Friday, May 30, 2014

MSM Power Couples: To Be Or Not To Be?, Part 1 by Kyle Phoenix

Recently I was asked a question that I’ve pondered personally, generally and professionally for years.  It was about the appearance and value of Black and Latino male homosexual Power Couples of color.  Now we all know what one is, a Power Couple, by their names---Oprah and Stedman, Will and Jada, Ellen and Portia, Elton and David, Jay-Z and Beyonce, Gloria and Reuben but the question posed was where were the Latino (Ricky Martin and……?), or Black  (James Baldwin and….?)---where were the MSM of color in committed marriages/relationships having and using their credibility and power to publicly better their community and/or society?  Were there even any MSM of color Power Couples?  There are a multitude of singular activists and writers and teachers and even television personalities but are there a comparable Will and Jada that I guess we could look to as an aspiration, a symbol, call on for help and guidance, cheer for and sigh in dreamy appreciation of?  Comprised of two men of color who were in love, with one another, and public and vocal about that? 
Not so much.

 In the examination of that I found that brings into play 4 Factors that I was able to determine impede MSM in general and in the congregation into a Power Couple, that if dealt with, if reversed or traversed would assist, create or make one attractive to meeting a match and creating such a union..

Internal Race Discrimination
Outness and discrimination within our own communities due to the "shortage" of viable men of color as heterosexual partners/breeding stock breeds guilt and stigma to the initial step of being Out and authentic with one’s sexuality and fundamental desires.
This is one of the heaviest shame/guilt bombs thrown at MSM, their lack of “usefulness” to their community of origin, due to their sexuality.  In fact I would argue that the pressure to be heterosexual for their racial/ethnicity community due to that’s communities lack of viable men is one of the major and most prevalent reasons why MSM of color are so conflicted about their sexuality.  Something feels good but different and yet there is The Struggle.  The eternal struggle of “how we’re perceived” mainly by the dominant white culture and how we should therefore act/represent is drilled into us by our families because of the inherent survival factor tied to our race and it’s mobility through society.  One of us becomes responsible for “all of us” which harkens back to slavery when we were controlled as a mass.  If I did something wrong, potentially the whole community would be punished with beatings, starving, less rights and privileges, so we kept each other in check by keeping ourselves in check which in turn kept the community in check.  People and communities kept in check do not grow at the same speed or depth.
               If we were to have an MSM couple of color, Jamal and Jose let’s call them---they would still be in some form of struggle with their family and their community as to what was expected of their manhood.  And no matter how politically voting liberal it might seem on the media surface,  the expectation/allowance of Black and Latino men from their communities of origin is not homosexuality.  Now individuals within their origin community might accept it privately or even publicly---but it’s sort of like coming out to having a disability.  There are accommodations and acknowledgements made of the disabled because there must be, but the standard/the norm is considered the able-bodied.
               This potentiality of Jamal and Jose being our Power Couple for the 21st Century, out loud and proud, owning property, well educated immediately begs the question of what an MSM of color's "power base" would be predicated on.  Sexuality?  Race?  Gender?  All three would be conflict ridden as a couple, perhaps even divisive, whereas generally an individual can decide their own stance without having to consult another person as one must in a couple. 
               But does race trump sexuality? 
               Does a man of color, and all the historical baggage that brings trump sexuality? 
               Which comes first? 
               Which are you seen as first and which are you allowed to present first? 
               Oprah can present she’s a woman and a Black woman, she can even reverse it.  Stedman can be a man or a Black man, first.  But is it no coincidence that the public slurs around them have been to throw into question their sexuality, not being heterosexual?  Isn’t this a way of undermining their choice of how they present themselves?  Has there ever been the suggestion that Bill Clinton is secretly homosexual and his philandering is merely him “trying to cover it too much” (his true homosexuality)?  Or that Hillary Clinton stood by her man because she’s secretly a lesbian and couldn’t survive politically without a heterosexual relationship?
               My point is we don’t account for race, sex and gender the same way for people of color that we do for white people and thereby by co-joining into this framework, we conspire to eradicate the possibility of an LGBT Power Couple.
