Monday February 12th. Heart broken, mind racing, soul yearning for something I've never had from someone who never loved me...understanding. Somewhere I shouldn't have been, hoping to connect with someone who wasn't mine, trying to resolve feelings I wish I didn't have. The clouds were grey and thick. I remember looking into her eyes, knowing after tonight, I wouldn't see her again. Still I stood there. Eyes watering, I pleaded with her. I pleaded with myself. " I'm sorry. I love you". How strong was I in this moment? How did I end up here; in some public library parking lot, crying on my knees to someone?
As a Black Man, our strength is often times limited to our ability to perform in athletic spaces, or withstand forms of oppression and keep things inside while simultaneously projecting a sense of calm and style. That whole "I got this" attitude will have you fucked up, beloved. When discussing the concept of strength thru the lens of Black Men, the perspective is limited. Yes we can be strong on the basketball court or in the boxing ring, but our strength as Black Men is unlimited, despite society's efforts to project otherwise.
I think about my upbringing, the mindset of my Father and his Father. Growing up in Coney Island Brooklyn as a kid, my masculinity was defined by how many women I slept with. My manhood was measured by the clothes I wore and the car I drove. You were "A MAN" if you could fight, or if you could crack the more disrespectful jokes. How well you internalized and hid your pain was more important that the source of it. You weren't allowed to cry. Crying for a Black Man was seen as sign of weakness. In fact, the only time a Black Man can cry without being seen as “weak” or “feminine” is at a funeral for a loved one, and even then they’re expected to get over it soon thereafter. This is the logic my Grandpa instilled in my Father and two Uncles. That's what my Father attempted to instill in me.
That's NOT how I will raise my children. They deserve to know the truth. They deserve the right to process and experience feelings independent of people's misguided expectations. My children, if im fortunate enough to marry and have any, will be supported when their emotions make their way to their heart’s surface. They won't be shunned, but rather nurtured along their emotional journey. They’ll learn how to compartmentalize when needed, but compartmentalizing won't be their default response to dealing with their feelings. I won't yell at them for crying, instead I'll explain to them that crying is part of the process of healing. I'll share with them my experiences, the moments I cried and felt pain. Not for the sake attempting to impose expectations on them, but rather so they know their Dad, and everyone else for that matter, cries too.
So as a revisist that afternoon in Clementon NJ. Snot running down my nose. Fingers cold, lips chapped and eyes filled with tears. Tears she wiped out of pity from seeing this grown man weep like a hurt young lad. I remember riding back home in my uber. Still crying, my driver asked me if I was okay: "I'm good", I defensively responded. I arrived home and cried everyday for the next few weeks. Heartbroken, devastated and unable to find any sort of resolve. It hit me...my strength was in those tears I cried. You see anyone can can pretend to be okay. Anyone can deny hurt and pain, but in that moment, on that chilly night in NJ;as my knee touched the ground and my arms wrapped around her waist, I was in my strongest state. I was vulnerable, I was 100% honest, I held nothing back. In that moment, more so than any other moment, I felt alive. My truest, most powerful moment came when I let my guard down and opened up my heart. I was strong enough to open up, despite not knowing what the outcome may have been. I was open with someone I needed closure with. I was honest with myself for once. As Black Men, that is where our true strength dwells. In our ability to open up, be honest with ourselves and take ownership of our feelings. We are way more than society's projections. We are Kings, and Kings bleed too.