On the evening of September 2nd, 2019 there was a loud knock on my door. This was weird because if you know me, then you know that I really don’t appreciate visitors showing up to my house unannounced. My wife looked through the peephole with confusion and discovered that it was Big Tony. The problem with him knocking on my door is that we don’t talk, so you can imagine the anger that came out of me when I found out that he was there. Also, he thought that this was perfectly fine to do. He thought that regardless if we talk or not, that it would be fine for him to look up my address on his work computer, find out where I live, and fly there with confidence. I know you are probably wondering who the hell Big Tony is, well, Big Tony is my father.

My wife told me that steam was literally shooting from my skull. I explained to him in a tone that he had never heard from me before that I was either going to act in violence or call the police and have him removed. He thought I was bluffing until the police actually showed up and asked him to leave. I didn’t want to do it, but I had to do something. I was in such shock that he thought this was a good idea. Why would he travel thousands of miles to my house before getting the OK to do so. If he couldn’t reach me, then he should never have proceeded with this flawed plan. He really put me in a tough position in front of my children, it made me look terrible.

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Rewind

Lets go back to the beginning, or at least as far back as I can remember. My mother met Big Tony in the early eighties when his father was hired to become the pastor of the church that my mother was attending at the time in Milwaukee, WI. They hit it off pretty quickly, got married, and then I was born. The relationship was short-lived because he was gone before my first birthday. By this time he became a police officer and later on a detective with the Milwaukee Police Department. I heard from a reliable source that he was a real shit bag to my mother during the divorce and made it obvious that he intended on not helping her with more than what was required.

The Village

As a result of not having a biological father present in my life, I was raised by a village. The members of the village consisted of my great-grandparents, grandmother, and my mama. My mother would go on to have my younger sister whose father played a huge role in raising me as well. Those were the core people to raise me. While I was growing up, if you weren’t one of those people in my life, then it was pretty much fuck you. Things are different now because I have my own tribe, but the sentiments are still the same.

I was never close to Big Tony while growing up. I remember seeing him maybe 4–5 times a year outside of church, and it was always on his terms. Everything always had to be on his terms, he was a real control freak. He would rarely take me to a basketball game or a movie, but when he did, I was so uncomfortable that I barely would say more than 20 words the whole time. Think about it, he was pretty much a stranger to me, so it was hard to have a flowing conversation.

My mom would make me go over to his parents house and spend the night a few times a year, which I absolutely hated! I was uncomfortable over there, and his father was a very odd man. Beloved by many because of his profession as a pastor, but just odd. I remember saying to myself that when I’m able to make my own decisions, I may just never talk to any of these people again. I understand in my adult life now that my mom needed a break, but imagine being forced to spend time with people who you don’t know and have no desire to be around.

Michael Jordan’s Restaurant

I can remember it like yesterday when Big Tony surprisingly called me out of the blue in 1993. He told me that we were going to take a trip the following weekend. This would be like no other. We were going to drive to Chicago, go shopping, and eat at Michael Jordan’s Restaurant that just opened. I was a huge MJ fan so I was in heaven. Even though this was a big deal, I still had my reservations because I knew the conversation would be dry and uncomfortable. But then again it was Michael Jordan’s Restaurant and I couldn’t miss out on this opportunity.

The day had arrived and I was pretty excited. I sat on the porch for maybe about 3 hours in total. The whole time I’m thinking that he was just running late or had to run a few errands, but he never showed up. As you could imagine, it was pretty devastating for a fifth grader. The hurt feelings quickly subsided when I heard my mother on the phone with the bank. She was trying to find out how much money she had. As soon as she heard the acceptable number from an online banker, she looked at me and told me to get ready. I was confused until she told me that we were going to take the train to Chicago and have lunch at Michael Jordan’s restaurant.

This moment helped me to realize that I would probably go through life without being close to my father and that my village would often pick up the pieces of my broken heart. I was OK with this because it was what I was used to. My mother would not let my day turn into a disaster, she refused. On top of that, she elevated the experience. I was originally just taking a ride to Chicago in a car with a person that I barely knew, have a dry conversation, and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the experience the same. At that point I had never been on a train, so the level of excitement was through the roof. She even bought me a Michael Jordan Bull’s Jersey. As an adult today, I can say that this is still one of the best days of my life.

Big Tony never addressed this situation, nor did he address any of the other disappointments throughout the years after this. He would always call a few months after a missed scheduled event as if nothing happened. I’ve always thought that he was delusional because he would act as if he never promised me anything or brushed it off as not a big deal.

Dad

I went on to graduate from high school, college, and graduate school with the help of my village. I married my college sweetheart and then moved to Pasadena, CA. We have two amazing kids that are full of life and our family is extremely close knit. I hear my kids say “daddy” at least 50 times a day, and every time I hear it, my heart melts. Its probably something that I will never get sick of hearing. The feeling is completely indescribable and I couldn’t imagine life without them.

On the other hand, when people refer to Big Tony as my dad, I cringe. It feels like a knife twisting in my side. It feels this way because I know how much I mean to my children and they know what they mean to me. They refer to me as daddy because they know me, they are 100% comfortable with me, and can talk to me about any and everything. I don’t have those types of feelings with Big Tony and I could never call him dad because we just aren’t that close. I feel like the name dad or daddy is something that is earned and not given because of a parental title.

Missed Time

As I bond with my children daily, I oftentimes wonder how Big Tony feels about the number of opportunities that he missed out on. The opportunity to get me ready for my first day of school, to put in extra work on the court or field, or to teach me about finances and the importance of putting my best foot forward in everything that I do. Maybe he doesn’t realize all of the things he missed. I get irritated when I can’t attend a baseball or dance practice that my own kids have, simply because I don’t want to miss anything. Think about that, I want to be around my children all day everyday because I understand how time works. I can’t live with any regrets and I will cherish every moment with them while I can.

In African American culture, there are far too many stories like mine. If you are the father that has created distance between you and your children, don’t be delusional. Understand what type of parent you are, and if you have a strained relationship with your child, figure out why there is a strain and don’t just ignore the facts. This is the only way that you can grow. There is no manual on how to be a good father, its just something that has to be figured out. Look at me, I had to figure it out, and I think that I am doing a pretty damn good job.

Since September 2nd, 2019 I have made the conscious decision to distance myself from Big Tony and it has been the most freeing decision that I have ever made. There is no more discomfort, awkwardness, and no more showing up to my place of residence unannounced. I understand that inconsistency in relationships is a big deal, which is why I refuse to let him be inconsistent in my children’s life. Maybe someday I will sit down with him to explain my thoughts on his absence and inconsistency, but until then, I will continue being the best daddy in the world.

Man and Cali, I love you!

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Tony Jones is a freelance writer that covers race, culture, music, and sports across multiple platforms.

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