Monday Notes: “Umi said shine your light on the world”

img_9353“Shine your light for the world to see.” It’s a quote from a rap song that I’d heard decades ago (Mos Def). But I’m really feeling it after our D.C. book reading. Just like the previous two, this one was completely different as well. The Jacksonville book talk was more like a starter event. The authors had never publicly read their stories before, so the energy was a mixture of excitement and nervousness. Though each writer’s voice was clear, it was quiet.

img_0768Three months later, we’d moved 345 miles north to Atlanta. Three women had read in Jacksonville, so they were a bit more familiar with expectations. Their voices were grounded, louder. This time the audience had changed. The energy was palpable in varied ways. Questions were about the writing process, as well as the healing process. How had any of us done this? This included forgiving our fathers for heinous shenanigans. This included writing our mini-memoirs for someone other than ourselves.

img_1904-1Seven months after the Jacksonville event, we convened in Washington, D.C. and everything had changed. Two readers were pros. Kotrish Wright declined the use of a podium. Instead, she used the space around her to give more of a performance act. Her voice rose and fell, like an experienced reader. Inflection was important for specific parts. Ishna Hagan read her narrative with confidence and poise. She stood in her truth, which seemed to give her power.

Tikeetha was a novice to this experience. But I couldn’t tell. She read her story with the ease of a famous author. Though her story is sad and heart wrenching, she managed to make the audience nod and laugh at all the appropriate times.

And finally, there’s me.

img_1919This time I felt like I was shining my light for the world to see. An attendee who had cried her way through a question and almost the entire reading thanked me for putting this together. She’d intended to find a way for her mother to heal from trauma and mental illness. Another woman recounted her own father-daughter situation. It was enough to be another chapter in our edited collection. She, too, admitted she needed to find a way to counter her childhood dysfunction. A friend of mine provided me with a list she’d brainstormed to broaden my reach: come to Richmond, VA and call her OWN network contact.

After this third reading, I feel like we’ve each come into our own. We’ve done much more than pour our hearts on pages for catharsis. We’ve demonstrated what love, forgiveness, grace, and healing look like. We’ve exposed ourselves in ways that neither of us believed possible.

“Umi said shine your light on the world; shine your light for the world to see.” With this project, we’ve shone brightly and come into our own. And we plan to continue in our own way.

Monday Notes: My Bisexual Daughter

My daughter has a lot of positive qualities.

She is intelligent. I first realized just how smart she was when she was three-years-old. I begged the teacher to put her in the next class, but she disagreed, that is, until she interacted with her for two days.

“You were right,” she apologized, “I just thought you were like all the other parents who think their child is brilliant.”

The next day she was in the four-year-old class.

Her intelligence was reaffirmed years later at the end of third grade. I’d received her first state standardized test results. She’d gotten all the answers correct. Even with my background in education, I’d never seen marks like that.

She is caring. I remember when she cried because she was saving a lizard that had somehow entered the house, a frequent Florida occurrence. His little green tail fell off as she used a glass to capture him. She immediately burst into tears, but soon calmed down when I reminded her that lizards’ tails regenerate. She dried her face and released him outside where he belonged.

She is socially conscious. She loves being black and championing for black people in different ways, like when she assured her dark-skinned friend it was okay to stay in the sun; she had no fear of “getting darker,” and neither should he.

She can also be found telling her father and me about her new choice of water, why we shouldn’t be buying McDonald’s, why we should stop eating ‘carcinogens’ (e.g., meat), and why we should sign a petition about parolees.

She is kind. When she found out her big sister wouldn’t be able to attend our last trip, she offered to save more of her own check so that her sister could go. Of course her sister declined the offer, but my point is she offered. She also considers her friends and frequently stands up for them in different situations or is there for them when they need someone to listen.

She is trustworthy. This is why we had no problem passing my car to her at the age of seventeen. She drives to school and back home. She drives to work and back home. She drives to her friends’ houses for parties. She drives back to school for extracurricular activities. She drives to complete her service project once a week during the summer. She spends the night over friends’ houses, and when she doesn’t feel comfortable where she is, she texts me…and comes home. We trust her and her judgment.

These are the qualities that come to mind when someone asks me about my daughter. The last thing I consider is her sexual identity. I just wished society felt the same.

Atlanta Book Reading

Do you live in Atlanta? Will you be home on June 15th? Are you interested in discussing the importance of father-daughter relationships? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then please come out to hear four of my co-authors read their stories and converse about familial ties.

There will also be free food and wine!

