for me to dance in. If I wanted to model, he somehow made the financial investment necessary for me to do it. With me, my daddy allowed me to discover my own interests. As I recall during my childhood, I was never forced to spend my Saturdays in Girl’s Scouts or Black Achievers like most of my friends were forced to. By allowing me to choose what extra-curricular involvement I wanted to commit to, he was showing me that he respected my inherent dignity as a person. Had he forced extra-curricular activities upon me, not only would this have wasted time, transportation and money, but it would have deflated my own desires. For my father to recognize my distinctness as a child, and afford me the ability to choose which skill, talent or interest I wanted to honor, and the way I wanted to honor it, was important for my confidence.
However, the thing about being young is that we sometimes will not have lived long enough to have a vault of experience to pull from to be convinced that bad things like pain, suffering, embarrassment, and disappointment are only temporary. Sometimes it is hard to believe that life goes on when we are knocked down to our very lowest in life.
2. Shared His Testimonies
I can tell you what my dad’s childhood was like; what his high school experience consisted of, and even what life in college was like for him. I can also tell you his mistakes, his most memorable successes and his most hard learned lessons. Why is this important you ask? Simply because it gives me the gift of hindsight. As young people, bad things will happen to us. However, the thing about being young is that we sometimes will not have lived long enough to have a vault of experience to pull from to be convinced that bad things like pain, suffering, embarrassment, and disappointment are only temporary. Sometimes it is hard to believe that life goes on when we are knocked down to our very lowest in life. But because I know that bad things have happened to my dad, I expect that bad things will happen to me but I know and am prepared not to be stalled by them, nor be fooled into thinking it’s the end of the world. Because my father has shared his tests and testimonies with me, I know I too will someday have my own “tests.”
3.Exposed Me to Higher Arts
He exposed me to significant art in less obvious ways. Often times we would have family nights and my dad would make me and my brother watch what we thought was just a movie, when all the while the movie was promoting a fundamental message that would be helpful to our development without him lecturing us. Car rides were often spent listening to a wide selection of music which would go on to make me and my brother eclectic in our choice of tunes. I subconsciously learned the Phantom of the Opera soundtrack, alongside the works of Phil Collins, Celine Dion, Helen Reddy, and Tower of Power. Of course he also turned me on to appreciate and develop a deep love for the sounds of Motown, LTD, Blue Magic, Friends of Distinction, Heatwave, Atlantic Starr, and Commodores. Him doing this made me and my brother knowledgeable of art antecedent to our own culture and era. My father also worked many security gigs so he made ways for my brother and I to get seats to the Lion King live, or get signed autographs from celebrities like Kelly Clarkson. All of this especially came in handy during Fine Arts class discussions when asked to evaluate the differences between music genres, or critically identify the elements that make a good live performance. I knew to focus in on the space being used, whether the actors used high, low, or medium levels, the lights, the pacing of emotion, character development, props and improvisation, and the quality of sound. Collectively, all that he showed me and Kevin (my older brother) allowed us to diversify our palettes and be tolerant of new art forms. So Thanks Dad, I often get As in those classes. (:
4. Told Me I Was Beautiful Every Chance He Got
Each morning I walked passed my dad to get to the bathroom while he was ironing his work clothes in the kitchen. He never failed to make a dramatic scene by telling me I was so beautiful. Each and every single morning, before anybody out in the world could get to me, I already left the house being equipped with the confidence that I was fine and had it going on. (snaps fingers!) And it also didn’t matter if we were at his job or at a track meet around my friends, once he saw me he’d jump back and say nearly breathless something silly like “wow, oh my goodness! you are so pretty. You almost look like my daughter. Do you know her?” Because I had these constant reminders both inside and outside the home, I never took it personal when someone thought I was ugly. I thought something was wrong with them not me.
I really understand just how MUCH of a tremendous accolade that is to achieve as a parent to have always shown up. When you consider this at length this means he must’ve requested a lot of days off from work, maybe even pushed passed sickness, or fatigue, or the feelings from a bad day, just to show up and act like I was the only thing that mattered.
