This past week we went on vacation with our closest friends, the Simms. It’s good to have people in your life who’ve known you for a while. They can speak to your evolution as a person, they knew you before certain roles (husband, father, etc) emerged to define you. Together between our two families we have two decades, six kids, and countless experiences being there for one another. We told the kids our collective origin story over lunch one day, about how our stories intertwined and brought us together.
Paul and my wife Samantha both grew up in Baltimore and went to high school across the street from each other. They sort of knew each other, but weren’t really close (obviously: she grew up in East B-more and he grew up in West B-more which I’m told are world a part lol). Erin (Paul’s wife) and I both are from South Carolina, but we wouldn’t meet until college. We share a love for all things southern black culture though. We all lived in the same freshmen dorm at Emory in Atlanta (Longstreet!). We started dating our respective boos around the same time. Four years later, we were all nearly inseparable.
We now live in different cities with our respective families, they’re in Nashville after being in ATL for many years. So, as you can imagine any time we get together a few times a year, it’s an opportunity to take a few trips down memory lane, and also an opportunity for growth. That’s another thing about people who’ve known you for a while, they know you well enough to really challenge you right? This happened for us during one of our late night grown folks conversations at the cabin (grown folks meaning we’d put all the kids to bed at that point so the adults could hang out).
We’d just finished watching Dave Chappelle’s latest Netflix special and our debrief touched on so many things identity politics, to hustle culture, to what is our roles as black men and black fathers when it comes to protecting and respecting as equals the black women in our lives. You know how we do when we get together, we go in! It’s the kind of conversation you can only have in spaces that are safe, where everyone feels seen, heard, and valued. Time, shared experience, and trust builds those kinds of spaces.
Inevitably, our conversation turned back towards marriage, parenting, and the big picture questions of how much can we actually control? I mean, here’s an impossible question, when do we let go? What does letting go look like in our context? Our similar stories suggest that we each place some degree of emphasis on our efforts being a key to our survival and success. But we’re all in a stage of life where we’re each beginning to question how much we want to/feel the need to continue participating in grind culture. We’re also becoming more spiritually aware of the truth that there’s not much we can control anyway. What a bummer.
Not to speak for any other black man or black father, but I suspect that this is a difficult issue for most of us. We’ve spent so much of our lives engaging with the world as we see it, and the world as we see it views us as a threat. Therefore, I’ve spent a considerable portion of my life not leaving much to chance. I’ve tried to control as much as possible in order to minimize the risk inherent to myself, and my family. Trust the system or other people to “do the right thing”? That’s for suckers. It certainly isn’t for any of the successful black folks I know. But this conversation about learning to let go, and the not so gentle nudge from both of our wives who see us working so hard to provide, prepare, and put everything in place and our families led me to a few revelations that I’m admittedly still chewing on.
I’ve always considered the idea of “letting go” as irresponsible. I mean, it must be nice to be able to not worry about the consequences. It must be nice to be able to be so open. Jealous much? Not this guy. I’ll cling to my high stakes burden for everything to be perfect, thank you very much. Too much seems to be riding on my holding everything together. But the reality is that what I’m really letting go of is fear. And that fear can be debilitating, or at least draining because no one can maintain a state of high stakes vigilance indefinitely. You can’t raise a kid to embrace the world when they’re afraid of it. The trick for me is knowing when to let to, how to let go, and what to let go of. And I suspect just like parenting, I’m still at the beginning of this journey.