One morning in the recent past I called my mother to discuss a trifling friend of the family, who expects endless praise for doing the bare minimum required of a responsible adult. My mom usually answers the house phone, which has had the same number for more than 40 years, but this time my father picked up.
“Hey, Keeb,” he said, sounding uncharacteristically flat.
“What’s wrong, Baba?” I asked immediately, because sadness alarms me.
“Your mother dropped a stitch.”
“Your mother dropped a stitch in the scarf she’s knitting, and now it’s messed up. She’s frustrated.”
At this point I should tell you that my mother was going through a knitting phase but had missed several classes. Just as she believed she could use an electric handsaw with no training, perform amateur surgery on her own feet and stay on a rowing machine for 45 minutes straight, she thought the tricolored scarf she was making would be a masterpiece due to her sheer will.
But when she howled about the injustice of her dropped stitch, the man she married in 1972 offered his sincerest sympathy without blinking.
When people ask me how the hell my parents—two independent, willful, creative, passionate Capricorns—have stayed in love for all this time, I think about that dropped stitch. It may sound silly, but a Black man showing genuine concern about his woman’s crafts is a specific way of saying, “I love this woman so much that her disappointments, big or small, are automatically mine,” and he’s secure enough in his manhood to do so.
In turn, my eternally busy, sharp-tongued Black feminist mom goes tender when she brags about her “Sweet Sol.”
“Your father is a good Black man,” she is prone to declaring when he does something like heading right back to the supermarket without complaint because she forgot the ginger yet again. “He is such a sweetie!” she adds, always sounding like this is a new revelation.
When I’m personally mourning the hijinks of some still-working-it-out man I’m attempting to get close to, I like to think of how my parents’ Black love story started. It began in the early ’70s, when my mom, Rochelle, and her girlfriend were driving from Philadelphia to Cheyney Univeristy My father, James, also a Cheyney student, was hitchhiking, and they picked him up. Rochelle gently teased the clean-cut, serious-acting, fresh-out-the-Army stranger about his shyness. When her romantic trolling didn’t work, she told him she needed help changing a tire after school. Poor nondriving James spent the entire day learning how to do this, but Rochelle didn’t show up. “Your mom was just young,” he says today with mock frustration.
Months later, they saw each other at a party. James was “looking wild,” says Rochelle, with a lumpy ’fro and unkempt beard, clad in straight-legs when everybody else was wearing bell-bottoms.
Despite my mother’s tire stunt, the two connected over their budding Black Nationalism. She invited James to the community day care center where she was volunteering. This time he didn’t show up, thus becoming “just another trifling brother running revolutionary game.”
They would again cross paths at a mutual friend’s house, and they haven’t parted ways ever since—through the early deaths of his mom and her dad, my father’s loss of his veteran’s benefits because he cursed out a racist teacher, his stretch of unemployment, her crazy baby brother living with them, their bills, the unequal division of housework and the raising of two high-strung writer daughters (me, the baby, and my brilliant big sis, Asali).
Invariably, well-meaning friends and confused flames have called us the Black Nationalist Huxtables (before the Cosby debacle, of course).
I point out that Cliff and Clair never cursed at one another as if they were in the street. Clair didn’t “keep a file” about Cliff’s “crazy acting” to throw passive-aggressive shade. Cliff didn’t have to keep two young daughters calm when Clair nearly died of a freak strep infection that doctors could not figure out. He didn’t help her handle the deaths of her beloved mom, younger sister, twin brother and baby brother in three terrible years. Clair didn’t secretly reach out to Cliff’s unknown family on his dad’s side, resulting in a lasting reunion. No fictional family could ever rival my real-life parents’ ride for one another.
My mama and baba share everything—lots of laughs, growth, crises and very hard, consistent work toward the liberation of Black people.
Both have tendencies that less realistic people might consider deal breakers. Rochelle gets smart in the mouth and gets tough about things she cannot fix. James can be moody and silent and seal himself off for hours in his home studio chanting down carnage with the soul songs he writes. But Team Solomon is bigger than their quirks. For more than 40 years and counting, when one drops a stitch, the other is always there to pick it up.