5. Was Brutally Honest About Sex
I started talking about sex as early as 4th grade with my friends. Now that I’m 21 years old I can look back and notice there was a lot of misinformation being circulated during our lunch time conversations about “doing-it.” My father started having the sex conversations with me as early as 5th grade when my body started changing. I’m glad he was able to correct the misinformation I naively believed. He was very honest about STDs, HIV/Aids, pregnancy, slut-shaming and also very patient in helping me understand what hormones were and how they were working inside me. A lot of parents shelter their kids from sex topics in fear of exposing them too soon to a world that is years away. But trust me…if I was talking about sex as early as 4th grade in the Nokia era when technology wasn’t as advanced as it is now; kids in the Apple iPhone, 2016 era have sex as simple as a thumb-click away. If someone plans to wait until their kid’s teenage years for the “birds and bees” talk, your child will be lightyears ahead of you in information and hopefully they haven’t already acted upon that information. Know what I mean? Have the talk parents. Tell them about the consequences. My dad scared me out of ever wanting to have sex when he started putting pictures alongside STDs. I didn’t even want to kiss boys in fear of catching mono.
6. Taught Me Unconditional Kindness
Emphasis on unconditional. Sometimes I don’t understand the extreme kindness my father lends to people. It has the tendency to make me frustrated, truthfully. I would have never gotten away with being a mean girl in my household. My father didn’t tolerate ugliness. Kindness was just something that was always promoted in my household. My earliest memories of my dad teaching me how to be kind is when he would bring me food and the neighborhood kids would see, he would make me share with them if they said they were hungry. There was never a such thing as sitting on my front porch and devouring a box of chicken in front of my neighborhood friends. If I ate, they ate. It got to the point where me and my neighbors often started just dining together in the summertime. My dad would call and say I’m picking up food, ask the neighbors have they ate. In return, my neighbors would often invite me over to eat especially if they noticed my daddy hadn’t made it home from work yet. In my household there was just never a such thing as being well-off if those around you weren’t also taken care of. The tremendously kind virtue my father has cultivated in me has been both a blessing and a curse. (Lol) I figured out my dad was a different kind of kind when he started treating our dogs as good as he treated me.
7. Disciplined Me
There’s only one time I’ve been spanked by my father and I deserved it. Out of anger I tore to shreds a picture that was almost 15 years old. Then, I didn’t understand the intrinsic and precious value a photo held. So, being that my father is big on pictures and preserving memories, he lit my behind like a roman candle. (Fun fact: to actually initiate the whooping his opening remarks were “I’m about to light your a** up like a roman candle.”) My brother was the one who snitched on me and enjoyed every second while laughing in the corner. Anywho, after that I never got a whooping again. One time was enough from Derryl Porter. However, my dad had the power to just give me that stare and it could set me straight. Needless to say, if my dad yelled at me it literally broke my heart enough to make me cry. Him yelling at me was equivalent to me getting a whooping. If I did something worth being punished, I would get interrogated with intense questioning that required deep-reflection. It would go something like this:
D: Why did your teacher call me?
M: I don’t know.
D: I’m going to ask you again but this time try not to piss me off…why did your teacher call me today?
M: Because I kept talking after she told me to be quiet.
D: How do you think that makes you look?
M: I’m not sure.
D: You’re not sure what?
M: I’m not sure how it makes me look.
D: Well let me tell you how it makes you look. It makes you look hard-headed. And I don’t raise hard-headed children. Do you want to be known for being hard-headed and unable to take instruction?
M: No sir.
D: No sir what?
M: No sir I don’t want to be hard-headed.
D: Well if you don’t want to be hard-headed then why aren’t you listening to the teacher when she tells you to be quiet?
*silence*….(looks away in search for a brilliant answer that won’t piss him off)
D: Did you not hear my question?