The definition and accumulation of power must be learned, taught and practiced in order to be effectively used to any large scale end.  Whether that be a music concert, opening a stadium in the heart of Brooklyn, owning a television network, running a multimedia juggernaut, managing an entertainment empire, acting in films, managing real estate, owning resorts/hotels or even a sports team.  These positions and abilities exist within couples and individuals of both African and Latino descent but not in the sheer numbers that it does in white couples of either gender (or their mixed gender.)  The lack of practice comes from limited opportunities to practice power on small and increasingly larger scales.  Power on a national level as a mass or as an individual is new, a new convention/invention from essentially the Civil War forward (about 150 years where we've held swaying economic, social, financial and political power that can be directed.)  The Civil Rights Movement and Oprah Winfrey’s push and lending of her fame and influence to Barack Obama through the primaries to get him to the serious candidate level are some of our glaring examples so far in that history of community usage of power and an individual’s usage of personal/societal power. 
You can see by my examples that I’m talking about power/influence that is long reaching, tangible, sure to effect multiple generations, consumed or joined into by millions, potentially worth billions upon billions and a system/event that is constantly exampled and re-examined as well as used as a strategic architecture for the future.  That’s the kind of power I’m talking about, the power to shift society, to change the world, to deeply and profoundly affect the fabric of humanity.  The list of Power Couples that I’ve mentioned so far fall into that continuum, where in their small but influential domains (entertainment, politics, finance, sports) have the ability to cross multiple domains owing to their talents, largesse, fame, money, social capital, and yes, understanding, possession and usage of power.
LGBT men of color don’t get the same level of opportunities.  Perhaps the closest is to head an LGBT organization of color, to be the Executive Director, the CEO but even that is slightly contrived.  You’re a singer whose leader of the choir---in many ways you’re the leader because your gender and sexuality fit whom you lead.  Real power crosses and transcends simply one’s race, gender or sexuality.  When we seek to quantify an LGBT Power Couple we’re stuck with the fact that they have to exact and enact power outside of one of the prime reasons, sexuality, why we’re including them in the evaluative process.  Being in the choir literally limits one to the choir by the fact that they’re supported wholly, only by the choir.
Social Class
               Social class engenders and determines a personalized appreciation of what "advancement" means to you and those around you.  Crassly, where you start suggests how you think until you know how to think differently, generally by exposure to other social classes or studying of how to access the next level.  Most MSM of color (or WSW) are only the 1st or 2nd generation of Middle Class or higher and the assumption, usage and faculty of power requires Middle Class going TO Upper/Rich/Wealth. 
               40% of people of color so far are in permanent generational poverty, another 50%+ are in working class to middle class, it varies by life stage (school, working, unemployed, and the elderly.)  Optimistically a large majority of us are still 1-2 generations away from being solidly Middle Class therefore the accumulation of social, political, economic power is still in process.)  And in order to wield power, you must be familiar with it, in order to be familiar with it you must be allowed to enter the spheres and mingle with the folk who “make the world go around” and in order to do that you must feel comfortable being in the corridors or power and they must feel comfortable with you and your behavior to have you there.  We can blame “The System” for being set up this way or understand that The System is ultimately comprised of people---people who manage the system and those who profit from it and most damningly, those who agree to it because they don’t, can’t or won’t create oppositional systems because of the loss of work, money, comfort.  In many ways The System of slavery sustained for so long because slaves were forced into supporting it.  Their support stemmed from the fact that they lacked they social, economic and educational resources to attack, dismantle and re-create a new system.  The problem is that for African American and Latino people, that mentality still exists.  By this I would point to other ethnic and racial groups that have endured mass holocausts but do not believe that it was a state of being, rather a state of time and situation.  People of color psychologically don’t always see the price of identifying to both the state of being: “I was a slave” and the state of time and situation: “I was in slavery.” By fusing the two it creates a undeviating attachment to both.
               The inherent lesson of how to detach one’s self from the state of being and the state of time and situation would then infuse, as a mass, the ability to do that around one’s family of origin’s, one’s previous and one’s future, social class. 
               One has to release having been a slave, in slavery, to progress.
               To some degree this bespeaks the push around advanced education (or even completing high school) to minority males.  In New York State alone where I live, 70% of Black and over 60% of Latino males do not graduate high school within the standard 12 years.  Only 30% to 40% of males from both Black and Latinos (it’s on the lower end for Latino males) goes to and completes college. 
               This means that if say there are 10 MSM standing in line. 
·        7 of them didn’t complete high school.  (4 of those 7 eventually completed high school/got a GED.)
·        2 of those 10 are in jail, currently or bouncing in and out having got caught up in a life of criminality or were absorbed so deeply into the system through harsh sentencing that they’ll never get out.

