Our Affirming Black and Brown Fatherhood Series concludes today, with a post by Mark C. Coston, who was primarily raised by his paternal grandfather. His piece, cross-posted from his blog, Junkyard Salvation, is especially resonant for those dealing with loss, those who are beholden to extended family and non-relative father figures, and those whose emotional connection to their fathers built slowly.
[Word count: 467. Approximate read time: 2 minutes]
Before, he was just the belt wielder. Barber. Things-around-the-house fixer. Wood chopper. La-Z-Boy occupier. Pipe smoker. Grandmother’s nagging post. I wasn’t fond of him. As a disciplinarian, I came to see him as stern. And mean. So I kept my dealings with him limited. Nine-year-olds prefer grandmothers anyway. They’re softer. Permissive. Willing to bend rules for precocious children. Better at banana pudding from scratch. I was certain I chose well.
Then, certain reversals of fortune cause ten-year-olds to grow rapidly. Age substantially. Wizen prematurely. Grieve deeply.
Rules of the game would need to change. No more hiding in the billows of her dress. I couldn’t pit queen against king. Now, it was just the king and I. Two of us on a somewhat bare board. In a much-too-quiet house. Taken aback. Having to stare at each other in the eyes. Perhaps for the first time.
The king, though prized, is probably the most vulnerable in the game. Only moving about slowly, one space at a time. Not a problem with a queen present. She can fly around accomplishing multiple tasks at one time. Enforcing order while retreating selectively. Defending territory while deferring demurely. A queen makes every piece stronger. Losing one early puts the fate of the whole game at a disadvantage. Faced with the challenge, some kings concede. Mine reworked his strategy.
Statistically, spouses who do not re-marry, die after 10 years of viduity. This left him very little time to do twice the work he thought would need doing. His strides impressed me.
He learned how to talk. He also learned when not to. He became a quick study in affection. I don’t recall being at a loss. He learned how to be tender. Eventually, so did his food. He learned how to comfort with one hand, defend with the other. He learned how to forgive and how to lose his cool. Kept a pretty good record of doing both at only the right times. He even improved on the queen’s flaws, learning what to confront and what to ignore.
He learned how to exercise. He learned how to live. And he did a lot of it for me. He even surprised me towards the end. After years of failure, he finally learned how to cry. In hindsight, I suspect he probably practiced whenever I wasn’t looking. He really got good at it though and could do it without losing his dignity.
It was amazing to see it all. I didn’t know he could move like that. Zipping across the board like the queen I remember. Sustaining no losses. Occupying every space. She would be proud. I wouldn’t have survived alone. He won the game for me. In truth, he really was just a king. But if you let me tell it, he was everything.
Mark C. Coston is a musician and writer in Los Angeles, CA.