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Single Mom, Page 2

Omar Tyree

  Now, just because I feel that way, and just because I’ve started to go to church every Sunday, that does not mean that I think I’m perfect. Nor do I abstain from sex and going out with men, because I am not a nun. I’m just saying that we all need to reevaluate what’s going on with teenage pregnancy and this single-parent household thing.

  I don’t have delusions that every mother and father are just supposed to be together, but society does need to address some of the issues that don’t make any damn sense to me. Like, for instance: welfare recipients aren’t allowed to have their children’s fathers around. Then if the mother goes out and gets a job, she ends up getting stripped from most of the housing and health care benefits that she still needs. These damn fast-food chains don’t pay women the kind of salaries, nor afford them the kind of benefits, they need to raise a healthy family. And this whole child support thing, with deadbeat dads, just pisses me off! I mean, if a man has a child, and he knows that it’s his child, does he think that this infant is just going to feed itself, clothe itself, take care of itself, and pay for its own diapers and medical needs? Some of these men out here are just plain trifling! And now, all of a sudden, my oldest son’s father wants to be Daddy again because the boy can play basketball. Yeah, no thanks to him! J.D. hasn’t even bought his son a pair of sneakers in eight years! And them damn things cost money, because the cheap ones won’t stay on his big-behind feet!

  I really don’t mean to sound all harsh and mean-spirited or whatever, because I’m usually a nice person, but no one has given me a thing, and it’s probably made me a lot less sympathetic to all the hypocrisy that’s going on in society today. I have to mention that to Walter Jr., every once in a while, because he figures he did me some kind of favor by supporting his son. That money wasn’t going to me. I wouldn’t even think about using my kids like that, but some women do, and that’s what makes these child support cases a lot more difficult than they need to be.

  Walter wants to be a father now, too, especially after taking his son to the Million Man March a couple of years ago. Then the boy got in trouble for shoplifting last year, and Walter kicked his commitment to fatherhood plan into fifth gear, as if he’s going to be around to supervise his son’s behavior every second of the day. Kids are all going to do some things that they’ll need reprimanding for, but since Walter thinks he has all of the answers, he doesn’t know any better. He actually thinks that our son is turning into a thug, which is the furthest from the truth. I delivered the boy, and I’ve been around him his entire life, so I know better than that, nor would I allow him to become a thug! However, he does burn more of my energy than my first son ever did!

  Another recent development in my life has been my younger sister, Nikita. She has one daughter from a jailbird, just like my first love, and now, she’s moving on to more confused, sex-driven men, who are scared to death of any kind of responsibility. She is really taking me to the test. She’s looking to jump into the same ugly bed that I’m climbing out of every morning. After telling her over and over again to think about the decisions she makes, the only other thing I can do is grab ahold of her panties and hold them up against her will. And I can’t do that. Nikita’s a grown damn woman!

  I would have to say that the bright spots in my life, that keep me going, are my faith in God, my love for my two sons and family, my single mothers’ support group, and my career. Oh, and I do have a new companion in my life who keeps things bearable for me when times get hard. The man can really hold a good conversation. Dennis is older, mature, divorced with no kids, and definitely my style; over six feet tall and all man. J.D. was my style, and my first love, but he was never mature. And Walter was none of the above. He was short, insecure, skeptical, and another damn story altogether. But I really don’t know how far things are going to go with Dennis either. I honestly don’t expect much in relationships anymore. Dennis could be here today and gone tomorrow like so many other men in our lives. I’m not sure if it would work out in the long run anyway, so I just take things one day at a time. I mean, if we stay together, then fine, but if not, then that’s fine too. Like my best friend and troubleshooter, Camellia Jenkins, told me when we first met, “Girl, a man can make your day, but only God can make the universe!”

  Who said that men could make the universe anyway?


  July 1997


  HAAAAAHH … ! Whaaaaahh … ! Whaaaaahh … !” “Neecy, what the hell is wrong with him?” I had my son in my arms, cradling his head, rocking him back and forth, and trying my best to calm him down and stop him from crying, but it wasn’t working. He was six months old. I was nineteen, and that crying shit was driving me crazy! I wasn’t ready for no damn kids! But Neecy was taking it in stride.

  She said, “He’s teething.”

  “Well, how come he only does this shit at night?”

  “That’s when his teeth grow the most.”

  “Oh, well, that’s just great. So when are we supposed to get some damn sleep?”

  I didn’t know the first thing about kids. And I was terrible at changing diapers.

  Neecy looked at me like it was no big deal. She took a deep breath and said, “I’ll hold him.”

  I gave him to her and climbed back in bed. We were staying in my small room at my mom’s place at the time. Marcus had already moved out. It was 1982. We planned to get married that next year when we could afford our own place and a decent wedding.

  Neecy took Little Jay out into the living room that night where she and my mom finally got him to stop crying. I felt relieved that he was quiet again, but I felt kind of useless too. It didn’t seem like anything I did was right. Little Jay never stopped crying for me. I was thinking that maybe my son didn’t like me, and he just wanted his mom and his grandmother, you know, that motherhood bonding thing.

  When Neecy got back in bed, I asked her, “How come he don’t stop crying for me?”