That leaves us about 5 MSM who aren’t active criminals, completed high school and maybe half of that 5 completed college.
·        At least 1 of those 5 has active drug or mental health issues that are extreme enough to knock him out of being capable of managing a LTR and utilizing “power”.

That means that there are 4 viable MSM for every 10 that are capable until you break them down by demographics.  Half of all homosexual men of color are not “out”, and our Power Couple requires deep transparency for us to emulate them. 
·        Now we’re down to 2 men, who are ready, willing, able, educated and committed.
But they live across country from each other and may never meet.  They may settle for partners that are present and willing to love them rather than searching for an “equal” to create Power Couple-dom.
White MSM aren’t affected by the same social ills that effect Black and Latino men, especially MSM so they are more able to unify and meet each other.  For the 2 men that men of color whittle down to, white MSM whittle down to 6 comparatively.  (This might also answer why men of color, pointedly MSM, are more likely at a certain point in seeking a partner of equivalent abilities or higher, date and marry interracially.)  However they also have another internalized fission, if you will, that makes power activate.
Privilege and Entitlement
               Internal to then become actualized power requires a sense of privilege and/or entitlement which has so far (yes, it's rapidly changing) been held by mainly white people in America.  This translates down to, we, people of color and MSM of color, are just learning en masse how to identify and codify and therefore coalesce power as individuals.  We had the group experience in the Civil Right Movements---which is why it's such a social and psychological touchstone for us, but Chennault, Parsons, Reginald Johnson, Oprah, Jay-Z, Ann Fudge, Suzanne DePasse, they exist but aren’t wholly accessible to all of us as mentors/teachers/patrons.  There is also a leaning of our Power People into the realms of entertainment/sports---where a level of universalized power would also include finance, real estate, international finance, law, sciences.  We aren’t educated, able to access and self-confident to use the power in as many domains as one needs to truly hold power.  Privilege and entitlement also confers a sense of “I belong”, “I should be heard”, “I am right in my thinking about this issue”---that MSM of color are still learning, testing out, playing with.  And yes, we graduate but it’s only 2 out 10 of us who does.  And it’s a big dance floor/country to find a similar partner.

               Desegregation and education, therefore advancement, is still in progress today. So a Power Couple would look more like a racially mixed couple, as the white person would have a sense of privilege/entitlement (from being white in America) and not be as threatened by a Black or Latino partner feeling or being so privileged and entitled as well.  In many ways, due to historical racial state of being MSM of color also hold or make it uncomfortable to hold and exercise power.  When I've held a political position, attended/taught at an Ivy college, written books, have a TV show, blog, YouTube---to me it's been a process of one brick after another to other MSM of color it can seem like a massive empire that is impossible to not be intimidated by.  I conversely personally am surprised by men of color being intimidated by knowledge and ability because of how I perceive men of color: as capable beyond whatever states of time and situation have wrought.  The effect is that more white and Latino MSM than Black MSM pursue me effectively and authentically.

