Imaginary Dad

Theatre IV – Black Fatherlessness

(Excerpted from Harlem Meets Mayberry)

If you’re a black man who grew up without a dad in your home, the time has come for me to ask you a huge favor.  It will take trust for you to grant me this favor, but I believe with all my heart that if you grant it, God will reward your faith and trust.  And He will not only reward you but He will reward many others through you.

The favor I’m asking of you is to forget about your race and my race and allow me to be your dad for just a few minutes.  Let me be your dad and let me share my heart with you.  Let me share with you the single most important lesson I have to share.

Now, if you agree to do me the favor of allowing me to serve as your dad for a few minutes, you’ll have to pretend a bit.  Here’s what you’ll have to pretend:

  • That you were conceived in love, not just lust.
  • That I wanted you to be born.
  • That I was in the room when you were born (and I almost fainted).
  • That on the day you were born I vowed to God that I would love you, protect you and bless you as long as I lived.
  • That I have made good on my vow so far. I have loved you every day, protected you every day and blessed you every day.
  • That you and I have had hundreds of talks. We’ve had so many talks that to you they’re a dime a dozen.  I’ve talked to you so much that you usually know what I’m going to say before I say it, so sometimes you don’t even listen.
  • That this is not one of those “dime-a-dozen” talks. This is a once-in-a-lifetime talk.  This is Dad’s best shot, right now, one and done!
  • (This one is going to be really hard to pretend)

That because of the way I have loved you, you see my love as even more reliable than your mom’s love. You absolutely, positively believe that I will never leave you or turn my back on you.  I am the person you can count on the most in this world.

Now, as we’re having our father-son talk, you’re going to want to talk, too.  If you don’t talk it’s just a sermon.  So whenever you want to talk, stop reading and talk!

Imagine I’m listening.  Imagine I’m hearing.  Imagine I’m respecting you and connecting with you and treating you like the man you are.  I’m not brushing you off or discounting you.  I have nothing to gain by putting you down but I have much to gain by lifting you up, and you know that.

For the next few minutes, imagine you’re talking to the one person on earth who desires your success more than any other person on earth.  Ready?  Here we go.  And again, thank you for granting me this favor!

“Son, have I ever told you about the Whorehouse Guy?  No?  Haha!  I thought sure I had.  Anyway, it was October of my freshman year of college at Iowa Lakes, a little junior college in the all-white town of Estherville, Iowa.  The only black dudes in town were the guys on the football team, and I was on the team, too.  Now, I know I’ve told you all about that because, as you know, I’ve got a bit of Uncle Rico in me (Note to those who aren’t my imaginary son at the moment:  Uncle Rico is the washed-up jock in the movie, “Napoleon Dynamite.”  He lives alone in a camper and spends hours videotaping himself throwing footballs at various targets.  His whole life is stalled over his regrets that “we could’ve won state” and, “I could’ve gone pro.”)!

Anyway, it was a Saturday morning and we had a game late that afternoon, and I was so amped up I couldn’t sleep.  So at about 6:30 I woke up and went for a drive in my old ’68 Cutlass.

So I pick up some donuts and chocolate milk and I’m just driving the streets.  I’m in a quiet neighborhood and I see a moving van in a driveway, and there’s this old black dude leaning against the back of the van.  This gets my attention ‘cuz like I said, they only black guys in town were football players, and this dude was way too old for football.

He sees me coming and strolls toward the curb and starts waving for me to stop, so I stop.  My windows are down and he leans into the passenger side and says, “Mawnin’.”  I think he was from Virginia.  Cool accent.

“Good morning, sir.”  I say.

“You wanna make some money?” he asks.  “I need some help gettin’ the big stuff outta this house.”

“Sure,” I answer.  I had just blown my last two bucks on donuts and chocolate milk, and I was almost out of gas, so why not?

We start working.  We load up the fridge and some dressers and the washer and dryer, chatting the whole time.  We load up the couch and love seat and about a million boxes, still chatting back and forth.  We work for about four or five hours, then he stops and wipes his brow and says to me, “You done good, son.  It’s lunch time and you got to go.  Big game and all tonight, right?  So…how much do I owe you?”

“Whatever you think is fair, sir.”

You see son, I was raised to always say, “Whatever you think is fair.”  Whether it was cutting grass or shoveling snow or weeding beans, when the time came to get paid, a real Iowa boy always said, “Whatever you think is fair.”  And he usually got treated fairly.  I know that sounds crazy but it’s true.

But that old black man looked at me like I was the dumbest kid he ever met.  He looked at me like, “Whatchoo talkin’ bout, Willis?”  Then he said, “Son, you ever been with a hooker?”

“A what?”

“A hooker.  A prostitute.  A lady of the evenin’, so to speak.”

“No, sir!”

“Well,” he said, “one day you will be, and one thing I guarantee:  She ain’t gonna wait ‘til it’s over and then say, “Whatever you think is fair!”

He shook his head slowly, sort of looking at the ground and pawing at the dirt.  Then he mumbled to himself, “Whatever you think is fair.  Sh*****t!”  Then he laughed again, and I felt like an idiot.