Details below:

siSTARS with Tikeetha Thomas (Part 2)

In this interview, Tikeetha discusses her understanding of forgiveness with regards to her relationship with her father. Also, Michelle asks her about her process for healing. With Father’s Day just around the corner in the States, I feel this is a timely discussion. Please feel free to add your thoughts about forgiveness and healing and how it manifests in your life.

siSTARS with Tikeetha Thomas (Part I)

Do you follow Tikeetha Thomas? If not, then here are a few reasons why:

  1. She’s one of the co-authors of Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships.
  2. She’s an amazing lifestyle blogger who discusses everything from parenting to dating.
  3. She’s an all-around inspirational person who uses her own life to motivate each one of her followers.

In this first video, I ask Tikeetha to make connections between the relationship she has with her father and those she has in the dating realm. Check it out below:

Monday Notes: Listening to, Supporting, and Understanding Women’s Issues

In the States, Women’s History Month is a time “commemorating and encouraging the study, observance and celebration of the vital role of women in American history” (Women’s History Month). Isn’t that great?

While I believe people like Harriet Tubman and Helen Keller were influential to society as a whole, I use this month as a time to not only reflect on the important role that friends and family have played in my life, but also to pay it forward by encouraging and uplifting women with whom I’m associated.

img_9354Therefore, I decided to begin this year’s Women’s History Month by having a book reading. On Saturday, March 2, 2019, four of the authors from my most recent edited collection, Daddy: Reflections of Father-Daughter Relationships and I gathered together to share our stories.

img_9382It was a perfect writer’s scenario. It was a dark and stormy afternoon. Seriously, it rained the entire day. The independent bookstore was cozy. Stacks of used and new books served as a backdrop. Right next to us, sat a group of five doing black out poetry. They circled and highlighted words, while also half-listening to our talk. Afterwards, the group’s leader expressed her adoration for the women and the event, highlighting the importance of healing through story.

The support was palpable. This is no exaggeration. The space held supportive energy and the reason was because each author had invited guests who had their genuine interests at heart. Mothers, cousins, brothers, best friends, longtime high-school friends, and book club members were a part of the audience.

book_reading_2019Most importantly, they listened in an attempt to understand each woman’s point of view about her former dysfunctional relationship with her father. During the question and answer portion, a woman from a book club I frequent began by saying she was trying to relate because “she’s a daddy’s girl.” I’d heard her sentiments from other women with similar experiences. They had no idea that some men had little regard for their daughters. It was a foreign concept. But I was happy to know that she and others were attempting empathy.

To me, that’s what creative nonfiction is all about. We should attempt to understand life through another’s eyes. Reading another person’s story is one way to develop the type of empathy I’m suggesting. Think about it. It’s easy to remain in a bubble of understanding that privileges your perspective. But it takes a different level of relating to listen to someone’s story and try to place yourself in that position to feel what they may have felt.

And so I’m pleased.

I recently read someone’s thoughts on “empowering women.” I don’t remember whom, but she suggested that she does not empower women, but rather she creates the conditions for women to be empowered, and from that, they are able to liberate themselves.

That’s how I view this book and this weekend’s past reading. I’ve merely served as a vehicle and set up the conditions. These (and the other nine authors) have done the work to free themselves. Isn’t that a beautiful thing?

Monday Notes: Who is Family?

Being adopted has shaped the way I view who is family and who is not. When I found out I was adopted over thirty years ago, I saw the people around me in a different light. I saw them as strangers, yet I still accepted them as family because they had taught me to do so. I instantly realized that any combination of people could make a family.

img_8185In this way, I accepted my mother and father as my family unit. These were the people who’d decided to raise me from infancy as their own. They loved me, and I them. But when my mother died and my father gave up his parental rights, I began to question the definition. Was my adopted father not my father anymore simply because the Court said he wasn’t? I mean the Court deemed him my father in 1974, and so he was. Was he not in 1990 because they said he wasn’t? He was the only father I’d known. Could the Court demolish sixteen years of relationship?

At the age of seventeen, I was briefly orphaned, until my adopted grandmother assumed responsibility. She became my legal guardian. I never called her mother or mom because I’d already had two of those. Plus, she was simply my Grannie as she’d been before. She was family, not only because she was my mother’s mother, but also because she’d provided love and comfort throughout my entire life, and at a time when I’d most needed it. She’s been the most consistent relationship I’ve had.

img_8191As I grew older and had children of my own, curiosity about my own background grew. By the age of thirty-two, with a lot of hassle from the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, I found my birth mother’s family. My biological mother had committed suicide five years after I was born. Few family members were easily contacted. One of her older sisters, Aunt Catherine, was found and I immediately felt connected.

Our shared name was odd. But what was stranger was the point of her nose and the idea that her face looked like mine. It’s a luxury adopted children don’t have. In fact, people who didn’t know me asked her daughter who I was, making sure she knew that I looked exactly like her mother. Aunt Catherine and I held long phone conversations and that lady, although I didn’t know her fully, felt like family.

