By Dominic Cinnamon Bradley
I gifted my friend an original artwork for his birthday that celebrated his parenthood. After a temporary rift, I had to acknowledge his human failings and learn to negotiate a new shyness threaded through the center of my regard. I sought to transform my anger, hurt, and disappointment through the generative energy I poured into the artwork.
I also reflected on my relationship with my own father. My dad is the jackass who almost never calls and refuses to divulge his exact whereabouts. My dad is the fiend who hid his candy addiction behind his children. My dad is the clown who used impeccable comedic timing to poke fun at serious financial insecurities. This man was shockingly tone deaf to routine household matters and habitually answered our questions and requests with “You gotta get wit your mom on that.”
I wanted to be my dad. I considered financing my undergraduate education by joining the ROTC. I would have been the first female-bodied officer on either side of the family. I remember saying, “Dad, I might join the ROTC. I’ve already been talking to the recruit…” It was the almost panicky undertone to his blurted “NO!” that stopped me in my tracks. Recovering himself, he continued in a more subdued voice, “You don’t have to do that. You have better grades than I did. You can get a scholarship. But if you really want to go that route, I’ll help you.” I never talked to another recruiter.
Our conversation occurred approximately one year before 9/11 and the start of the war in Afghanistan—before disquieting reports about military sexual trauma garnered widespread media attention. My friend once informed me he needed to leave work early to read a story to his child’s class, and I seethed silently because my dad never would have prioritized such a thing. Yet my dad, the jackass, came through in the clutch (“In time is on time.”) and probably saved my life.
It has been a patient labor both to release my dad and name and claim my own desire to parent—though my heart leaps to my throat to admit it. I look wistfully after expectant mothers and into the faces of tiny, blinking children and can imagine a fetus kick. I want to tell my doctors they can shove their pills for the next nine months. I want to relish the confusion as others’ eyes slide off my pregnant form and their ears catch on my pronoun. I want to birth attended by a midwife in my own home surrounded by my closest friends and chosen family. I want us to drum and dance and sing and eat and float my baby out of me on a raft of laughter. I want to cut my own cord, take a bite of my placenta, and shout to the world how tickled I am to occupy this new role. I gaze into my baby’s eyes and confer her carefully chosen name. I once told my friend that I am committed to healing my trauma, so I don’t pass it on to my child. More than anything, I want to live in alignment with that statement.
Dominic Cinnamon Bradley is a Black gender non-conforming, 'crip and sick' multidisciplinary artist from the Dirty South. Dominic lives in Brooklyn, NY.
This blog post is part of the Strong Families' first Papa's Day celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blog. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.