“If you know anything about Trinidadians, you know that when they start blowing on their whistle, that is the height of ‘We are having a good time,’ ” explains Hayden Greene. The 45-year-old college administrator and photographer, whose family is from Trinidad, is all too familiar with the jubilant energy that ensues once the sound of whistles ring in the air. So when he noticed his 35-year-old American-born wife Aisha Greene on a boat cruise fundraiser for Greek organizations pull out a whistle when calypso music came on, he knew she was special.
“I’m like, ‘you are not Caribbean, how do you know about this?’ ” asked Hayden, a member of Phi Beta Sigma. Aisha grew up in Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, known for its large Caribbean community. She told him she considers herself Caribbean by association when Hayden asked her about the whistle. “I was like, ‘I think I love you.’ I said that immediately to her.”
It took Aisha, who at the time was a summer associate at a law firm on Wall Street, a little longer to warm up to Hayden that evening. “I was in the mental state where I didn’t want to talk to men who were strangers. I wanted someone who was vetted by somebody. I didn’t want to deal with it,” clarifies Aisha. It didn’t help that her first impression of Hayden wasn’t favorable. “I see this obnoxious guy who looks like he knows everyone. He is the star of the boat and it happens to be Hayden,” Aisha recalls, laughing.
Hayden points out, “She is pretty correct about being the star of the boat. At that point in my Sigma career, I was a well-known member.” He knew everyone on the boat except for Aisha.
“I was like who is that? I’m gonna dance with her,” says Hayden. Aisha didn’t want to dance, but Hayden was very persistent. When he cracked a joke about a couple unaffiliated with any of the Greek organizations celebrating their wedding reception at the fundraiser, Aisha couldn’t help but laugh. “He made me feel like I was a special person on that boat. Even though he knew other people, he was focused on getting to know me. It was very nice and refreshing,” says Aisha. “Laughter is the way to get to me.”
Hayden tried to give her his number, but Aisha told him she would not call. He took her number instead. Although their 10-year age gap wasn’t an issue for either of them, Hayden and Aisha both agree they never thought they would have ever dated. “Aisha had a youthful asset. I thought she was very young but then she told me what she was up to. She was in law school. I thought she was cute, smart and she had a whistle. She intrigued me. Like the donkey in Shrek would say, she was like a parfait. There were layers to her.”
“I also thought I needed somebody who was around my age,” Aisha says. “I never thought I would date or marry a man 10 years older than me. That never seemed possible. What would we have in common?”
On their first date, Hayden took Aisha to a poetry reading. “It was a weird, quirky place and she wasn’t turned off by it. I thought, ‘she can roll with the punches,’ and I was impressed by it,” shares Hayden.
What he didn’t tell Aisha was that he was performing that night. “At the time, he was popular in the spoken word scene as well. He was hosting and performing. That night he performed and really won me over,” reveals Aisha. Hayden performed a poem called “Remote.”
“It is a poem about this guy and girl lying in bed. The guy asks for a favor and the girl asks him, ‘what will you do for me?’ The guy goes into a long story about all these grandiose gestures that he is gonna make to her. He wants to give her the world and to move mountains. The girl looks at him and says, ‘Honey, all that I really wanted was the remote.’ He says, ‘no.’ ”
“It was a clever poem. I thought he had some depth to him. It made me get to know him ’cause it was his realm and his platform to see him perform,” says Aisha.
Hayden is more artistic and easygoing, while Aisha is “structured and very much a planner.” Hayden says he brings Aisha down when she is too stressed. “I remind her that things will work itself out,” says Hayden. His social butterfly personality—which irked Aisha when they first met on the boat—proved to be a skill she needed to master to help her with her law career.
“I graduated, took the bar, and started working at a firm,” she says. “Networking is very important. Hayden is social and I’m antisocial social. When I see my friends, I’m gonna go in the corner and hang out with them. Hayden is a ‘burst through the door, everybody notice me and everybody play with me.’ He made me realize the importance of expanding your network.”
They were different, but they both agree that they share a wry sense of humor. They started dating after their first night out together. At the time, Aisha was in law school in Philadelphia. She went back to school the week after they met.
“Her schedule was kind of bananas. She would be in the city with me from Wednesday evening to Monday morning, and then go to class in the afternoon. She was in the city the majority of the week, so it wasn’t really a long distance relationship,” says Hayden. They were falling in love, but some of her family members and his fraternity brothers were troubled by their significant age difference.
“My mom wondered what a thirtysomething year old man would see in a 23-year-old. She didn’t get it.” But when her mom met Hayden, she loved him. Her grandmother got to know Hayden too. When she graduated from law school, her grandmother told her Hayden was the man she was going to marry. “Her grandmother pulled me aside and sat me down. She told me I was the man she prayed for her granddaughter. You know when you meet the family and you put on the best possible you to impress them? I never did that. I always felt I could be myself around her family,” shares Hayden.
