Daddy Lessons

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Photos by Taylor DeClue | Jackson Square/ French Quarter: The French Quarter is one of Louisianas most popular attractions . It is what some would say the heart and soul of New Orleans . There you will find everything from artists to lovers. I chose this particular location because it is close to my heart . Around every corner you will find Spanish architecture similar to that of Latin American countries and musicians filling the background with a cinema- type vibe. Denisio and Mwende both have the artistic qualities which link perfectly with this enviroment . For me being an Afro Latina, this place brings me joy because the slaves imported from Africa to places such as this is what created the true dynamics of this area. Combining Latin and African culture speaks to me and shines down every path you meet in the Quarters Everything from the brightly colored walls to the pavement on the streets to the humidity in the air. You cannot walk into this place without truly feeling abroad while at home.

IMG_0003Post Soundtrack: Daddy Lessons (Beyonce)

#FEATUREDFASHIONS – Polished Brand (@designing_polishedbrand): My clothing was inspired by the woman on the go. She has to be comfortable in fit, but styled and chic. She doesn’t blend in, she stands out effortlessly. My personal journey with afrocentric clothing has been an evolutionary one, discovering  self thru style and vice versa. The people of New Orleans are an embodiment of this lifestyle. We embrace our culture and heritage in daily. It is a part of who we are without even realizing it. That deserves to be celebrated in every way, especially in clothing.

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MWENDE KATWIWA

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BOOTS:

My Haitian mama bird Sorayay gave them to me! She has given me so many shoes its not funny. But also its dope because I have these little Kenyan feet and can never borrow anyones shoes so its nice to have a shoe buddy. She was just pregnant so I got ALOT of goods lol

OUTFIT:

By Christina Michelle, Polished Brand (@designing_polishedbrand)

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SMILE:

It got cold during the shoot, I was laughing to keep from crying lol 😛

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EARRINGS:

My best friend Anna got them for me when she was by her peoples in Mexico.

GOOSEBUMPS:

I TOLD YALL IT GOT COLD

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Mwende: I am my father’s daughter. Growing up, this was something that was always told to me by other people, but I had trouble identifying with it until recently. I love my father. I have a great dad, but growing up, we clashed in many ways despite, or as some people have pointed out because of, our closeness and similarities. See, while the older I’ve gotten, the more I’ve realized that I am growing more and more into a women like my mother, the more I’ve also realized that I have almost always been like my dad – an overachiever, an overcarer, stern in a face that’s somehow known for its smile, a cool sort of nerd (if I do say so myself), easily frustrated because we just want the world to be better and can’t understand why people go out of their way to make it harder…

He is a passionate speaker. An author. A book worm. An emotional human being.

He’s basically a Mwende. Or I guess, chronologically speaking, I’m basically a him.

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Also, this is embarrassingly how much sharper his angle is on the leg raise. He hit the full 90 degrees in a candid and meanwhile I’m so lazy in actual shoots I’m barely at the 45 degree marker

Which makes sense when I think about it. Even though both of my parents were in school and working for a good chunk of my life, my dad and I were close growing up even though he went out of his way to make sure that he spent time with all of his kids. My siblings and I played sports growing up and my dad was the sort of dad who made it to almost all of our games despite work and his own life. I remember many a basketball games where my dad was one of few fathers in the audience and was surrounded by the basketball mom crowd, some of whom told me about how wonderful it was to see my tall dark and handsome father at the games (I’m still traumatized lol). He also went out of his way to be present at home and do things like cook dinner and have the family all eat dinner together and ask us about our day (to which of course we teenagers mumbled something and rolled our eyes because HOW DARE WE BE FORCED TO SPEND TIME WITH OUR FAMILY). He would watch shows he had absolutely no interest in with me because he knew I was interested in them (but we also loved watching those crime shows that my mom couldn’t stand and we were both insomniacs, which worked out great because after like 1 am that’s all that’s on TV. Lots of great things I got from my dad. Insomnia, not one of them).