               I've found myself, at least 10 years ago having to be completely open to all races for some of those power balancing and "allowance issues" as well as racial segregation just based on racially being "loyal" to me is silly when procreation isn't possible to trip through miscegenation with two men over.
               But even that modality of thinking is privilege based.  It comes from being raised Middle Class and higher; it comes from having advanced educated grandparents and parents; it comes from my own advanced education; it comes from coming from ever escalating, liberated people.  Recently I was having a discussion with my mother about the business of publishing and my step by step growth and plans.  She mentioned a cousin who’d we’d both seen recently at a holiday party and their comments about my work.  Not negative, but befuddled.  Essentially they wanted to know why I would write instead of create TV shows like Tyler Perry.  The idea that talent and interests are exchangeable and more importantly immediate in their outcomes.  My answer then had been that it took Tyler Perry almost a decade to go from start to successful plays and a total of 15 years before he emerged with his first film; my explanation being that it takes time to become how others perceive stardom and success.  I also didn’t honestly know what I completely envisioned my full result to be.  My cousin was deeply dissatisfied with this answer.  The next point being then couldn’t I marry a woman or even a man who would accelerate this?  I calmly explained, knowing the stuff in my head from experience that I’ve written above---it’s not that easy to find the appropriate partner.
               My mother in our later conversation heard my frustration with trying to essentially explain myself and reflected back at me something I already knew, she said: “He doesn't understand because he didn't grow up with me and your father reading and starting businesses and going to school so he thinks the process is instantaneous.”
               I saw my cousin clearly prior to but softened again understanding then that I was oddity to him.  Which is probably the last point, power means standing out among your tribe.  It means being a 1 gallon among person 16 ounce family members.  It means that not only do you have to leave them in some ways but that you will become more and more uncomfortable with those that don’t advance and change.  I have a cousin who has spent the past 30 years in and out of jail, he and I probably could have a conversation about the few years I remember him as teenager or maybe relatives in common.  Perhaps even we could bridge some insight into how he got there and I didn't, though I had a brief, checkered past.  But then our conversation would sputter out of places to go.  Not because of my lack of interest but to my perception his lack of depth and to his, my expansive distance.
               I’ll expand this forward to dating and the same issue comes up.  While we might be physically/sexuality compatible we’re both considering the demands of raising or lowering our life to accommodate the other.  I’ve experienced more of the lowering, potentially equal and once or twice my having to raise myself and all are difficult to discuss, to figure out.  How do I tell someone that they aren’t enough?  How do they tell me that I’m too much?  Generally, immaturely, I can see in my past a whole host of other behaviors filled that discussion space because maybe we both had a picture in our heads of what a Power Couple would look like.  A few times I can see that my vision was attainable and a few times I can now see where they realized that they couldn't enact the four or five shifts throughout this article to do so.

               The three times I’ve dated men more established, one was Turkish and the other two white and I wasn't ready to settle for them in exchange for social, financial or business power.  All three didn't go far, more to compatibility issues than to inability for me to handle the shift mainly because I was younger than two of them.  The experiences did open my eyes to the fact that there were different levels, different possibilities and some of the architecture needed to construct a Power Couple.  I would heartily and optimistically say it’s possible but the work isn’t in the merging, it’s in the self construction because that will answer all questions of how, whom and whom not to merge with.

Cleaning House: Dealing With Aging & Ill Parents, Part 1 by Kyle Phoenix

Cleaning House, Part 1

            I look upon my parents, who are currently dying, and it gives me a renewed sense of purpose to my own life.  In many ways, yes, it is depressing and occasionally heart wrenching but I aim to see them clearly.  I spent years growing up with my mother, father, and stepfathers often unsure of my own self, of my abilities, of my memories, of my interests.  The price of growing up with addicts is that they distort reality and often inflict this distortion upon their children, so that as the child of addicts you often grow up without a clear frame of reference.  Most parents admonish, do what I say because I said so; addict parents say: believe what I say is real because I said so.  At 21 I was served by fortunate circumstances to get away from my mother and stepfather and not only go to college but go lock, stock and barrel to live on campus, under my own financial steam as they took away and squandered my college fund.  I filled an entire half of an Amtrak car with my boxes and bags---I knew I wouldn't return to live with them ever again. 


