To Aris

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Nine months and a day ago today, I pondered heaven’s poetry.

The doctor had just informed us that you were due on September 5th: a day before your late grandmother’s birthday. My mind dug through my DJ crates and pulled out Lauryn Hill:

“Consequence is no coincidence.

Birthdays are no exact science. Babies come when they are good and ready (I debuted seven weeks early – one of a few times I was ever early for anything). The doctor said a few things that day but – in my version of things – all I will remember is him saying that you would be born on your grandma’s birthday.

We hear what we want to.

Although she would have many in a spiritual sense, your African feminist grandmother never had a daughter; something I always thought most unfortunate. Grandma would have raised one of those girls who leads, shatters through things, and emerges unscarred, brushing the glass off her shoulders as though it were lint. The firstborn of her two boys, I dreamt of giving her that girl. I still have memories of walking home from classes, picturing an older, wiser version of myself with a daughter who would think of me as a father and a friend, much as your grandmother was a friend to me. The thought of her playing with her granddaughter filled me with light.

Ever the upstart, my younger brother (your Uncle Ebow) gave Grandma her first grandchild. Men may not have biological clocks, but something definitely started ticking somewhere within me the day I met your cousin. Something screamed at me that I had to give this boy a cousin. Uncle Ebow and I spent the latter part of our childhoods in my grandmother’s Cape Coast home with my three cousins (your uncles Awuku and Addo, and Aunt Boatema). Four boys. One girl.

Your cousin Cassius was a boy. There was still a chance…

And then, there wasn’t.

I met your mother and married her within two years of Grandma’s passing: something I still put down to Grandma arriving up there and whispering something in God’s ear.

I was surprised when – a few months into the pregnancy – a French doctor told us we were having a boy (and the due date was September 12th).

I had always told myself that I would love my child whatever their sex (and whoever they are). But – in that moment – I realized that I had no imagery whatsoever of what it would be like raising a son (in spite of having once written about the importance of it). It was something I simply had not taken the time to picture before. My mind was working with a blank slate.

For some reason, I panicked.

I pictured teenage rebellion and the way in which the young often begin defining their own adulthood and identities in opposition to their parents’. I remembered the many times your grandfather and I had massive disagreements, and I imagined oedipal arguments and rifts with you.

At some point in my paranoia however, I remembered that I am surrounded by many examples of men who have friendships with their sons. Uncle Seton and your cousin Ekow who shares his name. My siblings – your uncles Ebow and Ekow – who both have beautiful relationships with their sons. In particular, I remembered my first-ever best friend, Ben, and his (now late) father, Mitch; a second father to me as a child. I have watched Ben and Mitch’s relationship since I was seven, and I remember marveling at how they would meet up once, even twice a week, for coffee and a catch-up. Or how Mitch – a renowned neuroscientist – once came by the house to share an afternoon smoke (*ahem*) in the garden with his son (don’t get any ideas).

Images of a son really started forming when I remembered how many times people had told your mother and I that we look alike (with more than one person confusing our fathers at the wedding). All of a sudden I could picture what you would actually look like: both of us. And finally, I read this article about inherited geekery and then I really started looking forward to fathering you. Who else but a geek would overthink such things? And who do you think I inherited that from? One of my earliest memories is of sitting on your grandfather’s lap, watching the original series of Star Trek. If you think your father is uncool, blame your grandfather.

In the end, you were not born on my mother’s birthday. Arriving a week early, you were born on a Tuesday. The same day of the week that I was born. And so, although we gave you a host of other names, by Akan custom you too are a Kobina.

My name is yours.

There is something symbolic about this to me. I feel like my mother has passed me the buck. And it’s comforting. Ultimately, like all my ancestors, my mother lives in me. In my memories of the past. In my present worldview. I am her. She is the royalty inside my DNA. And you will know her through me. Her influence (and that of many other good men and women around me) will dictate how you are raised and – with any luck – the man that you will become.

Which is why on the anniversary of her birthday, it seems appropriate for me to celebrate and be thankful for yours.

Welcome, Son.

The Bastard (Not a Poem)

I am not the good man I try to be
I am like any other
Struggling
With all the flaws that being a man (and human) entails

I will make mistakes
I have made mistakes
Some of which I’m not proud
Some of which I’m yet to learn were mistakes

As I try to reach a standard
Please don’t mistake me for that standard
It is a mistake I sometimes make myself
And it is a dangerous one

For it leads to hurt
When distance is discovered
Between who I am
And who I am trying to be

Distance that I try (and often fail) to shorten
Hurt I wish I could undo