Well, we worked out the money, and that’s pretty much the story of the Whorehouse Guy, except one last thing:  To this day I’ve never been with a hooker, and I never will be, but it’s not religion that holds me back.  It’s sadness.

You wanna hear the saddest thing I’ve ever heard?  You know Richard Pryor, right?  Richard Pryor was one funny man.  Well, Richard Pryor’s mom was a prostitute and so was his grandma, and Richard grew up around a whorehouse, but that’s not the saddest thing.  The saddest thing is that when Richard was growing up he wanted to know who his dad was, but his mom couldn’t tell him.  She’d say, “It’s one of those three men. It’s either that man or that man or that man.”

Can you imagine?  It’s hard enough to find out about Santa and the Easter Bunny, but can you imagine how hard it would be to find out that your dad is that man OR that man OR that man?  Can you imagine how heartbreaking it would be for a mom to have to say to her little boy, “I don’t know who your Daddy is?”

Can you imagine how that little boy would feel toward those men?  He would detest all three of them for treating his mother like a piece of meat, but he would save his ugliest feelings for the one of the three who walked out on his mom after getting her pregnant.

Now let’s talk about Jesus.  All your life I’ve been talking to you about Jesus, but most of those talks have been drive-by talks.  I’ve fired more Jesus quotes at the back of your head than I have at your face because, more often than not, you haven’t wanted to hear about Jesus, at least not from me.

I can’t say I blame you.  Sometimes you’re too busy and sometimes you’re just not in the mood for a sermon. On top of that, you’ve seen a ton of hypocrisy from Christians “out there” and you’ve seen a boatload of hypocrisy right here in this house.  You’ve seen me worry and lose my temper and curse and gossip and drink and chew tobacco and all sorts of other not-so-Jesus-like things.

So whatever spiritual path you’re on at the moment, I understand.  And I respect your spiritual integrity.  You have to figure out what works for you.  You have to decide what’s really true.  But understand that while you’re looking for your truth, I’ve had to look for my truth, too, and I believe I’ve found my truth in Jesus.  Not religion, not “Christianity,” just Jesus.  And when you find something good you want to share it.  So I hope you don’t mind if, now that you’re a grown man searching far and wide for the truth, I throw in my two cents’ worth from time to time.  Truth is truth regardless of the address, right?  And besides, you’re still free to decide if I’m feeding you truth or poison.

On second thought, and better yet, how about we make a deal, Son?  Instead of me giving you my two cents’ worth every once in awhile , why don’t I just give you my best shot, once and for all, right now?  If you agree to hear my best shot right now, I’ll agree to not fire any Jesus stuff at you ever again unless you ask.  Just think of it!  For the rest of your life you can come to this house without ever having to endure another of my sermons!

But first you’ll have to listen.  Right now, in exchange for five minutes of your undivided attention, I’m offering you a Lifetime a “Get Out of Dad’s Sermons Free” card!

Deal?  All righty, then!  My best shot consist of just four Bible nuggets.  The first one is this:  “Things that cause people to stumble are sure to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come (Lk. 17:1).”

Son, any time you mistreat a lady you cause her to stumble, and there is no greater way to mistreat a lady than by getting her pregnant and walking away.  I mean ever walking away.  I see a lot of young guys who get a girl pregnant and “man up” at first.  But after a year or two or 10 or 40, when the novelty wears off or maybe the girl doesn’t look quite as good or isn’t as affectionate or as grateful as the man thinks she ought to be, the man walks out.  When the going gets tough the man is gone, and the worst part is, he usually tries to make his leaving her fault, and when he does that she will stumble.

She will stumble over that man and over all men and over God, all because of that one man.  And sooner or later she will pass that stumble on to her kids, and eventually that man will have to answer for making a bigger mess than he ever imagined.

Son, if you ever mistreat a lady in this way it’s like running a red light with blinders on.  Other folks hit the brakes and that causes a huge wreck, but you don’t even notice.  Later you see the pileup on the news and you can’t believe it.  Then the cops show up at your house and they’ve got a video that shows you caused the wreck, and then you’re totally screwed.  So please, never do or say anything that might cause a lady to stumble, and especially do not get a lady pregnant if she’s not your wife.

While we’re on this subject, please stop calling ladies “females.”  They are not dogs or livestock.  I know there’s that song that says, “You ‘n me, Baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals, so let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel,” but that song is foolishness.  You ‘n me, Son, are much more than mammals, so please use the word “female” with restraint and respect.  Call them women or ladies or girls or gals or chicks even, but for the love of God don’t call them females unless you have to, like on an airline reservation.

OK, so my second nugget is an oldy but goody:  “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak (Mk. 14:38).”  If Jesus had more time he might have added to that quote.  He might have added, “and the flesh is dumber than a bag of hammers.”

