You are close to arriving and I cannot wait to see your face. We have been ordering furniture, buying clothes, and waiting. Your mother has done a great job in your growth, making sure you are healthy and… waiting. To make extra money, I am taking bets on what the day will be. The over/under is December 6th, it is good to have some friends that are gambling addicts during these times. Your birthday is getting close; you will be here by Christmas. It will be funny because I know you will be surrounded by gifts from us and have no idea what is going on. I have had some special Christmas’ but I already know this one will trump them all.
People thought I wanted a daughter, including your mother. When we went to the first ultrasound and found out you were a boy, I was happy. Most men want the opportunity to raise a man, me especially. Not having my father in my life growing up, I am aware of how difficult it is for a boy to navigate life without his pops around. Not only am I committed to being in your life, I am committed to you only knowing your parents as a married couple. You will know the importance of family and I hope you make it one of your values.
You will hear at some point that I wanted a daughter; I wanted a healthy child most importantly. My only hesitance to having a boy is that there are some things I am pretty sure of about you. I am 6’4”, your mother is 5’11” you will be tall. I am Black, your mother is Black you will be Black. You will be a very tall, big, Black man. It is not easy being Black in this country, it is difficult being a Black man, and it is extremely difficult being a big Black man.
People will point to President Obama as an example of what a Black man can now do. Though I see how much President Obama stops himself from doing, because he is aware of what he cannot say as a Black man. He is aware of the ‘game’ and playing it well. He has not said a word against or towards any conservative women; he knows there will be some misguided backlash if he did. He has operated in professional environments for years, he knows how to navigate. He is at times applauded for or accused of being the ‘smartest guy in the room’; he is in a different place than just that. He is the ‘only brother in the largest room in the world’ and if he does not play it right he will be the last one.
I want you to have understanding of the struggles of all people. Being a minority in America is a challenge. The stereotypes, the misconceptions, and the unwillingness of this country to take time to learn anything about the people who makes up this nation. Men of all races have challenges; women of all races have battles they have fought for as long as Black people have fighting for our rights. I do not want to know what it is like to be an American of Middle-Eastern heritage while trying to fly and what they must sense from people. I have no desire to hear the things that must be said to our Latino brothers and sisters in the South, practically in border states and towns. I have no want to be in a White man’s place if he gets lost in some rough neighborhoods where people that look like him are usually in uniform and considered the enemy.
Your challenges will be different from most others in America. It will be easier for people to accept you if you use your size towards athletics. I will sign you up for all the usual youth sports, not because I want you in the NBA or NFL one day but because the opportunity to play with others will teach how to be a part of a team. Being on a team will give you an understanding of how important it is to do your task and that shared success is much more fulfilling than personal success.
Hopefully you respect everyone’s struggle. Please be sensitive to the struggles of our Black sisters, brothers have not been helpful and our women have had to carry a lot of the weight in our communities. Much of the reason these women have to fight everyday is exactly why I am committed to you. Your grandmother, my mom, never tried to play the role of my father she was just my mother and provided so well for me. She raised me well, well enough to know how to be a father although I never saw a good example of one. Your grandmother died 10 years ago, when I found out we were having you… I cried. My tears were because you would never know my mother and she would never see her grandson. You need to know that your grandmother Gloria Jean Johnson-Harris was an amazing and talented woman.
Your grandmother was offered a recording contract at the age of 10, sewed all of her own clothes since she was 12, was an artist. So good of an artist that she received a full scholarship to Ball State University for art. Your grandmother sacrificed for her family. Her mother, her father, her sister, four brothers, your aunt, and most of all me, her sacrifice was those talents I just shared with you. When she was six-years-old her father was dying. On Christmas morning 1955, her mother woke her up with these words “I need you to help me with the gifts”. Your grandmother being only six of course wondered “gifts? What about Santa?”
“There is no Santa Clause. Don’t tell your brothers and sister”, with those words your grandmother’s childhood ended. She raised her brothers and sister. Nursed her dying father and watched him die while her sister and brothers played. She cleaned and cooked after school, made clothes for everyone, watched two brothers die, because she was needed at home her mother rejected the recording contract, she finally escaped by going to college. Her mother became sick her sophomore year at Ball State, of course your grandmother dropped out of college to nurse her back to health. She met your grandfather, my dad, married him, had me. He left us in Huntsville, Alabama when I was four-years-old and she had to return to Gary, Indiana with me. She later gave birth to your aunt Kianna, who passed away as a baby. Your grandmother saw more hurt than anyone should know.
