Sunday, June 15, 2008

Daddy's Girl

My father departed today, and I now fully realize why I am a divorced, middle aged woman. I am a daddy's girl, and I make no bones about it. So while I yearn for companionship, struggle to date, and modify my expectations of men, I know that I am the way I am because I am the eldest daughter of three girls, and I am the apple of his eye.

Now I know that my two sisters are probably puffing out their cheeks right now. But hey, hold on a second and let me explain. I am the second child, but the first daughter. So while my mother maintained the patriarchal covenant of producing the male heir as the first born and securing the Simms bloodline, she produced me second. I can only imagine how my father marveled at me, that baby girl laying in the layette. My father has a photograph of me in the layette with my 23 month old brother peeping in; I am small, innocent, and trying to sleep. Although my next sister was born 17 months after my birth, and with red hair just like my father's was when he was a child, and another sister was born 17 months after my sister with red hair, I was the first daughter.

This past weekend with my father, whenever he introduced me to someone, he said, "this is my number one daughter, Michele." And I found myself quipping, "yes, and #2 and #3 need to get over it." We would chuckle together because on some level we have been saying this most of my life.

So while there are advantages to being "Daughter #1," the disadvantage is that a dad's dreams, hopes, and aspirations are equally embodied in that daughter as they are in a son. Thus, the pressure to achieve, to measure up, to marry with my heart, but also to a man who could provide for me the way my father did, seemed overwhelming at times. I recall as a younger woman deciding it will never happen, and had vowed to spend my life alone and childless until my father visited me while on travel for business, and later expressed concern to my mother that I was "alone."

In many ways, I felt that I was not only Daughter #1, but son too, as my father kept me by his side and honed my entrepreneurial and business skills. It wasn't uncommon for me to be granted the job of posting accounts for my father for the various businesses that he ran when I was a child and teenager. And whenever I sought advice involving anything in the business world, I consulted my father first. But both of my sisters were equally shaped in this manner, it's just that by virtue of birth order, I was the first daughter my father took under his wing.

Well, this "Daughter #1" just spent three glorious days with her father. I am rejuvenated, calm, and very happy. My father always reminds me of my value as a human being and how a man should treat a woman. I am my father's daughter. I am Daughter #1. I am a Daddy's Girl, and I love being so.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Father's Day

My week has been jammed packed with my son's prom, graduation, arrival of immediate and extended family, grocery shopping, house cleaning, and all the other activities that go along with preparing for my son's rite of passage.

After speaking with my father yesterday to confirm his arrival time, I remembered that Sunday is Father's Day. While I don't necessarily celebrate every Hallmark holiday, I did note that my father had said that he was departing on Saturday. He knows me well enough to hear the unspoken (why can't the other men get it), and he immediately called back and told me that he had changed his itinerary to remain until Sunday, but that he had a meeting on Monday that he had to prepare for (uh, my father is retired, but that's a different story), so he will have to leave Sunday morning. I know that that bit of information was code for "don't make reservations for brunch, Michele."

I immediately thought about how my father has never been one for pomp and ceremony, despite the fact that he had a career with the Department of the Army, which is replete with pomp and ceremony. As an example, when he retired, he notified none of us; or maybe he said simply "I'm retiring." I later discovered through my mother handing me a stack of photographs that there was a retirement celebration that all of his children should have attended. He was later presented with the American flag that was flown on the U.S. Capitol building on the day he retired as well as four stars to symbolize the equivalent military rank that he would have achieved had he not become civilian personnel. I was in awe. But my father's reticence and unassuming posture amaze me, and it is what he has bred in not only me, but which I have also bred in my son.

So while my father is arriving to celebrate the hard work that my son has done by timely graduating from high school, getting accepted into the university that is his first choice, and causing me no problems (oh yeah, single black women can raise black male children and keep them out of trouble , but with the support of family and community), I am going to pause and reflect on my father's unrelenting commitment to being the best father and grandfather that he can possibly be to me, my siblings, nieces, and nephews. Of course, he will not allow me to do anything special for him, but he will hang around long enough for me to say thank you. For thank you is about all that he will permit any of us to give to him.

My father is, in an old fashion sense, a man of a different era. It is only in my father's presence that I feel completely secure, the way that I imagine women in past epochs felt when they knew that the man would take care of everything. In our post-feminist moment when most women do not know how to allow a man to be a gentleman, I love having my father around as he opens car doors, picks up the dinner tab, copiously checks out my house and notes any repairs that need to be made (and makes them without as much as saying a word), drives me around, enjoys my food, brushes the lint from my skirt, and reminds me that I am daughter and woman.

