I am still getting to know my father, though he died 20+ years ago when I was in college.
I’ve known all along that he was an intellectual who had a kind of poetic romanticism about him.
He never attended college, as far as I know, but had shelves overflowing with books and bibles.
He loved Man of La Mancha, and Cervantes’ Don Quixote. I was singing “The Impossible Dream,” from the time I was young:
“This is my quest to follow that star, no mater how hopeless, no matter how far. To fight for the right, without question or pause. To be willing to march into Hell for a heavenly cause…”
He fell in love with my mother upon hearing her operatic soprano voice on his first visit to Freeport Church of God—as the guest of another woman.
My grandmother told me that he was a Christian who really knew how to pray, which is why she let her daughter marry him.
These are things I have known.
But now I am living in South Africa. I am reading history, and philosophy, and of freedom. I am realizing that my father was born in 1925, the same general time period as Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, and MLK. By the time he was a young man, he was living in New York City—the cradle of Black Consciousness.
As I read the works of some of the original Black male literati—brilliant Black men who articulated the pain of Black existence, who temporarily or permanently exiled themselves to France, where they tasted the freedom to simply be –I am learning the dimensions of my father’s struggle. I am glimpsing to roots of his violence. I am grasping the depths of his longing.
I know why he gave all three of his children French middle names.
But for the woman with that dazzling voice, and the children, and the lack of money, I believe he, too, would have eventually chosen exile.
My father, I’m sure, is smiling to know that I am finding my own Paris in Cape Town.