I love my Father. I feel so blessed to have landed such a great one. The best chef, a wizard with words and a craftsman who has built houses with his bare hands. I owe a lot to him. He prepared me for so much in life.
However, there’s one thing he never prepared me for. As I approach my late twenties I’m struggling with watching my Father age. It’s like it happened over night. My Father was in his early thirties when I was born and other than his weight fluctuating he hadn’t aged much once he hit 40 years old. Since I moved out at 18, I’ve seen my father in 3-6 months intervals ever since. But it’s been these last two years where each visit it’s like I’m seeing a new person. And I’m terrified. Every visit I’m being reminded that there will be a day when I have to say a final good bye, a day where I will miss him and I can’t hop on the train to see him or pick up the phone and call him. Just the thought brings me to tears and now I have a visual reminder that it is the reality of me getting older, my parents are too. However what separates my Mother from my Father in the aging process, are factors that affect most men, especially the Baby Boomers of color. Mental health.
The Black community has long skirted the issue of mental health, curtly brushing it under the rug. Smacking it down as some repugnant trait of those with less melanin. Even as we have watched some of our biggest celebrities grapple with the complexities of poor mental health, D’angelo, Junior Seau, Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston. Our community has ignored the gravity that mental health has on our over well-being and quality of life. This is especially true for Black men who often are taught to define their masculinity by their ability to hold in their emotions. Never cry, never break down…you must always pick your self up and keep it moving. My Father has been threw two divorces, a failed engagement and a recession that wiped out his 401k and hopes of retiring anytime soon. He was trained to pick it up and keep it moving, never letting on to any emotional turmoil. He grinned and bared it all. My Mother was hit exceptionally hard just as my Father, with the ending of her marriage, another failed relationship, the complete burglary and then loss of her home. She too grinned and bared it, right to the therapist and gym. For women, though we still have a long way to go, the push towards understanding our mental health has been a lot more rampant and vocal. My Mother has had a chance to hear that discussion.
As a twenty something, watching the recession help make my college degree close to worthless, fighting to stay a float in the biggest rat race known as New York City and the myriad of other struggles that have left me not wanting to get out of bed, the biggest mental note savior has been that I can’t give up because I still have so much life to live. At 60 years old, the same mental note doesn’t carry much weight. The aging I’ve seen my Dad undergo, seems to be a clear sign of his beginning to give up. He’s going through the motions of life and it’s as if I’m watching him dig his own premature grave.
Father’s Day is Sunday, and the biggest gift you can give to your Father is that of happiness and health. There’s a myriad of statistics to back up my personal tale, even Soledad O’brien touched on it on Black in America. But it’s not numbers that need to move you. Rather your heart that makes you sit down and have that careful conversation with your father. No one wants to see their Dad die from a sudden heart attack, stroke or any other stress induced condition. We can’t ignore how our Father’s eating, sleeping and personal hygiene habits are indicative of their mental health. If any of those habits are faltering it is a clear connection to their mental health.
Put out some thoughtful suggestions even if he shoots them down, just ask that he think about them on his own. Then offer to do your part to help him get better. It can be as simple as calling every day to pray with him, offering to make his bed, buy him new pillows (good sleep is important!), whatever simple task cater it to your father’s needs and being.
I implore all of you for Father’s Day to make that start too. Find your angle and have that talk with your father.
I did and in one sentence I burst into tears and finished out an hour long conversation in between sobs.
Dad, I love you and I need you to live long(er)…