The Truth About My Father

 

A truly educated man is he who has learned in school how to study and in life what to study.

—W. E. B. DuBois

I am a native New Orleanian.  The eldest child of a teen mother and a heroin-addicted father. Born in a public hospital, raised in public housing, and educated in the public school system,  I am a product of all the decaying public systems we are now working to dismantle or rebuild post-Katrina.

My father’s struggle with addiction and habitual incarceration had a profound influence on my life.  And in spite of his shortcomings, he was a good daddy. He epitomized the culture of New Orleans, family, food, friends, and festivities. He would always take me and my younger siblings to second line events, and boy could he kick it (dance)!

He was well-read and articulate. He was a “street intellectual.” Everyone in the neighborhood knew him, because he was  charismatic and kept a newspaper rolled up in his back pocket. The Today Show was the morning mandate in our household, and we were always quizzed about current events. He was always very honest with me about the “ways of the street,” and it is from him that I received my most important lessons about being a young woman.

Despite the warm memories, there are also many difficult ones. Like knowing that when the housing inspector came around, there were two things that we were not to acknowledge that were a part of our household: my father and our dog. Memories of my father being in and out of jail all of my life are profound.  I remember the trips my mother, sisters, brother, and I made to Angola State Penitentiary to visit my dad. I was so ashamed and confused. My sister a year younger than me was angry. And my youngest sister and brother, who at the time were little more than babies, would cry that they wanted their daddy back after each visit.

Throughout all these life experiences I always wanted to understand why.  I remember saying as a little girl around eight years old that I would never marry or have children, because I thought that the reason that poor women could not get ahead was because they were in dysfunctional relationships and had too many children. What I did not understand was that there were so many other external forces that created the social order and reality that I and others were experiencing.

As the determined little “womanish” girl that my father, family, and neighbors labeled me, I set out to learn and understand the truth about my community. I vigorously pursued my studies, but I came to realize that I also had a truth to be told: a truth that there are too many people outside of poor communities who define who we are and what we need. I saw through my graduate education and professional experience the powerful role that research has in defining how poor African American families are viewed. This research has a profound impact on many of the  policies and programs that exist today affecting black families and communities.

In my studies, I also found that there is a major disjuncture in the literature on the attachment, role, and contributions of low-income men to family and community. As a result, I suggest that these men are both the heart and demise of many of the families and children that we propose to support through our programs and policies.  These men who are our sons, uncles, brothers, cousins, and fathers can both contribute to—and pull on—the resources of already fragile families.

Two years into my graduate studies, my dad returned to prison as a very ill man and died there on Labor Day 2000, despite my efforts to have him released while in hospice care. However, he assured me he was at peace; and today his legacy lives on through my work to use research and social justice to empower and aid traditionally marginalized and oppressed people.

14 Comments

Petrice,

Such a wonderful tribute, legacy and inspiration. There is much wisdom, insight and food for thought here.

Thanks for allowing us to learn with you.

Carol

Petrice this is a very fitting piece as we approach "Father's Day." Love you sister.

Thanks so much, Petrice, for sharing this inspiring story about your father. The New Orleans Fatherhood Consortium obviously has the right divine person as its leader in you. Keep pressing on the transformational work you're doing in NOLA.

Petrice, thank you for sharing a piece of your story with us as we approach Fathers Day. Too many black women carry a shame about who their fathers were - or weren't - in their lives. I appreciate your candor and your acknowledgement that there is good in every man, regardless of the story that others may paint. Blessings!

Petrice, Thanks a lot for your fathers story. FATHER is FATHER No GOOD or BAD FATHER... Your story will inspire us to accept our parents, siblings, friends as they are.. Try to learn good in them..after all they are TRUE TEACHERS in the school of life...

My hat goes off for you, I understand your daddy fully, as I too have lived with heroin addiction and I know what is like to be stigmatized, and abused by society at large. Assume that we are all alike and that some how we are a threat to them.

Then "Substance Use Disorder" treatment is archaic, sloppy, frequently done in bad faith, abuse of authority, Religious indoctrination
in denial, dogmatic, and I have yet to find
one scientism study that show that it is effective, and un-harmful. Then they turn
around and dare to say that they treat us with dignity and respect.

I know what your dad has gone thru. The United States is way behind in the treatment of these individuals. Europe have left us behind, they truly are a lot more human than we are. I talk to
man like your dad every day. I used to be enraged, now I am just angry. Trust me
for the way I have and million of other people have been treated, I think I am being fair.

Thanks for Sharing. This was a moving and powerful testimony.

You and your story are the inspiration needed for some people to see that when you look for goodness in a person, you will usually find it. While I am sorry about your loss of your Dad, it is obvious that you are at peace with fond memories of him. Much respect, SistahFriend!

Ms. Sams-Abiodun - you have truly honored your dad with this reflection. It is sad and maddening that your dad was in jail -- not in treatment-- for his addiction, and that he died there. I will keep your dad's story as an inspriration for my work to change the way our nation treats those suffering with addiction.

My Dear friend, Dr. Petrice,

Today was my second reading of your story about your Father. It resonated with me more today than before. In your article you re-told the "truth" about so many African American men in our society. I have been meeting with Pastors and other clergyin New Orleans and Atlanta to encourage them to take a more active role with male involvement in our churches. Now that you have published your story on this blog, I have another tool to communicate these important messages about our fathers to the faith community. Thank You!

Petrice,

Your ability to share YOUR truth and experience about our family dynamics and the reality of the African American man is celebrated. Our father would be very proud of how you continue to advocate for the right of all fathers regardless of where they stand in the family structure. Thank you for your strengthen and courage.

What an incredible testimony. Thank you so much for sharing such a transforming story about a loving father. Can't wait to team up and continue to move your work forward in New Orleans and the world!

Thanks to my friend Kenneth Braswell I am blessed to read your story. Due to being wrapped up in the fatherhood-related work we do I sometimes cannot articulate the stories we hear. Some are in our book and are wonderful accounts of men who work and care and... try and fail and succeed and fail and succeed, proving that success is journey, not a destination. Thanks for sharing and for using "research and social justice to empower and aid traditionally marginalized and oppressed people." We added a big social justice to our fatherhood marketing and events on Father's Day this year as well. We certainly need you to continue your work and sharing your love story.

Petrice,

What a remarkable way to capture the life you've lived. This was achieved in a way that allows us as readers to absorb a tidbit of your struggle while realizing our own and to then embrace our own feats within the flaws of our life!

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