I Called Him Pop
There was a man who raised me and my sister. We called him Pop. He and my mother were together for 11 years, from the time I was in Kindergarten up until I started high school. To say he was a huge part of our lives would be an understatement. For 11 years, he was our life. It was my mom, my sister, me, and Pop. We were a family, all living under one roof and doing the things family do.
He coached my little league teams, as my Mom prevailed over the PTA as President. My mom would help me with my papers, Pop would help me with my math. My sister worked inside the house with my mom, I worked outside with Pop. He took me on construction sites with him, made me read everything from Calvin and Hobbes to Invisible Man. He would make fun of my fictional girlfriends (“Jozen’s girlfriend is so ugly band-aids won’t stick to her.”) I would make fun of his “old girlfriend” (couldn’t make fun of his current woman, that was my mom).
This is how it was for 11 years, but by the time those 11 years were coming to a close, I wanted nothing more than for him to just leave and never come back.
This past week, Pop and his family lost their mother, their matriarch, and a woman I grew up calling Grandma. Of course, due to these dire circumstances, I have to do something I have avoided doing for probably too many years. I have to call Pop, first to offer my condolences, but second, to tell him I hated him when he left, and I loved him ever since.
I wish I could say I cried the other night when I heard the news about Pop’s mother, but I didn’t. She was close to me, and one of the fondest memories I have is when her and I one day took the bus to the local mall so she could buy me this G.I. Joe toy from Toys ‘R Us. But just last night, as my Mom was just leaving the wake of the woman I called Grandma for 11 years, she texted me Pop’s number with a short message: “You can call him.”
I froze. I sat. I cried.
I cannot punch these keys hard enough to make anyone understand what this phone call will mean. This morning everything is okay, and really, for the most part I feel fine, but I know the minute I sit, phone in hand, and get ready to make this call, I’m probably going to be shaking, much like I used to whenever I had to explain to him why I didn’t know the answer to a particular math problem.
My Pop was a beast of a man. In my head, that’s how I remember him. Just a beast. He was loud, he was agressive, he got in fights. He wasn’t a thug or anything like that. He led the straight life, no alcohol, and only an ocassional cigarette. But man, he was just hardcore. That really is the only way to describe him. I grew up half in awe, and half in fear of him.
But I loved him completely for the longest time.
Anyone who has ever heard me tell stories about him knows how much of a role he played in my upbringing, how funny he was to me, and how hard he was on me. He was old school to the soul, a man who would always say to whatever music I was listening to, “You know that’s already been done before, right?” And he was always always talking to me about manhood and being a man, to the point where I don’t even think he wanted me to be a child.
I laugh about these memories now. They are the good ones. But for so many years, they were canceled out by the bad ones I have of him, specifically the way he treated my mother. I won’t divulge any details out of respect for her privacy, but let’s just say, I have every right in the world to hate him. He could have coached a little league game for my entire life, and I would have still hated him. As a matter of fact, even today, when I think about certain things that were said and done, I hate him all over again, as though he was doing or saying those things right in front of me at that very moment.
But two things I have learned:
The first is hate should not be absolute. Sometimes we think hate is some sort of resolution, but it’s not. Hate takes up room in our heart that love can have.
The second lesson is this: A man’s relationship with the men in his life matters just as much, if not more, than the relationship he has with the women in his life. I never ever had to learn how to love my mom and my sister, such an ability was born at the same moment I was, but I have learned how to love the men who have raised me (or didn’t raise me but were supposed to).
I saw the men who raised me literally learn how to love and how to lose. People can talk to me all they want about letting go of the past, and moving on, but it’s not that easy, not when the people who caused the most pain were the same people who raised me. My biological father left me when I was too young to remember him, and sure there’s some damage done, but not like my Pop. My Pop didn’t up and leave me after a couple of months, or a couple of years. ELEVEN YEARS! And when he left, he left a mess. He hurt the women I love most, and that shit stays with me.
This journey through bachelorhood is about more than learning how to navigate through the obstacle course that is a woman’s heart, it’s also about learning how to navigate my own. Some men don’t need to get over a woman, they need to get over a man who raised them wrong or not at all. Sometimes a man’s pain has nothing to do with a woman, and everything to do with a man. And sometimes, when I hear a woman talk to me about a man who broke their heart, I know exactly how they feel. Men have broken my heart too, and this weekend, I have to call one of them.