There are many African Americans that have non-existent or poor relationships with their parents. Most of the time, the bad relationship is due to an absent father. Although some will have father figures in their life, some will hold on to the fact that their biological father seems as if he doesn’t care about them or their siblings. They grow up hating him or trying to be the opposite of him and what he stood for. However, I have learned that until I accept everything about him, the good, bad and the ugly, then I can never truly accept myself. Once this happens, an enlightening encounter must occur between child and parent. From Pierce to Pyerse is my story of how I showed my father how much of an influence he was to me even while being absent.
The Same Ol’ Pierce
Hanging up the phone, I tapped the countertop and asked myself, “Why did I just agree to pick up Pierce and bring him over here?” Pierce is my biological father’s name, which I shared, but have always hated. The name made me remember everything he did to us and didn’t do for us. This made it hard to put him behind me and move on with my life. I tried to find another name for myself and played around with several of them: Alyaz Delmonico, Delmonico Robinson, Pyerse, and many others; some of which I liked, but they never really stuck with me.
I guess I was looking for something that separated me from my biological because I stopped calling him Dad when I was in junior high. By this time, it became clear to me that he was never going to be the dad he promised to be to me, my siblings or even to himself. So I figured, if you don’t call a donkey a clown because it doesn’t have clown shoes, why should I call him dad if he didn’t want or couldn’t be one? When I made this decision, my mom demanded that I respect him as an adult, if nothing else, which eliminated the four-letter words I wanted to call him.
I compromised with her and called him by his first name. My siblings, however, called him everything from Pop, Dad, Pierce, or don’t refer to him as a name, but that was mainly to tell the difference between Pierce and me in conversation. However, referring to him as Pierce, gave the name a type of negative vibe, like someone was referring to me with my ex’s name. To be called by the name felt as if I was being called “my dad” and not a name that truly was meant for me.
Minutes later, I arrived at my grandfather’s house, three miles away from mine, which is where Pierce was staying. He looked sixty-eight instead of forty-eight and walked out wearing a decent pair of jeans and a zipped up brown jacket. He came outside because my grandfather didn’t know me well enough for me to come in and visit him. You see, I have only seen my grandfather maybe four times in my life (compared to my ‘step’ grandfather, who lives in forty-five minutes away and I saw every other month).
Pierce got into the car (surprisingly not smelling like smoke, which was the way I remembered him). In fact, my brother and I always compared him to that Peanut character with the dirt surrounding him, but with smoke. I figured I’d start the conversation.
“So Pierce, what you up to?” I really didn’t care, but it’s annoying to drive without conversation. Well, maybe I did care, just a little.
“Well, nothing much since I got out of jail.”
“What were you in jail for again?” He had already told me over the phone, but he really didn’t get into specifics. Actually, he never goes into specifics. People always had to figure out and decipher what he was saying or find out the hard way. An example of this was when I had to find out from my mom that he was not a soldier, but a plumber or when I found out that I had another sibling who was stillborn.
“Well, um” he said. Which usually meant he’s about to start, what I call, a ‘sorry-nigga story’. That’s basically a story of himself doing something wrong and even admitting it was wrong, yet, somehow convincing himself to have pity on himself, while asking the listener to also have pity on him. He continued.
“You know I been so busy getting my life right getting out of jail. I tried to get my car together and getting the tags was hard because I didn’t have any money. You know, I was living with your Uncle David for a while, but you know that really didn’t work out because he really didn’t want to pay me for some work I did—and I couldn’t live like that. I been working at Labor Ready and staying at some friends houses here and there. So I just didn’t have to time to pay my tickets. Turns out, I had some outstanding parking tickets that I couldn’t pay. So the only way to pay them was to go to jail.”
“How long were you in there for?” He took a deep sigh.
“I take it, it was nothing like Disneyland?” He chuckled and shook his head.
“That’s a place no man should ever want to go to. I didn’t spend a lot of time there, but to have someone tell me what to do, how to do it, when to eat, when not to eat—I really felt like property. I swear I’ll never do that again. I’m hoping to get my life back in order while living with my dad.”
Getting To Know Each Other
When we arrived at my house a few minutes later, I noticed that he was looking around the neighborhood and saw how quiet it was in the night sky. He looked at my one car garage, trimmed front lawn with pink and purple flowers on the bushes as we walked into my house. Junk mail and homework cluttered my house, but it didn’t take away from the cherry brown and burgundy color scheme. My walls were cherry brown with pictures of chess pieces on the walls. The sofa and loveseat were beige and tan. It faced the tan window with the blinds and burgundy curtains, which draped to the beige and gray area rug.