I will love having my father around for the next couple of days. Everyday is Father's Day when my dad is with me.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Graduation, Paris, and the Price of Gas

My son graduates on Friday from high school. Yippie, now I can reinvent myself. Watch me transform from super mom to super woman; or maybe I'll just chill and do nothing. Paris is on the horizon; I am looking forward to three days of intense discussion about Richard Wright. The price of gas, the price of gas. And to think that I gave my bicycle away to the Salvation Army; I just might have to co-op my son's bike and get on it for short errands around the neighborhood.

Listened to some authorities on oil prices on public television last night. According to these authorities, high oil prices are about high demand (the Chinese and Indians, oh no, not the Americans), limited production, and antiquated technologies in the refineries. My friends tell me at least we aren't paying the prices that some Europeans are paying. This, of course, is no consolation to me and millions of other Americans who remain in this country specifically because we don't want to pay the high cost of goods, services, and housing that Europeans pay. While I'm not comparing the cost of living between Europe and the United States, as a friend of mine so aptly reminds me: the U.S. is the best thing going on. "For now," I always add to his quip before his lips seal.

But from a more cynical perspective, my mother warned me as a child of the high cost of living that would eliminate the middle class in this country. She had a way of studying the data and trends, and making the prediction. Just like she told me as a child that she better not ever catch me in the World Trade Center towers; her words were, "they are going to take them out" as I sat on my cousin's balcony in Brooklyn watching the towers sway in the overcast day and yearning to take the elevator to the top. So while my cousin begged my mother to let us catch the train and go to the top of the towers, she refused. And I honored my mother's warning and never set foot on the grounds of the World Trade Center.

Perhaps this empire is truly near its demise. Its hegemony is beginning to wane, and some economist are worried about what it means to further enrich those rogue states that produce oil and how this economic enrichment will jeopardize our democracy. Well, we can start walking, design more pedestrian and bicycle-friendly cities and neighborhoods, improve public transportation with intercity trains, manufacture more hybrids, and I can list a host of other accommodations that we could make to lower our dependency on oil. It is about a lifestyle change. Are we willing to make one? Or, are we so addicted to oil that we will continue to demand more than our fair share, and if we do not get it, we will obliterate an entire state to satisfy our craving?

Okay, enough for the politics; just food for thought as I prepare for a weekend of walking, walking, and using more public transportation.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Michelle Obama, First Lady

I've been refraining from blogging about Prince Von Anhalt's racist comment about Michelle Obama, that she looks like a washerwoman. But this morning as I reflect on the strides that Black women have taken to deconstruct and challenge the pervasive racist and stereotypical images of themselves as not only washerwomen, but whores, bitches (sorry dad), venus hottentots, welfare queens (thanks to Clarence Thomas), and many other pejorative appellations that are too numerous to enumerate in this blog, I cannot remain silent.

Prince Von Anhalt's racist comment is not just about Michelle Obama, but it is about Black women whose physiognomies do not replicate the European and Euroamerican standard of beauty. Those of us who are not light, bright, and almost white need to be in the streets protesting, because Von Anhalt, an unapologetic racist, is only echoing what no citizen of this country will dare say aloud to the media; although I have had one African American girlfriend wish that Michelle Obama looked more like Suzanne Malveaux. My girlfriend's pronouncement has caused me to reassess our friendship, for I look more like Michelle Obama than Suzanne Malveaux, so in my warped analytical mind I'm thinking so how does my girlfriend really feel about me.

For many persons, the idea of a First Lady who is African American is enough to cause them to give up their U.S. citizenship. For others, the plausibility of a First Lady who is African American and brown skin is a deep-seated betrayal. How can this possibly happen? Why didn't that biracial man marry a light-skinned African American woman or a white woman? Wouldn't this make the country's acceptance of a Black president easier if his wife just looked more white?

Well, you know me, I want Barack to win, Michelle gracefully to assume the role of First Lady, and hey, I'll drop by the White House and lock her hair; then folks can really do backwards flips. But at least when she visits the Middle East she won't have to keep raising her hand to her head to press down her hair that won't lie down missionary style, like our Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, who was so preoccupied with her hair during a state visit to the Middle East that I felt sorry for the sister and yelled at the television, "girl you know you're supposed to braid that stuff up when it's hot outside; what's wrong with you?"