  She took another deep breath and sighed. I could tell she was getting tired of my whining. But what the hell, I was going out of my mind! I just wasn’t prepared for a kid.

  Neecy said, “You just have to be more patient with him. He would stop crying for you. You just have to stop getting so excited about everything.”

  That was easier said than done. Getting excited was how I lived. I was always hyper. It was in my genes, I guess. So how the hell was I supposed to be calm and deal with a kid? That shit seemed impossible. I started thinking that maybe I would be more useful once the boy got older and started walking and talking.

  That night was the beginning of the end for me. My concentration was already shot from not getting a chance to go to a Division 1 college and run ball. Then I had a baby to deal with. I started smoking weed and hanging out with the GDs to get away from all of the stress. Then I just stopped coming home altogether, afraid of my own family, like a big punk.

  My little brother, Juan, said, “I wouldn’t even worry about it. It’s not like Mom ain’t there to help out. So don’t even sweat it, man. Mom ain’t gon’ let nothing happen to him.”

  What the hell was I doing listening to him? It was a good thing Juan never had any kids, but many brothers who thought just like him were. And we grew up in the same household, with our father. The saddest thing about it was that the comment made sense to me at the time. Let Neecy and my mom raise the boy. They knew more about babies anyway. They were mothers.

  That was fifteen years ago. So of course, I haven’t always been around my son, and I couldn’t really argue if Neecy decided to bitch about me wanting to spend a day or two with him after so many years of not being there for him. But he was still my son, so she couldn’t really stop me from seeing him either. It wasn’t as if I was an abusive father to him or anything.

  I remember she used to complain all the time when I did get him. She said I was taking Little Jay to all of the wrong places. It wasn’t like I was trying to, I just knew all the wrong people everywhere I went. Being a part of a
gang family and spending time in prison will do that for you. But now it’s different, since she moved him out to Oak Park. Little Jay is old enough not to be influenced by my gang affiliation anyway. Or at least I hope he is. He doesn’t need to be involved in that shit no more than I needed to be. Just to be on the safe side, though, Neecy made me promise to stay in her neighborhood with him. Ain’t that some shit? I felt like I was on probation again.

  Not only did I promise to stay in Oak Park, I also agreed to meet my son at the playground instead of at their house. I hope Neecy didn’t think that I would rob her or something stupid like that. I stopped that dumb stuff a long time ago. I didn’t want to get into an argument about it though, so I just told her that I’d meet him at the playground.

  I got to the playground at quarter to eleven. It was still nice and cool outside before the summertime heat kicked in. I was supposed to meet my son closer to ten, but I got off to a late start. He was already there at the playground when I arrived, and he was shooting foul shots.

  I watched him make four consecutive shots from the foul line before I let him know I was there. It was just him and the basket, and some smaller kids at the other end of the court. Since it was Oak Park, most of them were white kids.

  “I guess you can coach Shaq, now,” I said to my son. “You want me to call up the Lakers for you?”

  He turned, noticed me, and smiled. Little Jay never talked much. He was more of a watcher, one of those kids who takes everything in. He definitely had my size, but he looked more like his mother in the face. I always had a serious, rugged look about me. Little Jay looked more like a black man’s model for tall men in elegant suits. The advertisers would love him!

  I grabbed the ball from him and shot around. I was so out of shape, it felt like I was playing in water. I looked like Mr. Universe when I first got out of jail, but that was over eleven years ago.

  I hit the ground after a layup and felt like a giant sack of Jell-O. “Shit!”

  Little Jay just laughed at me. Then I went ahead and challenged him like a fool.

  “What, you think you got something for me, partner? Come on and show me then.”

  My son looked at me, embarrassed. He didn’t have to say it, it was obvious. He was thinking, Go on home, old man. Go on home. That only made me more persistent.

  “Check me the ball at the line,” I told him and walked to the foul line. I tossed off the Chicago Bulls baseball cap I was wearing.

  Little Jay shook his head and started to laugh again.

  I said, “Come on now, give me the damn ball.”

  By that time, the youngsters at the other end of the court had stopped shooting to pay attention to us. They had all seen my son play before, but I know they didn’t know who I was. They probably thought I was some crazy old man about to get his ankles and his pride broken. And they were right.

  My son finally checked me the ball, and I took off with my old high school moves. It must have looked like I was in slow motion. Little Jay smacked the ball out of my hand before I could even get the shot above my head. Those youngsters broke out laughing. That should have been enough to make me quit, but I convinced myself to keep going, like a kamikaze pilot.

  “All right. Good one. Now check me again,” I told him. “It ain’t over wit’ yet. We just gettin’ started.”

  When he checked me the ball at the line again, I backed up and tried a jump shot. Little Jay got just enough of it to turn the shot into an air ball. Then he grabbed it before it bounced out of bounds and casually reverse dunked it.

  “Whooo-weee! Do that one again, man!” Those youngsters were enjoying that early morning show like it was the Harlem Globetrotters. I liked my son’s reverse dunk myself.

  “Okay, let’s see what kind of moves you got,” I said with a grin. It was pretty clear that I wouldn’t have anything for him. At least not before I spent a couple of months working on my game and endurance. So I figured I might as well play my role in the clown show.