But it was more than the fact that he went out of his way to be physically present. My dad and I both genuinely love learning new things, but even more, love challenging and questioning and arguing over them. When I was in high school I used to burst with anticipation waiting to talk (argue) to my dad about some the things I’d learn in school and challenging them and him on different notions that I was learning outside of school. We would get into intense exchanges over politics, TV shows, books…anything that could be broken down, we took it apart with a fine tooth comb, then took the comb apart too just in case there was something to discover there. My mom used to get up and walk away from us shaking her head like “I’m out, you guys are exhausting” (she was also the one who first and regularly said that we were so alike, but I wasn’t listening then…I mean…what did she know right? She only married him and birthed/raised me…), but I was like a sponge and my dad a flood of wisdom. I always used to love it when I told him about some new concept or idea I’d learned and he didn’t know it because I swear there was point in my life anything I talked about to my dad, he already knew (even to this day, he knows too much!! Like when I went home talking all about Octavia Butler and he was so kind and sat and listened to me lecture him on her and her complexity. Then he very smoothly mentioned how he’d had dinner with her once and her signed book was ‘downstairs somewhere’…like CMON bruh)

Unfortunately, we would also get into really heated arguments. At a time, they weren’t anything different than two people in our personalities and relationship would expect. At some point in high school though, because of all of these other things that were going on with me, this became our primary form of communication. I remember one day after a really bad patch of months my dad told me he was just tired of fighting with me. It wasn’t worth it. And that scared me. It scared because at that point I didn’t know how else to relate to him, but he was such a critical person in my life and I thought he meant I wasn’t worth it.

And he did stop.

I feel terrible looking back because I remember trying to pick fights with him and just seeing an overwhelming tiredness and sadness come over his face and this shield go up that I had never seen on him in relating to me because of our emotional connection. I had never taken the time to recognize the other, more gentle ways my dad had always showed me love and so when our usual way of connecting was stopped, I felt abandoned in my own emotional spiral. At least when he was yelling back, I knew I wasn’t crazy, that someone else genuinely felt as much as I was feeling. But when he stopped, I started to feel like I no longer belonged in his home.

Or his heart.

And so I left.

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Me and the main homie back in the day.

I remember the day it happened. We were in the middle of some sort of tense moment and his anger was started to flare despite himself when I realized that I too was tired. That I didn’t have the energy or desire to keep fighting someone who I didn’t actually want to fight and didn’t want to fight me. But I felt like I had a lot of fight in me I needed to get out so I needed to get out. And I did. I got up. And I left home. He literally chased after me in the car when he realized I was serious, and I was in and out the house a couple more times after that, but I never really went back home after that. And the hardest part for me was that I gradually cut off all communication with my dad because it was too painful for me to admit how much I just needed him to understand and hold me then because I was ashamed of so many things; my inability to articulate what was going on with me and what I needed from him, why i was so sad when I had great people in my life like him, the damage I had caused, of needing him when I had hurt him, of him still being there even so…When I left home, I was devastated by the loss of my family, but especially by the loss of my relationship to my father (and my brother, but that’s for another post…). I wrote to him often during that time I wasn’t speaking to him (never sent him any of it) and in a way, it felt like he was still with me those years and helped me get back to myself by listening in those pages in a way i thought he couldn’t do in real life, but really, in a way I never gave him a chance to.

Although I have always been my father’s daughter, I am still learning new ways in which this is true. My dad shared with me recently a story about him when he was young. He contracted a bout of malaria which led to a depression. There was little that medics could do despite medicine, but he said one told him to try exercise to help. Apparently, it worked. My dad over 50 and in better shape than I’ll ever hope to be and still runs as much as he can. It’s his thing. I remember growing up wondering why my dad like running so much (my siblings and I liked sports but GOD LORDE we hated running), but I think it’s a thing that only he does himself. It works for him. Maybe when he runs, he runs towards himself and his happiness. I realized in talking to my father about running that when I run, I run away. I avoid. (And I run out of breath quickly). Running isn’t my thing. But writing…oh man, i think endorphins are actually released from my brain when I work hard on a piece of writing. And it really does help with my emotional processing and its something I can do for myself that makes me happy.

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My dad reading about himself. He was more proud that I’d published this book than I was (especially since he was in the first and last poem)