To pay bills she became a seamstress, in line with her talents, to get medical insurance for me she got a job in a steel mill, not in line with her talents. I hope it is not lost on you that a woman with the talents of your grandmother, simply put an artist, spent the rest of her life working in the dirt and grime of a Gary, Indiana steel mill so I could have the things she felt I needed to have. Which gave me a chance to provide for you, we will thank her for this one day when you come with me to clean the marble that marks her resting place.
One day, when I was in high school your grandmother looked at me sizing me up. As she had thought I would be, I was over six-feet-tall, with broad shoulders… I was a big man. She took that moment to tell me that I would have it tough sometimes. Because I was going to college and my careers would be based on my ability to think critically and not if I could work for long hours and lift lots of weight, she was happy I would never know a steel mill and aware my future challenges. Her words to me were “you are gonna have it tough. People will drawn to you because of your size, but hold misconceptions against you”.
My son, nobodies’ life is easy and yours will not be either. As it seemed we were moving forward as a nation it remains clear that the perception others have about people different from them still remains a hurdle. I work in an environment where I am one of two Black men in an academic institution holding a professional place. The other Black man gets treated a lot better than I do, people joke with him, go talk to him. Me, I barely get a hello and I am sure to greet everyone, because as a Black man you better show that you are friendly. The only difference between the two of us is, I am much taller and bigger. He is not threatening.
It is not a good feeling to know that you are being ignored. People will pretend to forget something so not to ride on the same elevator as you. Speak ‘around’ you, not include you, unless you go out of your way to show that you ‘okay’. It is not that important to me to put myself out there to make others feel comfortable with my presence. I do go out of my way to make sure new team members have what they need and know they can come to me with any help. I did not get the same welcome. You may be willing to open yourself up to take part in all activities, I actually hope you do. Last year I spoke with another Black man who is in the same field as me. He gave me insight to the challenges I was about to face, he like me a big guy. He said “Rob, unfortunately people see us as security guards. We have to always be on point.”
We wanted your name to be Biblical; there were two names that stood out, Isaiah and Noah. Personally, I feel comfortable with Noah for you. I hope you not only hear God but are obedient to his Word. Willing to save others, have the foresight to help people see when they are putting themselves in danger. Accept people for who they are and do what you can to make sure your fellow-man can live and prosper. You have already done the work of God, you have bought my father and I closer. Your grandfather wants to take part in your life, your grandmother never spoke ill of your grandfather she always said my relationship with him would be my own. I never knew either of my grandfathers; you will know at least one of yours.
I have read to you through your mother’s womb, only scripture. There is a list of books we will share and people I want you to know about. Fred Hampton, John Lennon, Ida B. Wells, Emmett Till, Bob Marley, Malcolm X and so many more. I want you to know about people who are welcoming of all people and fight for the betterment of people they do not know. You may become tired of me, wish you could just watch TV or talk to your friends. The moments you have wishing I would not talk to you again about what the OJ Simpson case revealed about this nation will be okay with me, you will at least know that I will always have time to listen to you.
Noah, it won’t be easy for you, although I wake up every day to make it easier for you. There will be times when you know I am hurting, feel my frustration. Please know, I do not want you to ever know my hurts and frustration. It is important for me to carry out a few things I have always wanted to do, while I am raising you. It is important for me to show you what it is possible for a Black man to do and not know what your race plus gender plus size excludes you from.
I am sorry that I cannot, at this moment, give you everything I would want for you to have. I am sorry I am not doing everything or exactly what I hoped I would be doing in life. I am sorry for being silly a little too much or telling the embarrassing joke. I am even sorry for not knowing how to swim so I can teach you myself. I am not sorry for being who I am and you should never apologize for who you are. I am Noah Harris’ father and that is pretty damn cool.
We will joke a lot, I hope for you to only know happiness, a lot more than I have. I want you to be so much better than me. It is not about what I feel you should do as a career, your grades, the school you pick, athletic potential. My measuring stick for you will be your happiness. I ask most people “how you feeling?” when I greet them, I will ask you “are you happy?”
On whatever day you arrive, you will not cry alone. I will be crying too. My tears will be out of absolute fear of letting you down, out of knowing your potential struggles, out of not being able to see you in your grandmother’s arm see her kiss you and count your toes. Mostly my tears will be out of happiness to have you in my life.