My sister, the woman whom my mother had birthed five years prior to me, did not. She was cold and distant and didn’t seem interested in establishing or maintaining a sisterhood. Today, we’re friends on social media, but similar to former grammar school classmates, that’s the extent of our relationship. Our genes are stronger than our connection, yet we are family.

Fast forward thirteen years later, and I’ve found my biological father by accident via DNA website. When I looked at this man’s face, I knew he was my father. The parts of my face that Aunt Catherine and I didn’t share, were seen in him. Our eyes. Our smile. Our demeanor. He is my biological father and we are family.

After our first conversation, I learned that I have another sister. We are the same age. We look like twins. Pictures reveal the same wide puppy dog eyes as youth and the same curvature of our backs in our twenty-something wedding pictures. We are family because genetics says so; however, we’ve found that we are also family because we relate similarly. Conversing with her is like talking to myself. And once again, I’m left wondering, what is family? This newfound sister certainly is. It’s like I’ve found part of me I didn’t know I needed. Our immediate love for one another is evident.

I share all of this to say that family is whomever you make it. Being adopted has taught me that family is but another societal construct, but relationship is something altogether different. Like other relationships, familial ones can be maintained simply because two people want them to be. I’ve also come to believe that being born or adopted into a family is but one component of actually being family. For me, relationship, caring, and commitment are true connectors, and consequently what makes a family.

That’s my final answer. What’s yours?

DADDY CONTRIBUTOR: Tikeetha Thomas

Unlike The Unhappy Wife book, Daddy is not written by me. This anthology includes stories written by women, who felt it important to publicly re-tell narratives centered on their relationship with their father. Each woman’s purpose is similar, yet different. Every Friday, I invite you to read about their reason why.

Today, meet Tikeetha Thomas, author of “A Daughter’s Grace,” which not only illustrates the difference between grace and forgiveness, but also shows the challenge that comes with offering it to an absent father.

1521808695783Why were you inspired to contribute to this book? The relationship between a father and daughter can be complicated. He’s supposed to be her first love. However, in many cases of divorce or abandonment that doesn’t always happen and it can have a lasting effect on how we conduct our own relationships. In my case, my parents divorced and my dad never looked back. There were glimpses where he would show up and promise things that never came to fruition, but he wasn’t there. This affected me greatly. I struggled in my relationships; I struggled with finding my own identity and believing it and I struggled in trying to get to know my father as an adult. I wanted to share the awkwardness, pain and anger that can come with trying to rebuild a relationship.

What is your father-daughter relationship like now? It’s non-existent. He called me and left me a voicemail on my birthday months ago and I’ve yet to call him back. Partly because I have a lot going on and I can’t focus on more than one battle at a time and mainly because I don’t know what to say beyond hello. I didn’t call for Thanksgiving or Christmas. I am just going through the motions of viewing him as a man that I dated and I may or may not call back. There’s no rush because I’m not really interested in him, so I’ve slid him to the side.

If there is one thing you could tell your father what would it be? I survived in spite of you not being present. Through all the traumas, trials and tribulations that I endured – I’m still standing.

If there is one thing you could tell women who struggle with “daddy issues” what would it be?

Don’t let not having a dad define you. Find out who you are and what you want out of life without looking to get it from men that may not ever understand. Work on you. You don’t need a man to tell you that you’re pretty. Look in the mirror every day and say those words to yourself. No man is worth your self-esteem. By lying up under the wrong man you could cause yourself a lifetime worth of issues.

If there is one thing you could tell men with daughters what would it be? Don’t leave. Even if you have a hateful relationship with your daughter’s mother, stay a part of her life. Write in a journal daily letters to let her know about life, you, your family and just to encourage her. Stay in her life and help her understand the facts of life. Be her first love. Encourage her dreams and do what you promise. Your words matter.

What do you hope your story accomplishes? I hope that it sheds some light to the complicated relationships women can have with their fathers. That people see the importance of being there and that women know that they are not alone in missing their daddy. But, I think I want women to know that if he’s not there that you are still valuable and worthy of love from a wonderful man.

What are you working on currently? Wow! I’m busy! Personally, I’m working on going into a couple of business ventures and writing a book of fiction loosely based on my life. I’m also in a relationship-a healthy relationship, so I’m working on developing that and getting to the next level. I’m raising my son to be an amazing young man, which is the most important thing in my life right now. I’m active in my sorority. I’m writing grants for my son’s school, active in the PTA, active in a number of social groups and blogging while working. With all that I have going on, I’m also working full-time managing a staff of five. But, I love my job. I actually wake up each day excited to go into work.

tikeethaTikeetha Thomas is a full-time working mom with a beautiful nine-year-old son who is the apple of her eye. She resides in Maryland and spends time volunteering, blogging, and maintaining a healthy relationship with a wonderful man. You can read more about her life at her blog, A Thomas Point of View.