M: Because I had to tell my friend something
D: So does your friend give you a grade in this class or the teacher? Which one is most important?
*silence* (I give the silence some time to linger in hopes he really didn’t want me to answer that)
D: I’m waiting for an answer…
M: *Dang, he really wanted an answer* The teacher gives me the grade, she’s most important.
D: I thought so too. I’m glad you see that. Write an apology letter to the teacher and if I receive another call about this I will not hesitate to make a visit to your school, and if I have to make a visit to your school then I’m going to have a problem with you. Is that understood?
M: Yes sir.
D: Yes sir what?
M: Yes sir it is understood.
My dad disciplining me didn’t look like him violently beating me, instead he made me think unnecessarily hard in very tense situations. He always made me trace my actions back to one central question: why?
8. Allowed Me to Be Autonomous
Living in a male-informed society where patriarchy lurks, women are often silently conditioned to be unsure. We are taught that we need to be protected due to our fragility, and that there are certain affairs just unfit for a woman to take part in. But the single most important thing my father did for me was infuse me with confidence to take control. He let me handle money, stand in line to pay bills, dress myself for school, walk myself to and from school, schedule my own appointments after a certain age, make sound moral judgements, as well as allow me to be a self-starter, and go-getter. Overall, my daddy never micro-managed me; he opted to instill values in me that I could reference back to make healthy choices.
9. He Showed Up
There is not a singing recital, dance competition, cheerleading competition, induction ceremony, award recognition, birthday dinner, track meet, play, or tournament my dad has not shown up for. He always showed up. Point blank period. Now that I’m older I really understand just how MUCH of a tremendous accolade that is to achieve as a parent to have always shown up. When you consider this at length this means he must’ve requested a lot of days off from work, maybe even pushed passed sickness, or fatigue, or the feelings from a bad day, just to show up and act like I was the only thing that mattered. Moreover, in most cases he usually showed up with a camcorder to record my memories so I could look back years to come and remember all that I had done in my youth. He always showed up. Even if it meant rerouting his navigation to drive across town and pick me up from the bus stop so I wouldn’t have to continue to stand in the blistering cold when the bus was off schedule.
10. He Made a House a Home
If you know me you know I by far do not come from a royal mansion. I grew up with very modest—scratch that…completely humbling standards of living. But despite those once unbearable circumstances I always had a home. It wasn’t the prettiest place but it was a place he always made sure entertained no bickering and arguing or smoking and drinking. See, for my father the home was sacred. The home was a place to retreat to to recharge and rejuvenate. He believed the home should be free of pollutants, negativity, noise, and pain and made sure of it during his daily patrol. I didn’t have it all but I did a space to cultivate virtues…a space to lie my head down and rest my soul…and a place to stay warm from the harsh winters. And although our furnace went out at times, he always made sure there was a space heater to keep me toasty through the night. And if it got too cold and he didn’t trust that the heater could keep me warm, he was sure to send me away to someone else’s house where he believed they would open their doors to me to be at home.
Today, I appreciate my daddy for giving me that confidence in myself and in my abilities. It is that same confidence that sent me away to college, guided me in choosing partners, and even going after my dreams. I realize that I have a choice in everything I do and the worst choice to make is not making a choice at all out of fear. I pay honor to my father because he raised me to go forth with a spirit of confidence and not a spirit of fear. I know diamond rings, money and others luxuries are ideal to drop on your daughters, but never underestimate the confidence that small freedoms can inspire in a little girl. In order for anyone to change the world they must be confident. So with these 10 things in practice, let's impact this world with one daughter at a time. One of the greatest freedoms penned in America’s Declaration of Independence is the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness; I am very thankful that my rights were not trampled on growing up and that I was not shunned away from my ability to make my own decisions by paternalistic rearing. I hope that I will be brave enough to rear my children in the same manner. Thank you, Daddy for letting me be your little girl but raising me up to be a woman!
Welcome to my views from this horizon!