            A handful of years later, I thought perhaps I’d been rash and tried to help them by staying with them and pouring my income into their budget to “help” them recover from their squandering of millions.  They both destroyed that to the point where their pastor told me that they didn't deserve me and to leave without any guilt after only a few weeks of being there.  They were sober but still living out their addictions through money, greed, dysfunction, irresponsibility.
            Often, late at night, like every other human, when I wish for something, it’s been for parents.  For responsible adults with whom I could gratefully sit at their knee and learn, be mentored.  I’ve even envied friends with demanding parents---at least it mattered to them that their children become something.  My mother and stepfather have little use for me (or I expect anyone else) if it’s not connected to money.  Their joint addiction is now money and food, hence the dying from diabetes now.  I swore at the house on the mountain years ago that I would only return for death, theirs. 
            And that’s what I’ve done.  I’m of course torn because I don’t want them to die yet I look about their self-inflicted pain and misery and I wonder what joy is there in their lives or do they bring to others?   None, honestly.  The irony of television is that as much as they watch it, it neither brings them joy nor do they bring it joy---except I expect as cable fees (and then dividends to shareholders).
            I intermittently go back and forth, we don’t live in the same city (by my purposeful design) and I try to clean their home so that it literally isn’t reproached by the State, fill their refrigerator with food that isn’t brown, sugar filled or preservative laden foodstuffs.  (Sadly, the only green they regularly attach to ain’t vegetables.)  I’ve tried to pay small bills, even figured out how to commit my own personal budget to including them as one should I think when you have older parents.  But their financial mismanagement destroys that.  They insist upon having no budget, on spending every dime that comes to hand, on running up bills they can’t afford, on eating rapaciously.
            They will die, in various forms of agony, I expect.  The doctors are now slowly amputating pieces of them, their limbs, and giving them both huge dosages of ultimately body rotting medications.  Modern medical technology should include the legal right to slap the shit out of adults.  But it doesn't.  The needed corrective slap is often in the form of skyrocketing bills and slow disintegration of assets to the healthcare system.  This will bow them, it will crumble them, and the little that they have will disintegrate.  I say that because 15 years ago when they started this decline they were in their late 40s, still time to become corrective.  Now, both in their 60s, there’s no more time---it’s slaughterhouse time.
            Don’t get me wrong, I’ve tried to intervene on so many levels that I am bone weary exhausted.  Yet it is of course (as it should be) hard to watch them self-destruct.  Their answer to their self destruction is always”…if we had more money…” or “…bring me some food…”   Now I essentially manage my contact with them because of their varying levels of depression, dysfunctional thinking and emotional manipulation.  I can proudly say that my sense of self, my own personal Voice in cutting them off, shutting them down, defending or removing myself, is 110%.  I’ve never felt so personally…self-empowered dealing with them before.  There is a point by one’s 30s where you know yourself, where you’re no longer frightened or guilted into saying no.
            They ask me what will happen and I starkly tell them: “You will die.  What you are doing will kill you.  I am simply observing at this point.
            My own personal tears of sadness are about the parents I’ve never had.  I mourn for that ethereal dream couple that died long ago but that I always held hope for possible later life resurrection.  They ask me about grandchildren and I ask back---“What would you teach them?  How to watch TV every waking moment?   How to eat to obesity and destruction of one’s own bodily systems?  How could anyone in their right parental mind have their children near you?”  Such candor often silences them.  I’ve learned that even the insane recognize truth.  I now carry truth as a weapon and shield with them, ready to cut down or hold off their madness.  Don’t misunderstand, most of the time with them, I spend in silence, off to myself.  The more I have these implements of warrior truth, the less I use them or want to be in their company.  I’ve learned how to walk away from both of them when they start spewing venom.  I’ve learned what to refute and what to ignore.  I’ve learned to not allow my observation to become pity.
            I look at them in this observer frame, and I’ve told them, they are grand lessons of what not to become, what not to do.  In many ways all of my parents (and quite a few family members) have acted as almost sacrificial examples of the ills of race, racism, addiction, pain, lack of healing.  90% of my family is like a “scared straight” trip to a boot camp.  I know that sounds harsh, even hyperbolic but between addiction, mental illness, pedophiliacs, criminals, domestic abusers, rapists, professional prisoners, and ne'er do wells, those of us alive, educated, sane, with teeth, and no felonies, is but a handful.  It seems in print judgmental but in my heart, it’s sad. 