A portion of the book’s proceeds will be contributed to an organization important to Thomas, the March of Dimes. According to their mission statement, “Prematurity is the #1 killer of babies in the United States. We are working to change that and help more moms have full-term pregnancies and healthy babies.”

The eBook version of Daddy is available now for pre-order!

The paperback version of Daddy is available for order here.

DADDY CONTRIBUTOR: Lennon Carlyle

Today, meet Lennon Carlyle, author of “The Uprising.”

1521808695783Why were you inspired to contribute to this book? It’s a fantastic way to encourage women to understand that all men do not have the same qualities or negatives. If my reality can benefit someone, I would be elated.

What is your father-daughter relationship like now? It’s distant in miles, yet improving within time.

If there is one thing you could tell your father what would it be?

I love you. I forgive you and I want our relationship to grow.

If there is one thing you could tell women who struggle with ‘daddy issues” what would it be? Not everything revolves around your father. Just because he doesn’t see your value or beauty doesn’t mean you don’t have worth. Let the negatives of the relationship strengthen your mind and spirit. Remember, not every man is your father.

If there is one thing you could tell men with daughters what would it be? I believe more than anything, you need father and daughter time. Be diligent in showing her how much you care, love, and treasure her. Build her up and stress to her that she can accomplish anything. Help her to evolve.

What do you hope your story accomplishes? No matter how badly someone treats you in life, whether it’s physical or mental, never let him or her break you. Try hard to find something positive out of the situation. The worst of times times can make you resilient and unstoppable. Hold yourself up and know that your mind is extremely powerful.

What are you working on currently? I’m writing short fiction erotica. It’s outside of my comfort zone, but if I don’t explore new opportunities how will I ever grow? I love a challenge and this is a thrilling one.

Lennon CarlyleLennon Carlyle is a freelance writer, raised in Georgia, where she currently manages an industrial equipment business. She loves meeting new people and hearing their life stories. Lennon and her husband just celebrated their ten-year anniversary.

You can follow Lennon’s blog or contact her at lennoncarlyle@gmail.com.

A portion of the book’s proceeds will be contributed to an organization important to Carlyle, Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund provides critically-needed medical facilities for treating United States military personnel suffering the effects of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and psychological health issues.

Paperbacks are available TODAY! 

eBook versions of Daddy are available now!

Daddy: Motivation for Creating a Book

Summer of 1993 is when I became fully aware of my father’s abandonment. I remember the exact year because that’s when I started dating Dwight. That summer, he, my then best friend, Bobby, and I drove to Chicago for the weekend. I’d told my father that I would be home and that I was bringing these two important people with me. I wanted him to meet them.

That Saturday, I called and called, but he was nowhere to be found. I curled up in a ball in my great aunt’s back room and cried. I was twenty years old. Not only was I disappointed, but I was also embarrassed. I’d met Bobby’s parents a few months prior. Her father, though quiet, was in her life and supportive financially and emotionally. Likewise, I’d met Dwight’s parents, his father also seemed like a “normal” dad, making corny jokes and talking about his daily work.

All I wanted was for my father to show up when I came home and meet some friends. But it didn’t happen.

From that point forward, I was never sure how to interact with him, especially around made up societal holidays, like Father’s Day. Do I buy a card? None of the store-bought cards said what I wanted: thanks for being great the first sixteen years of my life. Wish we were closer. Hallmark doesn’t sell that one.

Maybe no gift and no card would send a stronger message. I mean it’s not like we’d spoken recently; he usually forgot my birthday, which was always about a month prior.

Most years, I’d opted for a generic card that said something like Happy Father’s Day. I’d sign it with no additional words.

This is one reason I felt motivated to create an edited collection of dysfunctional father-daughter stories. For a long time, I thought I was the only one who endured this angst. I really thought I was the only daughter sitting around a week or so before the holiday, wondering the best course of action for someone who’s supposed to care for you but doesn’t.

1521808695783I felt alone in these feelings, until I wrote and published The Transition. Afterwards, women confided similar discord with their own fathers, and somehow that was comforting. Knowing I wasn’t the only one was like being embraced by a big collective online hug.

And I wanted other women and girls to feel the same. I wanted them to know they’re not alone during a holiday that makes us face our dysfunction even more.

That’s why I put this anthology together, and that’s why the eBook released the day before Father’s Day.

Paperbacks can be ordered here.