This year for Father’s Day, Very Smart Brothas is doing a series titled “A Song For My Father” where we asked a few writers we know to write pieces about songs they’d dedicate to their dads.
I get my love of jazz from my father.
As a kid, I would hear noise coming from the living room after I’d gone to bed. I was a light sleeper then, so the sound of trumpets and saxophones would keep me up well past my bedtime. I made a habit of sneaking out my room after my mother laid down for the night to sit with my father as he sipped on something brown.
One night, at the too young age of 7, he let me taste the liquid in his glass. To his amusement, I scrunched up my face and spit it out. I hated the taste, and that made him laugh. I never asked what it was that he sipped, but my best guess now was that it was bourbon. His breath was syrupy sweet and his words would get slurred the more he imbibed. I loved that time with him.
That night we listened to Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington—but the last thing we listened to was the Miles Davis Quintet’s “It Never Entered My Mind.”
He loved that man.
He went on and on about the person he called the ‘prince of darkness.’ He talked about the way Davis changed music; how he pushed jazz forward by not only playing what was smooth and pleasing to the ear, but also how he rebelled against what people expected jazz to be. I was too young to understand what he was saying—I was just happy to be with my dad.
I let the smooth and melancholic song wash over me while I laid with him on the couch. I never wanted that night to end. For me, it was the best of times.
He was arrested about a month later. He stole money from his place of employment.
Because of that offense, he would spend the next 12 years in and out of prison. He would be paroled, and then he would violate his parole because of his addiction to drugs and alcohol.
Our relationship suffered because of this.
I would get my hopes up every time he was released. I thought that, maybe, he would be out for good. That things would return to normal. Instead, that hope would turn into disappointment when he was sent back.
In middle school, he was sent back to prison for the longest stretch—3 years. By the time that happened, I was done. Fed up. I remained his son, but because of my anger and resentment, I never had a dad again.
He was finished serving his time in prison when I was a sophomore in high school, but it was too late. He tried to treat me like he’d done before he’d gone back to prison, but things had changed. I had changed.
I embraced the fact that I had became a statistic. That he had made me a statistic. To my mind, it was neither the white man nor the system—he had done this. And I hated him for it.
I know better now intellectually. I now see that he was caught up in a system that swallowed him whole. That the New Jim Crow is the culprit, and that I should forgive him. That things should be good.
But I cannot. I still hold resentment. I want to let it go—but I cannot.
I am the same age now as when he went away, and I am always caught off guard when I began to see him every time I looked in the mirror. I don’t have the brushed-back hair that he did, and I don’t have perfect, symmetrical gaps between my teeth like he had, but I cannot deny that I am my father’s son. I see him in my high cheekbones; my deep and intense eyes; my full lips; and…in the music I listen to.
Jazz is what connects me to him. I love R&B; I am an absolute hip hop head, and I have a deep and abiding fondness for reggae—but my love for jazz is unparalleled. It is my first love, and Miles Davis’s “It Never Entered My Mind” is one of my favorite songs because he introduced me to it that night when I was seven.
I may never forgive him, but the love I have for the music he introduced me to is something I will always cherish. It connects me to him…even though I wish it didn’t.