His fraternity brothers have always known Aisha because her aunts were also part of Greek life. They always considered her like a little sister. When they learned Hayden was dating their little sister, they weren’t too pleased. “They wanted to make sure I would do right by her and not mess up,” says Hayden. “I felt no pressure because I had no intentions [of] doing wrong by her. My intentions were honorable. I liked her a lot,” says Hayden, whose first marriage ended in divorce.
After dating for two years, Hayden proposed during a game of Cranium with friends. He made sure they were on the same team. “That is a no-no in our circle ’cause it’s unfair advantage,” says Hayden. ”We’re unstoppable,” laughs Aisha. “I waited patiently for my turn. I made a big circle with the clay and she guessed ring. I stuck another piece of clay on top of the circle. She guessed engagement ring. I pulled the ring out of my pocket and ask her if she would marry me. She started crying; she climbed over the couch, ran away and blew her whistle at me. The whistle is ever present,” says Hayden.
Eventually she said yes and Hayden’s friends brought out balloons.
They got married on a brutally hot July 16, 2006. The wedding theme was their favorite things. There was a Prince table and a humor table with jokes scattered around.
For Aisha, watching Hayden interact with his godson, best friends and family let her know this was the man for her. “I wanted someone who believed in family, and I also wanted someone who worked hard. When we started dating, we had bumps in the road. He always put in the work to make things better. I knew it had to be the work that made a marriage last.” When she was 7 months old, her father said he wasn’t ready to be father. Aisha was raised by a single mom, aunts and an extended family who doted on her and supported her. “I have an appreciation for a family unit of strong adults supporting each other in marriage. I wanted that kind relationship,” says Aisha.
Hayden had a similar background. He grew up with a single mother and an absent father. Hayden says love alone wasn’t enough to keep his parents together. “I recognized that there is so much more that goes into marriage. It takes work to make it happen. The man I am today is the antithesis of how my father was growing up. I wanted to show him how great a father I can be,” says Hayden.
Three years after getting married, their oldest daughter Clarke Maya (5) was born, and then came Haiden Camille (18 months). Becoming parents would change the dynamic of their relationship. Juggling work and her new role as a mom proved to be a lot trickier than Aisha anticipated. “I was miserable. I was under a lot of stress and I took it out on Hayden. I wasn’t feeling good because of the hours I worked and how much I was away from my child.”
The best and worst part of their personalities came out during this learning period. Aisha, the ultimate planner, needed to feel in control but wasn’t. “Hayden was the calm one who wasn’t moving fast enough for me, and I was moving too fast for him,” says Aisha.
Hayden and Aisha were determined to make it work.
“I started to see friends’ marriages dissolve. I didn’t want that to happen to us. We actively found ways to remind each other we are a couple. We would have date night on Tuesdays. We travelled a lot. Our kids are important but our relationship is important as well,” says Hayden. They shared a marriage journal where they wrote notes to each other. They also started a blog, ThatsGreeneWithAnE.com, documenting their adventures in marriage and parenting. Both outlets are still therapeutic for the couple.
“If you’re gonna write about something, it means you have to stop and think about it,” explains Hayden. “Sometimes in a relationship you are on autopilot, going throw the motions. Writing a blog helps you have that thought process and analyze what has happened.”
“Reading Hayden’s perspective on his family and his love for us is like a love letter,” says Aisha, who’s also quick to point out that their relationship isn’t flawless. “We break down that mysticism of perfection on the blog. We make it clear that our relationship is not perfect. We don’t always agree about everything or how we raise our children,” says Aisha.
Hayden and Aisha love coming up with news ways to engage their daughters. “We try to expose our kids to culture everywhere in New York. We are always out with our kids doing stuff,” says Aisha. Both of their daughters left the country before they were a year old. They took them to the recent Million Person March. “We explained to them what was happening and why people were protesting. They were right there alongside us,” says Hayden. “Having a strong family unit is all Aisha and I ever wanted. Together, we are able to work hard to realize our dreams.”
The Coolest Black Family in America is an EBONY.com original series: an ongoing look at the intricacies, layers and compelling beauty of African-American family life. Of course, The Coolest Black Family is not one family but many. In fact, we’ve found that there are as many Coolest Black Families as there are versions of cool. Also consider: family doesn't always mean mother + father + kids. What defines family is connected hearts and supported souls. Ride with us weekly as we crisscross the country in search of kinfolk whose cool is so palpable and real, it comes second only to their love. Think your cool fam qualifies? Email us at email@example.com (with Coolest Black Family in the subject line)!
Alexandra Phanor-Faury is a Haitian-American writer living in Brooklyn, New York with a slight (OK, major) addiction to fashion and pop culture. When she's not up in the middle of the night filling her online shopping carts and catching up on style blogs, she's writing about fashion and entertainment for a number of websites and magazines. Check out her work and blog at AlexandraPhanor.com.