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Learning to be Communal…R.I.P Pop

September 21, 2009

Father & son in Fort Greene Park

Father & Son



There are a great deal of lessons to be learned in the big city, with a curriculum so vast and teachers of varying degrees, it’s a given that a lot of these lessons will not be learned at home. Ideally though, the most important lessons will be learned at home particularly when it comes to core values. This is the case with me when learning about not only thinking communal but being communal.


Growing up in the 80’s, there were a lot more single parent homes than in previous generations. Even in the cases of single parentage in earlier generations, it was usually supplemented by a strong extended family unit consisting of the grandmother, grandfather, uncles and aunts. But in the 80’s these type of family situations were waning and the ones that did exist no longer had the stability of previous eras ( For reasons I won’t get into here but if you were in NYC during this period you can take a guess).


The nuclear family unit becoming a rarity in Mayor Koch era NYC was not on the mind of a seven year old Brooklyn boy nor was being the offspring of a rare breed given a thought. This kid’s favorite pastime, like many before him, for all of the seven years he’d been on this big blue marble was to spend time with his father.


It was one of those clear sunny autumn days. You know the kind of day when you look out your window and it looks like it could be eighty degrees? It was one of those days except it was actually 45 or 50. Father and son are walking in tow down Dekalb Avenue headed to Fort Greene Park. It was a familiar stretch for the two, not an uncommon sight to see the pair with a ball, glove and baseball bat, basketball, tennis racket or football on their way to the park. Today it was football, for the son this was to be a special day. He was planning to show “Pop” how he perfected some of the routes plus other tips passed on in previous outings throwing around the football. It not only worked on classmates his age in school but the older kids too!


After some light stretching, the father crouches down in front of a dirt patch, grabs a stick and draws a line in the dirt:


Father: I want you to run this far and gimme a button hook


Son: Got it, no problem Pop!


Running at full speed, with the sound a speeding car going in his head (puh..YOOOOM!), he runs, cuts, and then stops at the drop of a dime, to turn around and see a crisply thrown pass coming above his head. He jumps arms extended. Got it!


Father: My boy! Good hands son, you’ve been practicing, huh?!


Son: We play at school and at the after-school program in the gym.


Father: Alright, this time I want you to run the same route but I’m going to throw the pass a lil different.


Sonny boy runs it to precision once again this time catching a spiraled bullet to the chest.


Father: Nice catch kid…you alright?


Son: Umph…Yeah Pop I’m cool.


The father then looks to his left to see a kid probably about 3 years older than his son staring at the two. He motions the kid over.


Father: Hey kid, what’s your name young man?


The kid’s name is Jimmy, the father then asks if he would like to run a few routes. Jimmy says he would, the father is now in front of the dirt patch giving Jimmy the same instructions previously given to his son. Jimmy runs about half of the distance the son ran then awkwardly turns around. A softly thrown lob headed his way it looked like an easy catch to the son. Got it…Nope Jimmy’s hands barely make contact with the pigskin. The father runs over to whisper some instructions to Jimmy before they do it 3 or 4 times when finally he catches the ball like he was holding a basket of laundry.


Father: Great job Jimbo! Way to go!


By this time four more kids had begun to watch, the father motioned them over as well. What began as father/son time was now instruction for any kid who came around and wanted it. In the sons mind, he now has to wait five times, sometimes more before he gets to get a pass from his father while also displaying what he’d been practicing. Strolling back up Dekalb, he silently pouts eagerly wanting to see his mommy, from daddy’s little man to mama’s boy in a matter of hours.


Of course at home the mother notices something wrong, gets right to the bottom of it then confronts the father. She tries to explain that the son just wanted it to be the two of them. The father will hear nothing of it.


Father: I can’t believe you and bk would be that selfish. He has me as a father all the time, 24-7; most of these kids don’t have that! Me, giving them time doesn’t take way from bk. He not only has me all the time but he’ll have me when he needs me most…most of these kids don’t and will NEVER have that!


The mother let it go but the son was dumbfounded. You mean all kids don’t have their fathers living with them? They don’t have anyone to pitch a ball around with? Since it was his job to protect mommy when his father wasn’t home, was it these kids job to protect mommy all the time?! How could he pout about sharing his father when his parents taught him to share, especially to others with less? These were the type of questions in the mind of a conflicted seven year old. Gradually the son was able to accept sharing his father, for it was a given that anytime they went out to do any sports together, other kids would come around. It was just one of the many ways the father has looked out for kids in the neighborhood. Now grown, many of the kids have never forgotten but still have to be corrected by the son when they state “Man, you had the coolest pops in the world!”  The reply by the son has remained the same over the years:


Son (bknesto): Yeah well you don’t have to live with him!!


The truth is I couldn’t imagine living without him.


Thanks for the jewels Pop!!


This was originally posted on February 9th, 2009.


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