This semester I was brought up to MIT through the university's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Visiting Professors and Scholars Program. I am, from time to time, called to talk before students, which is always a great laugh to me, because the last thing I thought when I left school was that someone might get it in their head to bring me back.
This was more than just "talking" though. This was an actual class. Instead of seeing myself as teaching a "liberal arts" class, I did my best to simulate the actual process of being a practicing liberal artist. There are good reasons why it's hard to make one's living off of one's writing. I think it's good for kids to be exposed to those reasons. In other words I wanted to bring all the terror, trauma, joy and good humor, all the violence that the craft brings. I tried to do that, and at every step the kids responded. Perhaps I'll say more on that later. I had a blast, but I don't want to be unfair to my kids, all of whom worked their ass off for me (and ultimately for themselves.)
My schedule meant leaving my wife and son, for half the week. I spent a lot of time in preparation, thinking about the soccer practices which I would miss. I thought about the parent days at school from which I would be AWOL. I thought about my manful (there is no better adjective) attempts at affecting some sort of equitable split in the chores. And I thought about the emotional absence. In other words, before I left for the semester I spent a great deal of time considering what my absence would mean to my family. But I spent almost no time considering what the absence of my family would mean to me.
The error of my ways became apparent roughly a day after I left. It was really a kind of unexpected awful. I have long thought of fatherhood and partnership in terms of duties, in terms of what I owe other people. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make good on that debt. What became apparent to me up top was how little consideration I'd given to what I got out of fatherhood and partnership.
Perhaps this goes to my frustration with pathetic, self-pitying, self-loathing "Man Art."Almost all of it is about what the world allegedly takes from you, and none of it is about what the world gives you back. I don't want to speak for other dudes, but I think it's important for me to say that I've gotten a lot.
Anyway It's the end of the semester. I'm on a train headed home. I am really feeling Wilson Pickett right now. Here is art beyond the borders of the man-child.
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.
Born in 1975, the product of two beautiful parents. Raised in West Baltimore -- not quite The Wire, but sometimes ill all the same. Studied at the Mecca for some years in the mid-'90s. Emerged with a purpose, if not a degree. Slowly migrated up the East Coast with a baby and my beloved, until I reached the shores of Harlem. Wrote some stuff along the way.