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James Baldwin and Writing Through Disaster

by Jose Vilson on December 8, 2013

in Jose

James Baldwin

James Baldwin

On Tuesday, at 7:30am, right before class, I found out my father passed away from my brother. The opaque skies of the early morning didn’t let up all day. My students acted as they usually do: adolescent, chatty, enlightened, irresponsible. My energy, however, didn’t betray me except in the few times they decided to quit on themselves. My tolerance level for their defeatist retorts was next to nil. My reaction to adults in our teacher team meeting didn’t help things.

The few people who knew about my situation kept their distance, but those who didn’t quickly found out through my other colleagues. I felt like I got no break from people.

Under the advisement of a few family members and friends, I took the day off on Wednesday, unplugging from the everyday routines to recalibrate my energies, just to understand why I reacted to my father’s passing as I did. I was planning some time away from the Internet to finish the edits in my book, hoping to deliver the best book possible to everyone. This made the urgency of my writing that much greater.

Right before I headed out the door on Wednesday, I started reading Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin. This resonates with me now:

” … So that any writer, looking back over even so short a span of time as I am here forced to assess, finds that the things which hurt him and the things which helped him cannot be divorced from each other; he could be helped in a certain way only because he was hurt in a certain way; and his help is simply to be enabled to move from one conundrum to the next – one is tempted to say that he moves from one disaster to the next.”

I shouldn’t have cared that my father passed. I only saw him once a year on average, four times in the last seven years. I shut him out of my son’s life for not responding to my son’s initial fetal scan pictures. Even though I made peace with the idea that he would never transform into the loving, caring grandfather I had hoped for, I didn’t want to spark any real conversation with him. He didn’t raise me, and my whole idea of fatherhood came from his (and my stepfather’s) lack thereof.

Teaching prepared me for child-rearing in a way technocrats and people who diss soft skills dare not understand.

When I got home, I changed the channel to ESPN to find out that Nelson Mandela, a man who meant so many of us fighting for social justice, had passed away as well. My fingers had a reason to finish this book, my own long journey home.

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The Certainty of Fatherhood

by Jose Vilson on June 20, 2010

in Jose

Father and Son Reading

Father and Son Reading

This holiday usually conjures up negative energies from my Black and Latino brethren. Stories of misplaced fathers, dual-role mothers, and accidental pregnancy loom in the periphery of our society’s ills. Today, however, I chose to remember those who we consider the exceptions when other cultures may consider them the norm. This is for the fathers who work ’til their limbs give out just to keep the lights on in the apartment. This is for the fathers who barely see their offspring not because they chose to leave but because they’re trying to find their way back home. This is for the fathers who take care of children that aren’t even theirs, but they inherited via occupation or circumstance. This is for the fathers who have no children, but provide inspiration to youth all across the nation. This is for the fathers who left their children too soon from passing onto another life but still look upon their children longing to reunite once more. This is for the fathers who understand the stereotype of father absenteeism, but scoff at the notion of leaving any child behind. In that sense, we have fathers in abundance.

And this is for the sons and daughters who, after truly knowing their fathers whether present or not, find it in their hearts to forgive and find love for their place in bringing you to this Earth. And because, as much as we try, we find a piece of our father’s within ourselves constantly …

Jose, who has tried to communicate with every father he knows, especially his own …

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Short Notes: The Shadow of a Father

by Jose Vilson on June 21, 2009

in Short Notes

Absent Father

Absent Father

A few notes:

  • Ladies and gents, my nomination’s officially in for the 2009 Black Weblog Awards. Would you please consider my blog for any of the four categories I’m nominated in? Thanks a million.
  • Wait, how many days do we have left in the school year? Is that right? 5!? And I’m going where? To Orlando? Jamaica? Miami (maybe)? Wow, that’s a lot of places to be at. Well done, Jose. Well done.
  • If, on the same day you receive your brand-new Macbook Pro, you hear that its price dropped a few hundred dollars, wouldn’t you be fuming? Fortunately for those of us who fit in that category, there’s a thing called price protection. If you fall into that category, call 800-MY-APPLE and ask for that money back. It’s valid within 30 days of purchase.
  • Some topics I plan to explore this week include how political education can get, what happens when you don’t care about children, and that dreaded last day of school (and by dreaded, I mean AWESOME!!!). Plus, I might have my first video up this week. Nice.

My Fathers’ Day celebrations have been sparse and uncomfortable. Lately, I’ve contemplated the various father figues I’ve had and the ones I wish I had where the people who were supposed to fill those roles didn’t. My father was out there somewhere, making sporadic visits to NYC maybe once a year, and at times, none at all. My stepfather couldn’t stand me 90% of the time, and I forgive, but won’t forget some of the things I’ve had to endure because of him.

I never liked Bill Cosby because for a dude like me, he wasn’t realistic, or so I thought. I liked Phillip Banks of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air more for his personality and he struck me as a more realistic father, but his situation was far too distant for me to relate. Roc Emerson from Roc the TV series was as realistic as they get, but his TV series was short-lived. Fr. Jack, my middle school principal from Nativity, was a father figure for so many of us in that school, and that lasted all of 2 years. Every friend I had picked an NBA player to admire, and naturally, mine was Patrick Ewing. Yet, he was an NBA player, not a father, and dude had his own kids. He was merely a wish, and one that only looked green from this side of things.

That goes for a lot of the other men who whisked through my life and mentored me when I needed it. Now I’m at a point where I look at myself as a father to my students (in a sense), and in some ways, a father in training. Every so often, I still sing “Dance With My Father” by Luther Vandross, humming words I can never really relate to, but hoping I’d be able to provide that feeling to someone someday. Someday.

Jose, who wishes all the fathers out there a Happy Fathers’ Day, wherever you may be …

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We Get It From Our Papa [The Love Below Series]

February 10, 2009 Jose
Black Father, Son, Shaving

This is the third post on love, commemorating that yearly event that happens on the 14th. Today, I’ll get a little into my own background without saying too much. I’ll try not to get too deep into family, but I’ll give a little context for the ideas I’m laying out. I hope to represent these […]

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Our Father

February 27, 2008

I wasn’t supposed to write tonight, but I’m moved again.Excuse me for getting a little too personal, but over the last week, I’ve noticed the vital role that fathers play in their offspring’s role. Unfortunately, we still have fathers who won’t own up to being fathers, mothers who berate fathers regardless of how integral a […]

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Black, White, and Read All Over? Terrorism!

September 22, 2007 Jose

I recently read on Slate.com that not only is Big Brother watching, but he’s also trying to get into my library, keeping records of the types of personal items I keep and stuff I do on their planes. I wonder what Osama bin Laden’s reading list looks like and if they compare it to my […]

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