There are a lot of other ways I’m like my dad that my sister loves to point out that I can’t deny as I age, but I think most of it is still rooted in our emotional similarities and our inability to let things go if they’re not right. I remember growing up my siblings and I were slightly embarrassed to go shopping with my dad and we had a running joke about him always asking to speak to the manager and imagining mistreatment, but when I started to write my book and think through my experiences of immigration as a child, I also started to think about my parent’s immigration as adults, especially my dad who was here alone for a while as a tall dark skinned Black guy. I haven’t taken the time to sit and listen to his whole story about how that experience shaped him or asked outright, but through bits and pieces of conversation, and in recognizing how I myself have hardened and shifted as a Black adult (dammit…point of similarity…I STAY asking for the manager when people act funny with me) because of my identity and how people perceive me because of it. The more I think about it, the more I think I understand my dad growing up and the more I admire him. I was experiencing immigration as a child and I fell into assimilation; my father, I think, was experiencing it as an adult and fell back into a cultural pride that he tried, sometimes in vain to pass to his children. Part of why I struggled so much with him growing up was because I struggled so much with myself and wanting to fit in and assimilate but my dad just…wouldn’t. He would make us wear kitenges out and practice Swahili at home and we were miserable for it as many-an-African immigrant children were back in the day (watch Evelyn’s hilarious video on this). Looking back I wish I had known what he was trying to do and the value in it, but as a child, I was so busy absorbing other people’s Anti-Blackness towards Africans that it took me years to start to question why everyone told me I should be ashamed of my identity, or other people’s narrowly constructed understanding of it, including mine. This is so wild to think that I actually thought this at one point, but I legit wanted my dad to be more like a “traditional” African father – more removed from my life, more concerned with my success than my happiness, less soft. I had my own unlearning of masculinity to do and my father taught by example. I remember the first time I saw my father cry. There had been a death in the family but somehow it didn’t register to me that it would impact him like that. He had always been strict and at times a hard authoritative figure, but that day, I remember my father crying and me having to place my skinny girl child arm around his shoulder to comfort him. That moment forever changed my perception of my father and allowed me to start seeing him as more than my narrowly constructed definition of a man, I started to see him as a human being and I started to understand that no person is without feelings, no matter how hard they may appear on the outside, a lesson I would soon have to re-teach myself in my own body.

 

My father is also the first identifiable person in my life I would call a feminist. He very openly and proudly talks about making space for women and refused to let narrowly defined masculinity be a cage for him. He is the one who taught me to demand feminism make space for me. He broke the archetype of an African father, even when I wished he would fall into it because it would have made him less challenging of a father to learn to love because he was so beautifully complicated. He was the one who taught me that it was necessary to center and study the experiences and wisdom of women, though it was never so explicitly said, it was lived. It just was who he was.

 

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At this point it should come as no surprise that my dad wrote a book called Women’s Spaces, Women’s Visions that explore politics and poetry and resistance in African womens’ drama. I swear I am just his first successful cloning experiment.

I’ve watched my father care for so mny people in my family and other people’s families out of the goodness of his heart. I’ve seen him take on too much from other people out of the goodness of his heart. I have seen him do all of these things and not understood why until I did them myself.

I guess I’ve been thinking a lot about my father lately because I been thinking a lot about myself and my voice and where and how it was developed and realizing he had a lot to do with it. I think the way I see myself in him, he sometimes sees himself in me, and so do people who know us both.

So yeah, it’s hard now to imagine a time I was embarrassed about my father because i’m basically low key/high key trying to get on his level these days.

I am my father’s daughter.

So much so, I decided to rename myself. From here on out, I shall also answer to this full title:

Mwende of the House Katwiwa, daughter of Katwiwa Mule (Lord of the Library and Yeller of Politics, 1st in the line of Mules to cross the dark waters to the land of pale people and survive to tell the tale) .

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DENISIO TRUITT

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Glasses

were borrowed from Mwenders.

Necklace

and

Earrings

are a part of the Noirlinians Collection which you can snag this Sunday at the Community Book Center!

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Blue Hair

and

Matching Brows

cause I wanna 🙂

Denisio: When beginning to write this post, I was on a plane headed towards Maryland. I will more than likely finish it on a plane ride back to New Orleans. There’s something melancholy about the whole process of air travel. People traveling with all their possessions crammed in suitcases, having your luggage and body scanned with machines, being lined up like cattle. I’ve been to my fair share of airports in the country. The air is cold and unnatural, the walls drab and lit with the same dull fluorescent lighting known to most institutional structures. When I am in an airport or airplane, inevitably I am transported to the day my mother and I left Colorado and thus, my father. Every take off I’ve ever sat through, I think of my Dad as the wheels leave the earth. 

