Should I Invite You to My Graduation?

By Steven Turner-Parker

For a second, the car was completely quiet. We were heading back to UMass, swerving on those darkly-lit backroads, when I thought to myself, “wow, this is the first time my dad has ever done anything for me.”

It was a surreal moment that I never thought would happen. But as that realization hit, I found myself shedding a few tears in the front seat, thinking about how my biological father was actually being a dad for once.

This moment didn’t just fall into my hands magically. I actually worked on reconnecting with my father’s side of my family for awhile. But it all started with my intention of never seeing his face again. He hadn’t been there for me growing up and I had no reason to include him in life. Or so I thought…

It wasn’t until I heard Hov (better known as Jay-Z) talk about his situation with his dad, that I started to rethink my own relationship with my father. In his short documentary, “Footnotes of ‘Adnis’,” inspired by his 2017 album 4:44, Hov said:

“What happened to you…what happened? I start thinking about [when] my uncle got killed it put my dad in this weird place. He went through depression and he started to use drugs and it became this slippery slope. He couldn’t face his children at some point. It wasn’t that he was leaving, it was ‘ooh I’m embarrassed now, I’m not even myself anymore.’ And that was [our] separation.”

In his words, Hov was saying that your parents are people too. They make mistakes, faces challenges and fall into situations that affect not only their relationship with their child, but with life in general. It was a message that resonated with me.

The last couple of years I’ve begun to forgive my father for not being there for me when I needed him the most. Now, as I get closer to the next chapter of my life, I do want to build some kind of father-son relationship with him. But since he’s just now coming back into my world, does that mean he gets to come to my college graduation?  

It’s a question I find myself asking more and more as the days pass and the end of my undergraduate career approaches. I’m just not sure whether I can let him in fully.

Should I let him be a part of my greatest achievement when he wasn’t there to watch my back during my toughest times: dealing with gangs, friends dying around me, navigating a drug infested community filled with too many bad influences and stray bullets with no names. All of those experiences I survived without him.

He wasn’t there for the bad parts but he certainly wasn’t there for the good moments either. I remember the smell of the fresh hardwood floor on the basketball court, wiping the sweat out of my eyes while I watched other fathers giving their sons love for having a great game. I sat with a few kids on a cold silver bleacher near the sideline, thinking about what it would be like to have those moments with my dad.

But I was lucky enough to have an amazing mother who would go to the moon and back just to see me be successful. I was privileged in that way, because some of the other kids on that bleacher didn’t even have that much. But, in my heart, I still wanted my dad to be there.

Now, sitting in the car staring up at the stars as they light up the black western Massachusetts sky, I suddenly heard Vybz Kartel come out the stereo. I looked back at my dad with my eyebrows high and a smirk saying, “Steve, this is the music you be listening to?” He smiled back and replied,“Yea this what I would listen to!”

This surprised me for two reasons: the first being that Vybz Kartel’s music is usually played by younger people at parties or during the ride to the party, so I genuinely wasn’t expecting my dad to be listening to him.

The second reason was that music, specifically hip hop and dancehall, have had a huge influence on me. Making the connection that my dad and I had similar taste in music was a big deal. It made me start to think if we had other things in common that might explain why I act the way I do.

It’s a thought that honestly scares me—just knowing that I have links to my identity connected to my father without even knowing it until now. I grew up feeling so much resentment towards this man that I honestly thought it would last forever. But, having him around the past three years, I find myself going back to being that kid on the bleacher hoping for a relationship with my father again.

Pulling into the Southwest horseshoe, looking up at the towers, my mind was racing about what I should say to him as I got out of the car and entered into a whole different reality from the one back home. I stepped out with a heavy heart and my body fueled with all types of burning emotions that I had to come to grips with in seconds.

All those years of hate I had for him slowly faded away by the end of that car ride. Instead, when I looked him in the eyes as we said our goodbyes and reached out for a handshake, I simply said: “thank you, Steve, for coming all this way.”

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