With all joking aside, it's not just about hair and skin color, it is about Michelle Obama representing a sort of unadulterated blackness, for it is about her strength, her presence, her support of her husband, her love for her husband and daughters, her working-class background, and the inability to decenter her. I see these characteristics in Michelle Obama that I have witnessed in so many "washerwomen" who held families together by taking in laundry when their husbands could not find work, were run off or killed by white terrorists, or when their husbands' wages were not enough to provide for their families.

So if Michelle Obama represents the washerwoman in Von Anhalt's mind, then she embraces a legacy of tenacity. While I am not misjudging or minimizing the economic assault on black women's labor that the washerwoman signifies, I am celebrating the symbolism of the washerwoman as an icon of black strength. So Von Anhalt, you may see the washerwoman as the silent black woman who does your laundry, but in the historiography of black communities, the washerwoman is a force to be reckoned with, and you better watch out when she starts doing the laundry.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Technology and Parenting

In some ways, the advancements in technology have made parenting a lot easier. For instance, I am old enough to recall my mother using a wash machine with a wringer attached. Imagine the hours she spent sending our clothes through the wringer. I was never old enough to use the wringer before she and my father got rid of it; however, I recall as a young child at least standing beside my mother and conversing with her while she did the laundry. And even in the days before dryers, I would join my mother in the backyard to hang the laundry,and even hand her the clothespins. This was another opportunity for us to converse, me to ask questions, and for her to impart her wisdom.

But with the advancement in technology, what I am noticing is less interaction between children and their parents. I am guilty of allowing my son to walk around the house with an ipod stuck in his ears; however, in his formative years we used to practice "no television, no playstation, and no computer" for a few weeks each year. This worked because he did find ways to interact with me and to occupy himself.

Recently I noticed that more and more parents are simultaneously walking their toddlers in strollers and conversing on their cell phones. While I am not passing judgment, I reflect on the pleasure I got when I was out the house and walking my son in his stroller. These moments were magical as we found the duck pond and fed stale bread to the ducks and geese, looked for turtles on the sidewalks, and marveled at the flora. These walks allowed me to detach from the responsibilities and "shit work" always awaiting me in the house, and forced me to focus on my son, his acquirement of knowledge, and expanding vocabulary.

Yesterday when I noticed that every parent I passed strolling with their toddler was on a cell phone, I started to yell, "They will be 18 soon and won't want to talk to you. Get off your cell phone." But I refrained because my parents raised me to have better manners than that. Nonetheless, the trend of always being on a cell phone has permeated those moments that should be precious and sacrosanct. But who am I to judge.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Idyllic Days

I have very little to blog about; my life is unusually quiet. I'm trying to stir things up a little, but to no avail. My former students finally understand that I will not spend my summer responding to their e-mail messages, my son is preparing for graduation and prom (he's taking a sprinter to the prom, right on for him choosing an athlete), I'm looking for a smaller habitat (I'm tired of cleaning this house and I have too much space in which to accumulate more stuff), and I'll be in Paris in two weeks.

My day now consists of reading, writing, walking twice per day, and weeding out my library. Yes, for the second time in my life I am selectively choosing books to give away. I am a bit disheartened, but I also know that I do not need copies of Brecht and Hesse's works in German, and my collection of Spanish short stories from high school I'll probably never read again. However, I am keeping all of my books in French because I'm applying for a Fulbright to Senegal. I've been having a great time studying French again.

My son is in his own world. Wheeled up to my house this weekend in his father's car and it dawned on me that he is grown (he's been telling me this for a year or two, but I've been ignoring him).

Nothing has changed in the political arena. I want Clinton to drop out the race, Obama to win, and a dear and wonderful friend of mine to test the national political scene because he has outgrown the environment he's in (hint, hint if you are reading this blog).

The tiger lilies in my front yard are in bloom, the azaleas are spent, and I need to plant some annuals. But I'm too lazy to even mow the lawn these days. I have a wonderful neighbor who must take pity on me because he mows my lawn. We laugh about the fact that between the two of us we have four boys who are too busy to mow the lawn. But I must confess, I never mowed my father's lawn either. He didn't want me to mess it up.

Everything is quiet, and hopefully I'll have something more interesting to post tomorrow.