  I checked my son the ball, and Little Jay took a quick step to the basket, put on the brakes, and shot the ball in my face, while I stumbled backwards over my own feet. If I didn’t have any basketball skills of my own, I would have fallen flat on my ass.

  “Good one,” I told him.

  One of our little spectators shook his head and said, “You better quit while you’re ahead.”

  I said, “I ain’t ahead yet,” and kept on playing.

  After a while, I tried to use my weight advantage and experience to back my son down under the basket. It worked a couple of times, but then he started to back off and wait for me to shoot. I gave him a couple of head fakes, but that didn’t work either. He ended swatting my shots around like we were playing volleyball.

  “That’s enough, man,” he told me. “I got a game to play later on.” He held the ball away from me as if I were a child.

  I gave up trying to get it from him and asked, “Oh yeah? Where is this game at?”

  “At the rec. center out here,” he answered.

  I was already drenched with sweat, and we had only played for about ten minutes. I should have brought an extra pair of shorts and a T-shirt with me, especially since I knew we’d be meeting at the playground that morning. It was an easy guess that we’d end up running some ball. I had already fantasized about it after seeing Little Jay play a couple of his junior high school games. Those younger kids in junior high couldn’t stop him from scoring. He told me that he averaged 33 points a game, and I believed him! He scored 38 and 32 points in the two games that I saw. Little Jay was more than ready for high school. And I mean varsity! He would be enrolling in his freshman year of high school in September.

  My son continued to hold the ball and began to walk off the court. “Where are you going?” I asked him.

  He said, “I’m going home to change. And I’m thirsty.”

  I didn’t know what to say at first. I was wondering if he knew about his mother not wanting me over at the house. I figured we’d sit down on the benches and shoot the breeze, father and son. I didn’t know exactly what to talk about with him, but girls would have been a pretty good start. Whenever a young man plays any kind of sport well, he’s going to attract the attention of big butts in tight skirts, especially with Little Jay’s choirboy looks. He was the kind of quiet, good boy that girls could take home to their fathers.

  Fathers never liked me. I don’t know if Neecy’s father, Antonio, would have liked me either. Her father died in a car accident before I met her in high school. It was a case of drunk driving, so Neecy made sure that I never mixed the two. She showed me plenty of pictures of her father. Come to think of it, that’s exactly who Little Jay looked like. It’s sad, but my son hadn’t gotten a chance to meet either one of his grandfathers. By the time he was born, my dad was dead too. It must be some kind of epidemic going on with black fatherhood in this country. A lot of us are just not making it, and for a lot of different reasons. You have death, jail, no jobs, scared brothers who run away like I did, and then you have some mothers who don’t even want the fathers involved. I knew of a couple of guys like that myself. It was a good thing Denise wasn’t like that.

  I started daydreaming about the good old days of hanging out with my old man. I used to love seeing his rugged brown face up in the stands at my games, even when he wasn’t all that healthy sometimes. He was my father, and I respected him. I loved him. Little Jay snapped me out of my daydream by passing me the ball. I guess it was time for me to develop some good old days with my own son.

  “Hey, Jimmy, is that your father, man?” one of those youngsters asked him. The kid was speaking kind of low, but young, rowdy kids have never been good at whispering.

  I felt kind of awkward about Little Jay’s answer. My heart skipped a beat. I was actually nervous about it. What would Little Jay say, and how did he really feel about me? I hadn’t been around him as much as I should have been. I don’t think I would have responded that great if my father had been in and out fo
r years.

  Little Jay smiled that easy smile of his and said, “Yeah.”

  I was relieved. Big time! I got myself together and followed my son off the court. His good answer got me new respect from those youngsters who had been laughing at me. All of a sudden, they were looking at me in awe, as if they wanted autographs or something. I looked back at them and spun the basketball on my index finger. I said, “I used to be good, too, when I was his age.” Those youngsters even looked like they believed me.

  Neecy lived just three blocks from the playground. I didn’t say much on the way, I was just checking out the sights. Little Jay had it good, and I’m damn sure certain that he knew it! Oak Park had the green grass and the healthy trees that all neighborhoods should have. Black families had just started moving out there not too long ago. That’s when the whites usually begin to move out. I was wondering if the white neighbors were ready to call the police and report us as two suspicious-looking black men in shorts with a basketball. I still had a guilty conscience to deal with over my previous lifestyle. That guilty conscience was something I had been working on. It’s harder to get out of a mental jail than it ever will be to get out physically. That’s why so many guys go right back in once they’re released. They’ve been conditioned to feeling guilty, and a guilty conscience will lead to guilty actions every time.

  I said, “So what do you think about your new neighborhood?”

  Little Jay smiled and said, “I like it.”

  “What about your little brother? I bet he likes it, too,” I assumed. His father didn’t come from the West Side like Neecy and I did, so Walter III was probably used to seeing the good life. I heard his daddy grew up in North Illinois somewhere. People have plenty of money and land up on that northern end, or at least from what I’ve heard, because I’ve never been there to see it for myself. I even wondered if Neecy had ever been up that way.