            I often envy people who have a whole litany of relatives to talk to and do things with and share from.  Ever since I was a child I’ve had to successfully and unsuccessfully navigate which relatives to engage with, which to not, less I be raped or ripped off or emotionally abused or derailed from school, a functional life, a future.  That can be exhausting because it leaves no familial place to rest.  It means that since my early teens I’ve not only had to take care of myself but dodge my family, keep the majority of them at arm’s length for my own safety.
            That kind of emotional education I think has contributed to my making at first in my teens and twenties, extremely dysfunctional friends and then as I became aware of my patterns, my past, eliminating them and choosing better.  I choose friends, inner circle people so carefully now.  And I’m completely clean on jettisoning them.  The same with romantic relationships.  I risk, I try, I love, I forgive, I make mistakes, I allow for mistakes, of course but I’m an extremely low abuse kind of person. 
            When people tell you or show who they are, believe them because they know themselves the best.
            I live that so hard that if you know (or knew) me and don’t now---you showed me who you were and I cut that rope fast and clean.  Never let jackals get a second shot at your throat.  In many ways such a disposition makes me feel safe, detached and sometimes a little envious of other people’s dysfunction.  But because I have no support other than myself (and of course friends, mentors---“found” family) I can’t risk the infection of insanity.
            I’ve tried to gather as many pictures and recordings of my current parents, past relatives and intend to even do a genealogical search back even further for my children, to craft a heritage for them.  I think often of how to frame this to them, how to explain to them that perils of being brown in America, being disenfranchised, being greedy, lacking financial education, unhealthy medicating of one’s emotional pain.  The benefit of such rampant addiction in my family means that I’ve been diligent to my own state and how I manage it with or without substances.  Even at my lowest and most stressful times in life, I never reach for alcohol or drugs.  I generally go take a nap; it’s a Native American remedy---go sleep on it until you awaken, truly awaken away from whatever ails your heart and mind.  For larger or more complex ongoing issues I’ve done two intensive years of therapy a decade apart and through my own work and personal membership sat in enough group sessions, informal groups, run workshops, done television, online and radio shows to have amassed an inner mirror to my own bullshit and foibles that is as incisive as an embodied therapist. 
            I’m often amazed at how “normal” I test from others, from therapists.  I’m on the look-out for emotional flaws and maladies, not obsessively but with an eye towards my own negative heritage.  I am surprised that I have a deep spiritual relationship with the Universe, like myself, enjoy life, recognize stress and low points and self-talk to myself so happily.  The other day I was thinking about self-talk and said to myself “you’re worthless” or some other such negativity and I was literally stunned at how alien it sounded within my head.  I understood then how I don’t whip myself in that way.  Instead I’m often reevaluating myself, trying to find new dimensions to push myself into.  There was the undergrad school period, then the work period, then the entrepreneur period, then the social activist period, the teacher period then the social entrepreneur period.  I know I have some more of a learning period in music, film and psychology) to purse in the next decade even as I try to finish more degrees this one.  The writer and filmmaker periods, arching through the parental period will probably be my last, as I return full circle to the work that I started in my teens.  Even as I morph into a parent. 
            I’m not as reticent to parent myself as one might think, I’m always calculating the years I’ll have as a viable parent before I need my children’s help.  Their 40s?  Their 50s?  What will I be able to show and teach them?  Do I know anything useful yet to pass on?  Without a clear template from my biological or stepparents, I’m even more confused---I don’t want to be like my own parents and at the same time I’ll have to be continuously cognizant of their impressed patterns.  I also don’t’ want to be one of those obsessively narcissistic parents who regard their children as direct extensions of their being.  I want to be someone who is the guide for these shorter, younger humans and recognizes that they are entirely different than me.  And likes that.  My own parents never did.  Their emotional pushing at me was to either conform to their distorted views or be broken.  To be so---normal, and yes, I‘m rather painfully normal in many respects, was anathema to them.  My memories of their valiant attention always came from my most dramatic life moments---getting sick, getting in trouble with the law, getting in fights.  My accomplishments were either directly or neutrally ignored.  On one hand that allowed them to blossom in some ways but not as fast as they could’ve, I suspect had I been fully encouraged.  But now I can also see that having these gardens of creativity to myself, learning to be guarded with them to those most intimate to me, gave me a sense of self-liberation to truly explore the boundaries of my own imagination.   
            Soon my parents will be dead and I’ll have to bury them (I’m an only child), wear a plastic smile at other mourners and find a way to navigate the truth of who they were and the platitudes the other mourners will expect to hear.  I’m still not sure what my eulogy will be, I might even tape it, and I expect no matter my own spiritual aspirations, I’m going to be telling some Truth.  I know that afterwards I’ll pack up their things, throw some out, give some away, rock out on EBay and have to decide what mementos matter and don’t.  I’ll have to decide who they were. 