The day I am doomed to repeat in every airport I visit is a day that remains as vivid as the room I am typing in now.  I’m sitting in my father’s small maroon Toyota looking at the morning skyline, wondering what kind of skyline I would have in Maryland. I had spent my final night in Colorado with him and we were to meet my mother at the airport. They had been separated for nearly two years now, my mother being the exact age I would be when I left my own husband some twenty years later. As I stared out of the window, my nine year old mind taking in as much of the scenery as I could while avoiding my father’s eyes, Whitney Houston’s ‘I Will Always Love You’ came on. My Dad asked me to remember what she was saying. That he would always love me. That he would call me as often as he could and that I could do the same. That he would always be there for me. He walked with me to the gate (people could do that back then) and waited with me and my mother in silence. At one point he grabbed my hand. I looked to see tears falling into his lap, making a small dark stain on his jeans. I had never seen my father cry. I started to cry as well. When it was time to get on the plane he hugged my mother cordially and grabbed me. At this point I was sobbing. I didn’t let go, I couldn’t. My mother started to cry as well and had to pry me away from him. People stared as we got on the plane. I was sobbing so hard and hyperventilating that my mother had to put my seat belt on for me. She kept saying silently “I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It will be okay.” The woman sitting next to us smiled at my mother and asked, “Is this her first time flying?”

“No,” my mother said softly.

As the plane took off, I started replaying the Whitney Houston song in my head over and over again. It would be years until I saw the actual movie and realized that the scene in which the song is played is when she gets on a plane as well.

I was always a Daddy’s girl. My father had wanted another boy (I have an older half  brother) but my mother says he instantly fell in love with me the second he saw me. A small, pale ball with a head of thick black hair, his stern eyes, his mother’s pointy nose, and his father’s distinctive Truitt mouth. I was the physical embodiment of all his Black southern heritage. My earliest memories of him are teaching me to fish and assemble a tent. He was nothing short of a super hero, tall, lean and handsome with shiny salt and pepper hair. If you saw him you might think retired NBA player though he was a football star in high school. The were hints of coldness beneath his generally warm and friendly demeanor but he saved all of his sweetness for me. And I worked hard to make sure I never fell out of his good graces as my mom seemingly had. My father is an engineer and so naturally science and math became my favorite subject in school (though secretly I preferred art and reading). We built a few rudimentary robots together. Every Friday we’d have a super secret trip to 7-Eleven together where we’d buy two twinkies and two large slurpies. 

When my parents separated I was relieved. I was eight and old enough to recognize the toxicity that was their relationship. They had been fighting and arguing for years, since my mother took me to Liberia and my father had begged her to come back. My mother never went to college though she wanted to. She also wanted to work. My father, an extremely “traditional” southern man, wanted my mom at home raising me. Resentment set in. 

Life with separated parents wasn’t so bad in the same city. It was more difficult once we moved across the country, though not for my father. In typical American pre-teen fashion I began to resent my mother. I didn’t understand why we had to move so far away. I blamed my mother for the impending divorce, even though I saw first hand how much happier they both were after separating. I began to think she didn’t try hard enough. It would take two decades and a divorce of my own for me to realize the type of pain and trauma she must have gone through. The type of financial strain my mother was under. How humbling it was for her to reach out to her older sister in Maryland and ask to live with her because we were practically homeless. I was blind to all of it. To this day it is something I am deeply ashamed of.

My father kept true to his promises. He called me often. We’d talk for hours on the phone. I’d fill him in on all that was happening with me. I found it easy to talk to him about things. And then, one day while visiting him and his parents in North Carolina, as I did every year, I bled on a couch and everything began to change.

I was eleven. We were watching a campy 80’s horror movie about killer whales with my Uncle and his son. My stomach had been hurting most of the morning but I shrugged it off as having one too many sweets. Suddenly as the Orca attacked a marine biologist on the screen I felt something damp between my legs. I was scared to get up, thinking I must have peed. My cousin must have seen the panic on my face because he asked me what was wrong. Reluctantly I stood up and looked at the seat. A small crimson stain floated amongst the morning glory print of the loveseat I sat on. “Um, Dad?” I said softly. He looked, my uncle looked. “Oh!” he said, somewhat startled. They shuttled me to a bathroom and told me to sit on the toilet and instructed my cousin to ask my aunt for a pad. My dad and I waited in the bathroom in extremely awkward silence. My cousin returned with a large square wrapped in opaque white plastic. “Do you know…what to do?” my father asked, in a tone I didn’t immediately recognize as I freaked the fuck out. “Yeah, I know what to do,” I replied. He left.

Later that evening at my grandmother’s house she gave me the you’re a woman now speech and a couple of aspirins and some pie. She let me lay in her bed and watch TV which was an extremely rare treat. She informed me that my dad had called my mom and that they would be switching my flight to leave tomorrow instead of the end of the summer. I cried.