Your body—your flesh—has no common sense whatsoever.  The only thing your body does all by itself is express what it wants:  “Feed me!  Touch me!  Let me sleep!  Leave me alone!  Put beer in my stomach!  Fill my lungs with smoke!  Do what I tell you RIGHT NOW or I’ll throw a fit!”

Your flesh never objects before you do something foolish, but it will howl like a banshee afterwards.  You want proof?  Look no further than that scar on your forehead.  Look no further than your last hangover.  Look no further than that time you got an STD.

You actually have three parts, Son; your body, your soul and your spirit.  Your body is a complete idiot.  Your spirit is a brilliant genius.  Your soul is what’s left after your body and spirit.  It’s who you are without a body or a spirit.  You soul is also the arbitrator of your life, and it is always binding arbitration!

What your soul says is what goes.  Your flesh and spirit often disagree, and in such cases your soul is the decider.  Son, everything you do is the result of what your soul has decided.  Your body wants one thing and your spirit wants another, but what your body ultimately does is up to your soul.  So remember:  The spirit is willing, the flesh is weak and the soul is the decider.  The question you must often ask yourself, then, is “Who is making the better case here; my body or my spirit?”  Think about that one.  Try it for a week or two and then let me know if I’m right or wrong.  (Note:  This concept is explored in eye-opening detail in Andrew Wommack’s great book, “Body, Soul and Spirit.”)

Now this third nugget might seem random, but it’s not random at all.  Keep in mind that this is my last Daddy Sermon, so I have no choice but to pull out all the stops and squeeze this nugget in:  “Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached in all the world, what she has done will be told in memory of her (Mt. 26:13).”

When Jesus says, “what she has done,” do you know what he’s talking about?  He’s talking about a lady who barged into a dinner Jesus was having with his friends, washed his feet with her tears, dried his feet with her hair, and then poured expensive perfume on him.

Jesus told many stories but few are recorded in all four gospels.  This story is one of those few, and it’s told in all four gospels because Jesus insisted that it be told “wherever this gospel is preached.”

Jesus was and is a big fan of women.  He treated all of them with dignity and respect, and he expects you and me to do the same.

You and I don’t have to be Bible experts to know that the Bible was written at a time when there was much gender bias and in a place where there was much resistance to the notion of dignity for women.  So one of the most amazing things about the gospels is not that there aren’t more favorable references to women, but rather that there are any at all.  Obviously, God went to great trouble to ram a dignified portrayal of women right past the gospel writers’ natural resistance!  Jesus makes it very clear that women are the “thermostat” of any society, and we men must do all we can to make sure that thermostat is set on “radiant.”

For our fourth and final nugget let’s reach way back and talk about one of the 10 Commandments, the one that comes with a promise:  “Honor your father and mother so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth (Ex. 20:12).”

Son, your mom feels very honored by you.  You make her feel like a queen.  You’ve done a great job of loving your mom, so you’re already halfway to the well-being and long life God promises for honoring your mom and dad.  Now all you have to do is honor your dad and you’ll be all set.

I’m not going to leave you in the dark here.  I’m not going to force you to wonder about how to honor your dad.  I’m going to tell you exactly how to honor him and make him feel honored:  Honor your father by treating all women and all girls with respect and dignity.

Most of the women you date are going to be moms one day, even if you’re not the dad.  And when they are moms, you will want them to be all they can be for their husbands and their kids.  So please, don’t weigh down the ladies you date with Man Baggage.  Don’t cause any of them to stumble.  Don’t be the guy who runs the red light and causes the wreck and doesn’t even notice.

Be the guy who honors his father on earth and his Father in heaven in the greatest way a son can honor a father:  Honor him by showing true love to all daughters!

Well, that’s the end of our imaginary father-son-talk, but it’s not the end of me having a father’s interest in you.  I’d like to end this chapter by putting my money and my time where my mouth is.

If you are a young black man who has taken this father-son talk to heart, I want to celebrate with you.  When the time comes, I want to come to your wedding and pat you on the back and give your new wife a hug and give you both a nice gift.  So I’ve set aside 10 weekends per year, from now until I’m no longer able, to attend the weddings of young black men who are committed to the dignity of women.

My contact info is at the back of this book.  If you want me at your wedding, reach out to me when the time draws near and I’ll do my best to be there, no matter where “there” is!

Jesus loves you and so do I, and so do more good folks–black and white–than you can imagine.  So go in peace and make us all proud, Son!

Be street smart yet harmless.  Peace.

Tommy Libre

Thomas P. Scribbins, a.k.a. Tommy Libré, is an inspirational writer and businessman living in what Mayberry calls “Hotlanta” and Harlem calls “The A.T.L.” A former engineer and roofing contractor who has worked his way down the ladder, he is married to Kathy—his “Trophy Babe” for the past 37 years—and has three grown sons. Harlem Meets Mayberry will be published around Christmas by Xulon Press. After that, Tommy will turn some of his attention to his next book—“Code Red Christianity”—and some to his lifetime dream, which is to open a substance-conquest ministry called Ugly Orphans. At Ugly Orphans, the cool softball T-shirts will be just the beginning of the fun. WooHoo!