I Love You

Sydney PhilpThree simple words. But they are the most difficult words to say to a friend or partner and especially within Black and Caribbean families. This became painfully clear to me as I sat on a panel to discuss Reaching up for Manhood by Geoffrey Canada.

The panel, comprised mainly of Black, male professionals in Miami, came from many different social and cultural backgrounds. Some were born in California, Georgia, Florida, and St. Vincent. Others were policemen, lawyers, teachers, and writers. Yet many of us shared a similar predicament: we were raised by single mothers and we were now parents who were trying to figure out how to be good fathers.

Part of the difficulty in our circumstances was compounded by the fact that we rarely heard these three simple words and as a result, found it difficult to say them ourselves.

This was made painfully clear in the experience of one of the panelists who told the story about growing up in New York, after moving from St. Vincent, and watching season after season of The Cosby Show. After the third season of watching the Huxtables hugging each other and saying, "I love you," he finally had the courage to ask his mother a question.
While she was washing the dishes in the kitchen, he sat down by the dining room table and said, "Mama, do you love me?"
His mother in mid-stroke of cleaning a dish, turned off the water.
"What do you mean by 'Do I love you?'"
"I mean, do you love me?"
She put the dish back in the sink, wiped her hand in her apron, and turned to him.
"Boy, who has been buying all those clothes for you to go out to the mall with your friends? Who's been buying all those sneakers for you so that you can play basketball? Who's been working as extra job so that you can go to camp?"

Notice that despite all the protestations, she never said the words he longed to hear.

There is a hard pragmatism in single mothers. There has to be. She is both nurturer and disciplinarian. And in the case of a boy, especially when he enters his teens, his mother often leans hard on him, so he rarely sees her nurturing side.

If the boy had grown up in a dual parent household and if the parents were clever, the roles (some children never figure that these are roles) would fall to the father as disciplinarian and the mother as nurturer or they may even be reversed depending on the tendencies of the parent. Someone has to be the "bad cop."

But the roles are important because after being disciplined, you still need someone to tell you that X still loves you and X really cares for you and that everything will be all right. This is difficult to believe when X just beat the hell out of you and now wants to comfort you.

Many children in the Caribbean grow up in situations like this and are often exposed to the parent (read mother) who seems to have a split-personality. One minute the mother is all luvvy duvvy and the next minute she wants to kill you.

And the sad truth is that this has been happening in Caribbean communities for a long time.

There are many reasons for single parent households in the Caribbean. One could go back to the days of slavery when families were intentionally broken up and even if one never experienced the trauma, the fear of separation on a personal level was enough to cause hesitation--the fear of losing that which you hold most dear. Then, there were the economic factors that continue to plague Caribbean families and lead to all kinds of diasporas. These two factors combined with the absence of males in the community who could demonstrate what it means to be a father, continued to be passed on, almost genetically, from generation to generation and is the state in which we now find ourselves.

But some things need to end and begin with us. Right now.

We can say no to many things and we have. In my own case, the "arse-tearings" that I used to get ended with me. I have also seen in many of my friends that wonderful male nurturing known as fatherhood emerge in remarkable ways. These changes have been happening and even when there has been divorce, I have seen them step up to the plate and continue the role of nurturer, protector, and friend--a beautiful thing to behold.

And some--I count myself among them--have even been able to say to our children, the three magical words that some of us never heard from our parents: "I love you."

Photo: My father, Sydney George Philp, and my daughter.

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FSJL said…
I certainly never heard my father tell me that he loved me. On the other hand, I've told both my sons that I love them.
Fly Girl said…
You know, this is a real issue with us throughout the Diaspora. I know that it bears traces of slavery and jim crow times when survival and a strong character was the focus, not nurturing. My parents, rarely told me that they loved me and I don't remember having a longing to hear it, which probably means that I felt loved. As a result, I rarely tell my children that I love them but I demonstrate it frequently. My husband, on the other hand, is a big believer in affection and saying he loves me and the children. Yes, I'm the bad cop!
Both my parents were very affectionate and told us kids ---my brother,sister and I--- quite frequently that they loved us.Also, love was demonstrated constantly in the household.But one of my best friend, a girl, was constantly told by her mom during beatings/murderation that the reason why she was being whipped by her mom was because her mom loved her.

It goes something like this, Precious di reason why mi a guh buss yuh ass fi wey yuh duh dis mawning is because mi luv yuh so much.As a kid, I used to find that quite peculiar,my friend was being whipped/beaten because her mother loved her.Today,I do comprehend this odd logic or non-sequitur re the larger question of love and the methodology of discipline,of course yawd style. Most likely, you have also experienced this type of parental psychology in Jamdown.Nuff respect star!!
Esteban, the whole question of discipline takes an ominous turn in the Caribbean, especially in the context of slavery and repressive colonialism.

I too struggled with the odd logic and have tried to exorcise the logic and emotion from my life.
I have written about this slant in "My Brother's Keeper."

Bless up!
Yes,I will definitely read MY BROTHER'S KEEPER!!
Rethabile said…
My father has never said he loved me. And he never bothered to show it, either, except these recent times.

My mom always showed it, but once she looked me in the eye and told me she loved me.

I tell my kids I love them almost every day, and try to talk to them, talk them through problems, instead of the automatic arse-whipping I used to get.
Rethabile, I think our generation has liberated our children from many of the trials that we faced...

Rethabile said…
I agree with you. But sometimes, with my wife, we sit down and ask ourselves if this is good or bad. The answer so far has been "good"...
My wife and I have had similar conditions and compared to beatings, love wins every time.

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