            My mother asked me the other day was she a good mother, had she given me what I needed, and I told her honestly, no, not really but that perhaps that was the lesson because it’s made me more self-reliant, able to tell myself and others the truth and less deluded and dependent about parental influence and authority.  (Not the answer she wanted to hear, I expect, by the look on her face.)  For me it was the truth.  She then asked me if I loved my stepfather and it was such a left field question that I actually had to ponder, search within for the answer and the truth was, no.  I explained that my affection for him was an extension of my love for her.  But that no, he never raised me (hell, he didn’t raise his own children), he lacks in many ways that which would afford us a simpatico if we met on the street; our work and hobbies are so radically different that I don’t even seek his advice for the most basic of my interests.  How and why his own addictions having taken priority and precedence over ever becoming a responsible parent in not just biology but role became obvious to me a few months ago.  He suggested that I could get some foster kids from the State, they would bring in income to the house and I’d just have to feed them and send them off to school then put them to bed every day.  But that you could get seriously paid for that. 
            I literally looked over at him and realized that I’ve had more fatherhood and manhood training than he has, which is why he said such disturbed, distorted, anti-child things.  I had never really thought about it before, thought about love and how I love them, care for them and evaluate them as parents…and yes, how I don’t.  But such stark questions and starker examples told me that their foundations in some ways were shaky from the root on up.  That they’d missed out on the art of parenting, they may’ve felt the emotion but they lacked the mature nuance of understanding it, of understanding mentoring and guidance and stewardship. 
            We automatically assume that when someone doesn't do something that they’re designated as, a parent, that they don’t want to.  Suddenly, with both of them I’m starting to see how they are incapable of it.  How perhaps broken they are in their own ways, long before I became aware of them.  And I was stunned again at how normal I am.  Drink so occasionally as to be a near abstinent and have never done drugs; have immediately taken action to deal with emotional issues.  Have never crossed boundaries and harmed anyone with my anger, intelligence or sexuality.  I can only think that I gathered morals and values, as a foundation, an antithesis to my parents from two places: others (my grandmother, friends, mentors) and by using my mother, father and stepfathers as antithetical examples of what not to do or become.
            Their addictive influence primed me to become altruistic to a fault but then somewhere in there, I have become normal when I compare myself to them, to cousins my age, to the rest of my family.  To be normal in my family is to be the black sheep though.  This is why I find it so startling.  I sit now with my parents, and occasionally relatives, and marvel at how much insanity spews from them.  How they manage gravity with such contrarian thoughts to morality and mores and values and personal boundaries.  It’s like I thought when I loaded up that Amtrak train that I was going to a foreign planet, that all the years of living on my own, alone and with roommates, the journey to alien.  But I was leaving the foreign, the alien, and the abnormal.
            A friend suggested to me that I try to remain alert and mark down, write consistently throughout this, their dying time.  That as a writer I would find it useful for myself and my work.  At first I didn’t know what to write about it.  It’s like someone shoved me on stage with a microphone and said, “Perform!”  It’s hard to do without a plan, without a destination, without a goal.  Yet now I do write, a dozen other projects, fiction and non-fiction that have no correlation to the dying time but give me respite from it.  In the past year, I’ve written something like 10 million words and I don’t feel an abatement coming.  In fact I feel like I’m trying to get rid of all of these projects and books and blogs and TV shows to get to some work behind it.  My parents watch me write sometimes and I’m sure feel that when I boarded that train a decade ago, I left them, left them to their selves.  And when I write now, I’m doing the same again…because yes, in a way I am.      
            I watch them dying now; often torn between “Would you please, please, please hurry up! and “I wish you could be better, get better.”  Their passing will be a relief…no, it will be a release.  I do wonder though who I’ll be on the other side of it.  What the sky and trees will look like when I walk around, what my voice will sound like when I’m replaying and editing a TV show segment, what I will say when people ask me about them.  Will I tell them the real truth or will I come up with some pat answer that silences the questions but really doesn’t address the matter?  Will they become my secret addiction of sadness and disappointment?  Or will they become the parallel bars that I point to that I used to bounce off of, to spin and twirl and lift myself above, that made me so strong and resilient?

            Stay tuned.

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Kyle Phoenix, 2014
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