Hating Your Parents From Another Angle

I'm sure some of you have seen this, but here's a letter someone wrote to Andrew. It talks about being gay ultimately played into the father-son relationship:

My experience closely matches TNC's.  Growing up in a strict but fair Catholic home, my father had the ultimate, final word.  I found myself resenting him at times during my upbringing - and no more so when he came down on me (or my sister), or argued with our mother.  His persuasive arguments - coupled with his at-times combative tone - made it difficult to win an argument against him.  He was of course simply doing what he thought best as head of the his family but we all - Mom included - bristled under that power at times. 

Things changed when I came out to my family at 22. 

I was terrified to tell him and had already set up accommodations for that night if I was no longer welcome in their home.  But that evening, December 26th (as I didn't want to 'spoil' Christmas), as we sat around the dining room table and eating apple pie, I told my family who I am.  Mom began to cry and Dad did what he could to calm her.  "You're still my son, right?" he asked.  I assured him I was.  "Then nothing's changed," he said, making sure the point was heard by both of us. 

But of course everything changed.  My relationship with Dad has grown deeper than I knew possible.  Those many years living under this watchful eye became the foundation for an honest, rewarding, adult relationship with Dad.  He is my mentor, my soundboard, my biggest fan and an honest critic.  I cherish his perspective and relish our frequent conversations.  He is still my Dad - but that word means so much more to me now as an adult then it ever did when I was living in his house and answering to him.  I love him madly.


The closest I can get to this--and it isn't very close--is when Kenyatta was pregnant and I had to tell my Dad. Yikes! I was 24, and a college dropout. I was an unsuccessful freelance writer, in a dead-end job delivering food. And I was so stupid that I was actually happy Kenyatta was pregnant. Young and dumb as fuck. Too ignorant to know I was ignorant.

Anyway, I told Pops over the phone. And he just was solemn and hard as ever. Then he said, "Son, you need to get to higher ground." He was telling me to go back to school and get a damn degree. Of course I didn't listen. But that really was the start of "friendship" between me and my Dad. When you become a father you are suddenly incredibly aware of how much you need your own father.

I came up in such away that, when it was time for me to leave the house, I didn't expect much support beyond the first couple years of school. I also didn't expect to be able to move back in with my parents--not that I would have wanted to. So when Samori came, I actually didn't expect much help. But here's the thing--since the boy was born, I have never called and asked for any amount of help for the family, and had my parents turn me away. If they did, it was because they didn't have it to give.

It was a kind of mind trick they were working. They wanted their kids to believe that no help would be forthcoming from the parents, that, in the world, they would always be on their own. In fact, that's never been true of any of my siblings. We've always had to lean on each other, though we are often loath to do so. Pride is a beast.

When Samori was three, there was a really nice school on the Upper East Side that we wanted to which we wanted to apply. Kenyatta went to the open house and loved it. We sat in the living room looking at the application and mulling over the $50 application fee, and the fact that we didn't have it. I could have called my folks and they would have Western Unioned the money in a second. But pride got us, and we came up with all kinds of weak reasons not to apply--the chief one being that we lived in Brooklyn. That summer, I got a better job and we ended up in Harlem. I spent the next few years kicking myself for not applying. Pride will get you.

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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