In The Thick Of It

As this theme persists, we will delve a little deeper into my childhood and some of its trauma. I pray that my survival and testimony serve as a reminder that you, too, can make it, dear one. This letter will be to myself when my father died at 17. -JBHarris

Dear Jennifer:

First thing I wanna tell you is this: he was your Daddy too.

You have a right to be angry. You have every right to want to scream, holler, stomp and break shit! There is no Black girl respectability in death. Especially the death of a parent. There is no book on how to deal with all of this.

I want you to know that standing up for yourself is never a bad thing! I want you to know that your tears and complaints and depression is all valid. I want you to know your father’s family was wrong for treating not just you, but your mother and siblings, as if you no longer exist! I want you to know that your mother is coping as best she can. She can only do what she knows to do–as do her sisters. She can’t give you all of herself right now, because she has interred half of herself.

What you will find out that your father was more complicated that you imagined. You will find out that your father knew he was dying but didn’t really say anything. He still went and did and did as best he could when he his heart told him to rest.

Don’t feel bad about putting your hand on the casket of the only King you will know. This will be the last time you will touch anything that touched him.

I want you to remember that he loved you. Your father, the same man that told you writing, going to school to become a writer was useless, needless–never told you to stop writing. The same man that could be so hard on you, you will discover he did this believing it would inoculate you against the harshness of the world. But, what he didn’t know what was that he was pushing you away. That he was pushing you from him. Your father didn’t know how to handle one such as you!

You were an anomaly—the test baby.

The child without a safety net or manual. You were supposed to be the A-student, all gorgeous Black, intelligent, athletic and formidable! And when you told the strongest man in your immediate world you no longer wanted the life he wanted for you?

He stepped away from you.

He stepped away from you.

As your father, he should have accepted the special nature of his daughter. Spoke to that. Championed this. Defended this! This will be an ache you will carry for the next few years, dear one. I cannot fix that. Your father tried to equip his beautiful daughter for a world he knew would try to devour her. If not kill her outright! Did he do well with that? Nall. He didn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

He wasn’t a saint.

He wasn’t a demon.

We has human. And gave all he had to you, your brother and sister.

For all his shortcomings, I want you to remember how loved you were. How utterly adored your were. How he knew you would be formidable, brilliant and special. I want you to remember how strong his arms were to carry you on days were you just needed him near you. When you thought the world too scary and he would tell you that he would always be there. I want you to remember just how great being his daughter was. And is!

You’ll remember later as you go through your writing and literary journey, that your father’s name–Richard–is a tragic figure from the Baird: a troubled king. But even in that, remember you are the daughter of a king. Twice over! You have a right to be snobbish (within reason) and dogged and tenacious. You have a legacy in your veins and a vision to chase. So do it!

Also, like your father, you are going to have to learn to brag a little. Sure, keep the big things under wraps, because not everyone will be proud of you. But this you will find out soon, unfortunately. But I want you to take time to examine where you are and what you want. You cannot live your life for other people! You must make your own decisions, dear one. You must!

Before I leave you again, I want you to embrace your identity as a writer. I want you to embrace being different! I want you even embrace the fact that you are pretty. Even thought you think you aren’t. I want you to stop slouching. I want you to embrace the fact that you are not just tall, but statuesque. I want you to love you–radically. I want you to believe to take agency over your body and decisions.

I want you to take time to mourn your father. Loss is never easy, and grief should never be a constant companion. And it will be through your new faith in God that will sustain you. Cry when you must. Sleep when you are tired. But grieve–being super Black girl won’t make you miss him less.

Above all things, pray and write. This practice will keep you from despair, I promise you.

Keep going, gorgeous.

We got a lot to do.


You (age 38)

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