In this room, there were three windows, but between two of the windows was a sixty-three inch white wall. Next to the white wall, there was a thirty-two inch television on a small entertainment stand. On the opposite wall, next to the love seat, was a brown recliner and my computer desk that was hooked up to a projector. The living room was connected to the dining room, which had a cherry brown table, tall golden yellow chairs, a burgundy table cover and curtains. I then give Pierce a tour of the remaining house. I took him into the kitchen, which had two weeks of dishes in the sink and about three weeks of stains. Next to the kitchen, was the garage door, which had a weight bench, deep freezer and laundry room. Next, I took him to the back room, which I called the Raider room. Aside from the green and brown pool table in the middle of the room, the color scheme was silver and black and decorated with Raider and comic book memorabilia that fit the scheme. It also had some family pictures. In the closet, there was about three hundred and fifty dollars worth of liquor, along with chasers, shot glasses and paper cups. Also in this room was the entrance to the backyard, which just had some picnic chairs and a large tree. After the tour, he walked back into the living room as I followed with two beers.
He sat in the chair closest to my computer as I sat in the recliner.
“Wow, you did very well for yourself. How did you get all this?” I turned on the projector and computer.
“Well I found someone that was willing to work with my bussing salary. After that I just took out enough student loans to help get me through so I could focus solely on school and keeping up with the house.” Once the projector finished warming up, it displayed my computer’s desktop, which showed a list of music I had collected over the years. I started talking to him about how I collected the music by downloading from the internet, hunting at record stores and ripping from my friends collection. My collection was organized by genre: rap, R&B, jazz rock and reggae. From there, it was organized by tempo and the decade of the song’s release. After I showed him that music, I showed him the comedy collection I had, which were comedians ranging from Redd Foxx to Bernie Mac.
Pierce smirked and leaned forward. “Man, I remember that Redd Foxx. In fact, I used to have all the albums. We use to laugh all the time to that.” I didn’t ask him why he lost all the albums because I knew my mom had a lot of his albums after the divorce. Plus, I knew that was going to lead into talking about that, and I really wasn’t in the mood. After a brief silence, I asked him, “So do you want me to burn you a cd?”
“Man, I would really love some of that Redd Foxx. Although, some of those seventies songs I would like as well.”
“I only have one CD to burn. So Redd Foxx or a seventies CD?” He looked at the ground.
“Man.” He thought about it.
“Just give me the Redd Foxx.”
As the CD burned, I asked him if he wanted another beer. He said, ‘Naw, thank you. I stopped drinking like that. I was getting into too much trouble.”
“Forgive me if this is too personal, but is that the reason why you lost your job at the post office?” I was told that he got the post office job after he retired from twenty years of service in the Air Force. Not too long later, he failed a drug test. Over time, he failed several drug tests, which led to him getting fired.
“I was stupid. They found me sleeping in the backroom. They made me take a drug test and they found cocaine in my system.”
“Is it true you been doing that since you was married?” Pierce was only married once, that I know of, and that was to my mom.
“You know that was the rumor, and it was a horrible rumor. I never did cocaine. I did marijuana and drunk a lot, but never anything harder than that. I did start cocaine, and it was only cocaine, nothing else, until after I got out of the service.
I found that interesting because he told me five years before he retired that he did every drug in the book: heroine, PCP, even LSD.
“Yeah I heard that rumor too. In fact, I thought that was one of the reasons you got divorced.”
“I admit I may have given people that impression, and I might have done some things and forgot about them. But I didn’t do anything like that to my knowledge.” He gently crushed his now empty beer can.
Let Me Explain
“Mind if I ask you a question?”
“I handed him his CD. “Sho.”
“These people who said all these bad things about me, were they your mom?”
“Believe it or not, umm, my mom was very positive about you. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she did tell me things you did to her and her—let’s say—learning experiences—she had with you and your family. But as far as going out of her way to say something bad about you, in an attempt to make herself look better than you or take away from you, never. The exact opposite in fact.”
My mom had divorced Pierce back in 1985 because he had an affair with an overweight, twenty-six year old woman down the street from where we use to live. The affair led to the woman having a stillborn child. Two years later, these two had a daughter, who is now eighteen with her own children.
“If she found out that we disrespected you as an adult—meaning cussing you out, hitting you in anger, or acting out—we’d have to answer to her.” Pierce nodded his head as I continued, “I mean we were allowed to voice our opinion to you, but we had to be respectful about it. I’ll tell you this, me and my brother almost got grounded by Mom because we called you Pierce instead of Dad. But I explained to her, and I literally said this, ‘we don’t call you bitch, because you’re not a bitch and you did nothing to remotely deserve being called such a thing. So why should we call Pierce dad if he didn’t want or need to do his job and we had to get a stepdad to take his place?’ in fact, I remember now, calling you Pierce was sort of a compromise because of the fact that the other names I wanted to call you would have been disrespectful.”
“I would have never guessed because I understood you guys wanted to kill me.”
“We did, all of us did.”
Pierce had a total of two sons and two daughters, the oldest is my sister, who’s only eight months older than me, and was working on her master’s in medicine in the state of Washington. The youngest, who’s eighteen, lived in South Carolina. My twenty-eight year old brother is married with children and lives forty-minutes away.
