Before 2013, I had only seen my father about three times.
In the 1970s, my 19-year-old dad did not pay child support and was not a part of my life. Plus, my mother, who had me at 15, did not believe it was his duty to take care of me. She placed all the responsibility on herself, and there wasn’t too much talk of him.
When I did ask questions, I learned he was kind, funny and a lover of music, but that was not enough. I still felt a gap.
To fill it, I would make up stories about my father. I would tell my friends he owned a pickle factory in Los Angeles, because I thought that was odd enough to believe. I also started dating girls with dope fathers, listening to prominent figures such as The Hon. Minister Louis Farrakhan and dabbling in gangs.
Fortunately, I had a knack for rap, and I entered the music industry instead. Throughout my career, I penned Grammy and Oscar award-winning records for my fellow Chicagoans Kanye West and Common. But I eventually wondered, ‘Why am I not put on the same platform as my peers?’
I traced it directly to the involvement of their parents, who were active in their lives and communities. I did not have the same upbringing. It was a moment of clarity I reached when I found my father two years ago at age 35.
It began after my wife, Donnie, and I bought my dad’s childhood home. My wife believed the property was my rightful inheritance—something that was owed to me since my pop was never around. But after moving in, I felt emptier than ever and began to inquire about him more. Finally, Donnie encouraged me to track him down.
I started with my mother. She gave me his brother’s phone number, and his brother led me to a family friend, who revealed my father had been living on the streets for 30 years. I felt terrible.
After confirming his whereabouts, I drove to the library he frequented and saw him for the first time since I was a child.
When I arrived, he recognized me, hugging me and tearfully bragging about my success to everyone he passed.
I felt indifferent, because I did not know if I would like him. I did not even know what to call him—“Brian,” his first name, or “Dad.”
After spending time with him over the course of several visits, I discovered why my father was homeless. The physical and mental abuse he endured from his own dad fueled his alcoholism, which impeded his ability to function.
As his only child, I wanted to help him. It was my mission to get him out of the hole, so I got him an apartment and signed him up for an outreach program that helps disadvantaged citizens get their GEDs and jobs.
Although he can no longer work due to a hip disability, and his drinking habit is a disease I have learned to accept, our relationship has grown. It is similar to the characters in Sanford and Son. We love to play chess, Connect Four and cards, but the reunion has also forced me to examine the bond I share with my three kids, who were all birthed by different women before I married Donnie.
All the things I felt I missed from my dad were the same things I hadn’t been giving my children.They should not just have my presence, but they should also have my knowledge and everything that I have to offer. I am flawed, but I am trying. I’m learning and relearning how to give them what they deserve.
Those are just some of the reasons I am happy I reconnected with my father. Before, I was overweight, stressed and lost. Now that I have this completion, it has taken a lot of pressure off. I know where I come from, and I have a confidence about where I’m headed.
When people ask for advice about searching for a loved one, I tell them, “Do it!” But forgive first, be detached and prepared for whatever is going to happen. Move forward with love and compassion.
Catch “In My Father’s House” in select theaters, and pick up the November issue of EBONY on shelves soon.