Piece written by Samson E. Merise
My father finished his story as he parked in front of the school. I looked at him, unable to see his face. Instead, I saw black. In that blackness, I saw the shadowy forms of his guardians cracking the bloody whip against his back. I felt a queasiness deep within my stomach. His disembodied voice spoke.“If it wasn’t for my brothers’ discipline,” he said, “if it wasn’t for the lashings, that cowhide whip, I’d be nothing.” With those words, the blackness cleared. He reached across the car and opened the door. I exited, unable to talk. As I moved through the day, he remained in my head.
My father, like many Haitians, was a victim of child neglect and physical abuse, a victim of character-demeaning child discipline. “Discipline” that stems from the enslavement of my people. Yet, when he speaks of his traumatic childhood, he speaks without resentment. He speaks of lessons. He found a way of seeing through blackness.
Throughout that day, I kept returning to my father’s words in my mind. I questioned their validity. How could he speak optimistically about something as horrible as abuse? As I pondered, I watched one of my classmates throw a pencil at another. Would the receiving student one day interpret getting hit in the head as a positive lesson ? It couldn’t be true. Yet, individuals like my father did reinterpret negatives as positives. An interview I had seen with Tupac replayed. He spoke of painful memories. The interviewer asked, “If you could go back in time and change it, would you?” Tupac answered in the positive. “They made me who I am”
The bell rang…
I have hewn my view of the world, my core philosophy from my father’s example, from Tupac’s words–that there is a positive aspect of living through difficult times. While many challenges overwhelm us in the moment, I believe that they are first and foremost opportunities to learn and improve. In the face of these challenges, it is important to maintain clarity, seek rationality, and define our purpose.
For as long as I’ve been able to reflect holistically, I’ve sought rationality amongst the world of humanitarian sciences. This obsession is derived from my will to elude the afro-traditionalistic influences that hurt my father. As a child, adults taught me conservative interpretations of The Bible and that contrary interpretations were of the “devil.” Their lessons entrenched the black between the world and me, rendering me blind. Only through my questions and inner dialogue was my vision restored. Now, as a young black man, I see that one person’s interpretation of “Isaiah 9:2” may differ from another’s—and that is okay. We are all entitled to our own beliefs.
The sun beamed upon us, illuminating the darkness of our ebony skin. As we crossed the street, we spoke about our classes, teased each other, and threw mock punches. Caught up in this brotherly comradery, I told them my father’s story and asked, “How can a negative yield a positive?”They became immediately pensive. Finally, Oluwaseun spoke. “If every action has an equal and opposite reaction, it is certain that a person can find perspective even in the worst conditions.” I agreed. People’s interpretations of the world are due to a variety of experiences that structure their beliefs and ideals, even bad ones.
I began the day harrowed by my father’s trauma. By the day’s end, my feelings changed. Arriving home, I climbed the stairs to my father’s office. He lay on his cot reading from The Bible.
“Dad?” I said.
He looked up and said nothing.
“I thought a lot about what you told me this morning, and I’ve made up my mind about
He closed the book.
“I’ve decided I’d like to go to college,” I said.
“That’s wonderful; will you inspire others?”
“Mwen se petit papa m,” I replied. I am my father’s son.