“However, at least for me, I truly believed I wanted to kill you when I was younger. But growing up, I realized I really didn’t want to kill you. I just wanted you out of my life because I was tired of being neglected, dogged and compared to you. Every time people talked to me, all they talked about was how great my ‘dad’ was and how I’m just like him, look like him, talked like him, or should be like him. And here I am trying to be as unlike you as humanly possible.” Meanwhile, I ironically and unintentionally go by his name.
“Yeah, I guess that’s more my fault that anything. Just should have been more of an influence to you guys.”
“Actually me and my brother talked about this the other day. You are the greatest influence I had.”
Pierce shook his head. “Yeah, you know, I know I wasn’t the best person, you don’t have to patronize me. It’s okay.”
“No, honestly. See, my uncles and stepfather gave me advice on how to be a good person, but for the most part they were telling me how things were good for them, which all I can do is see if it works for me or not. Whereas with you, you were the blueprint in a lot of respects of how I am. It took me a few years, but I realized all those people telling me I’m just like you meant that we have things about us that we have in common or I inherited from you. So, if we had this much in common, and you did a lot of things wrong, then all I have to do is do the opposite of what you did. All I had to do was learn from your mistakes and why you made them. Then I just had to prevent them when they present themselves. For example, Mom told me that you focused more on your friends and getting high then your family. Aunt Diane told me you had a hard time making friends because you were made fun of because you didn’t look as Black as other Blacks and you had a funny voice. Which probably means that when you found someone who appeared to like you, you believed that friend was more valuable than family because family is something you always had. Now, this is the funny part, I had hell making friends because of the fact that I’m not Black enough and my so-called funny voice. However, when I found friends who liked me for myself, I enjoyed my time with them, but I didn’t put my family on the back burner. In fact, I kept them in the loop, at least for the most part, or at least tried my hardest to keep my family connection. Basically, keeping family more important than everything else because it always was more important than everything else. I applied this to everything Pierce, to drugs, women, work, everything. And basically, everything you did, I did the opposite. But as I got older, I had to learn the good in you and actually copy and master that part of you. For the most part of my life, I…let’s say, I programmed myself to hate you like the devil himself. The problem with that was it lead to me blindingly hating you. And everything you did had to be wrong, mainly because you did it. But once I learned to see the good in you and learn that that good is also in me, I was able to go back and take my stepfather’s and uncles’ advice on how to be and where I should go. That’s why I called you ‘my greatest influence’ because without learning you, I couldn’t learn myself.”
He leaned back in his seat. “Glad I was an influence in some way, even if it was a negative one.”
I took a deep breath, and then leaned forward. “Pierce, I’ll be honest, it’s not really negative. But…I look at it like this, I learned how to play the cards I’m dealt. Also, let me say one more thing just for clarity: I don’t hate you now. It’s just that I’m so far removed from you. Me, you, and the whole family are so distant and we have actually grown comfortable with the distance. Suddenly, we come back together and it’s kinda like a shock. On one hand, I’m suppose to, and am use to being, distant; yet, now I gotta be sociable, but what do I talk about that’s interesting?”
“And that’s my fault. I should not have kept you away from your family.”
“At the same time, I’m a grown man, and like I told my brother and sisters, the second we call ourselves men and women, is the second we can no longer blame Pierce for what’s happening, what had happened, and what will happen. Doing so would make us just as bad as a brotha on the corner talking about ‘the white man this, and the white man that.’ In a sense, that brotha has some merit to what he’s saying, but it’s more of an excuse to be lazy, not a justification to make actions.”
He took a deep sign, followed by dead silence. He looked up at the clock and saw it was after 10 pm. I looked at him. “Are you ready to leave?”
“Actually yeah, I have to get up and do some yard work for Dad’s lawn.”
While driving in the car, we talked about how his goals were to get where I’m at now and he laid out a mental outline as to how to do so. Then, I discussed my short term goals and what I wanted to do when I got out of school. When I drove to his dad’s house, he shook my hand, and asked me to call him again and to meet up soon. In the interim, he was going to focus on getting his life together and having a better relationship with me. I’ve heard that before, I swear he said something like that after every meeting I ever had with him. But I just told him I wish him the best and hopefully it will happen, even though I wasn’t really tripping. I looked at it this way: at least he didn’t say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ He used to say that so much it make him sound so pitiful and that insulted me.
Driving home, I thought about the conversation we had. It was interesting, that for the first time, I was actually comfortable being called Pierce, though I do prefer the ‘Pyerse’ spelling. The ‘Pyerse’ spelling says I’m acknowledging I’m like Pierce, but at the same time, I’m my own person; separate from him—though the same in many ways. At the same time, I don’t feel like I have to be like, or live up to, Pierce. I just have to live my life as it unfolded. Several members of my family knew I felt that way and tried to prove to me that I didn’t have to be compared to him. But this was the first time I actually saw it.