Things changed for the both of us after that trip and subsequent ones. At 14 years old I could easily pass for 21. My curves could no longer be concealed in the modest school clothes my dad would buy so when I visited him he opted for baggy mens shirts that fit like night dresses instead. I had learned to flatiron my hair and loved to wear it down (like my then favorite singer Aaliyah) but when I went to visit my dad he preferred childish plaits with colored rubber bands. Makeup was out of the question so I never even bothered packing that. My mom had just allowed me to shave my legs if I wanted to, but with my dad that was a big no no.

Our conversations became strained. He’d go into long convoluted lectures about sex and yet not about sex, about how it was important for me to become a certain type of woman and not the other kind. He seemed a bit more uncomfortable with me, as though the sight of my changing body frightened and confused him. Before 11 I was thin and tomboyish. I think I subconsciously acted more masculine around my dad because it put him at ease. But now, I was decidedly femme and outside of his sisters and the two young brides he’d had my father didn’t know what to do with a young woman. Admittedly, I was not the most agreeable teenager. My sullenness had come in, along with C cup breasts. I had stopped believing in God and didn’t know how to break it to two moderately Christian parents. I didn’t feel free to talk to him about boys and certainly not about girls I liked. Our car rides to 7-Eleven became inundated with long stretches of silence, each person searching their minds for something to say.

It got worse during my college years. I remember one phone call when my father informed me that I was now eighteen and thus an adult and thus responsible for keeping in touch with him. The weekly Wednesday and Sunday calls stopped, then turned to occasional holidays and my birthday. Sometime during my sophomore year of college one of my cousins called to inform me that my dad was getting remarried. I called him immediately to ask if it was true. He said yes and he was planning on calling to let me know but obviously my cousin beat him to it. I asked if I was invited to the wedding. He told me he couldn’t afford to fly me out. I eventually met his third wife and my new brother about a year later. After that trip, [false] accusations of me not liking his wife, and a frustrated email I sent him after my wedding, we simply stopped talking to each other for years. It was as though both of us accepted each other’s frustrations and decided to give some space. There was nothing more to be said.

There is a moment in the visual album Lemonade in which the audience is asked “Am I talking about your father? Or your husband?” That question rested on my heart like a cinder block as I reflected on my divorce. I realized how much my ex-partner was like my father. The same “traditional” (read: misogynoir) ideas of gender roles as it pertains to Black women. The emotional unavailability. The rage that simmered just beneath the surface of a cool and seemingly friendly demeanor. It made sense why I chose him. I met my ex shortly after my father remarried and our relationship became strained. I thought of my mother’s divorce and her father, whom I remember as a kindly old man who brought me wooden shoes from Holland but whom she remembers as a cold domineering figure who preferred his women subservient. Here we were, three generations of women, choosing reincarnations of the same type of man. Over and over and over again.

My feelings for my father are complicated. As I am now well settled in adulthood I see him as a full person. He was an amazing father when I had him. He made me feel loved and even now I don’t doubt that he loves me. I learned so much from him. I think of the difficult life he must have had as a Black man in the segregated South. The fear he had to endure. The fear he probably still endures. He works harder than anyone I know. Even when our relationship was strained I wanted for nothing and I know that my younger siblings are provided for and have a loving, nurturing household. He loves children, I daresay more than he loves adults. I think there’s an innocence and sweetness he connects with. We talk occasionally and he does reach out  but the ball is in my court and oftentimes I don’t want to play. Or can’t. So much time has passed and I want more than anything to have a long and honest conversation with him. I hold so much hurt and trauma from him not being there when I needed him the most. Part of it is me. While I inherited a lot of my mother’s emotional instability, I am also able to shut myself off from people quite easily.  It is difficult for me to keep in contact with people who aren’t in my immediate surroundings. I am quick to anger like him, something I think we both are constantly working on. I think about calling him and then I avoid it by cooking or working on a new item for my store. More than anything I’d love to know him. Recently my mother and I have had amazing conversations as two adults, without the roles of mother and daughter getting in the way. I’ve learned things about her that helped me put our relationship in perspective and it has made us grow closer than we’ve been, probably ever. I understand her and I understand her faults because I recognize those same faults in me. I hope one day to have that with my dad, whenever we are both ready.

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Noirlinians is a love story by two wandering Daughters of the African diaspora 

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The Author

Noirlinians is an AfroFashion blog exploring the complex relationship between culture, clothing & identity in the diaspora. Featuring Liberian artist and designer Denisio Truitt of DOPEciety and poet and organizer Mwende “FreeQuency” Katwiwa, the idea for the blog emerged after a fast friendship developed between the two based on their African heritage and artistic interests.

2 Comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this post. So honest and transparent. As a “Daddy’s Girl” myself, I can relate to both of your stories on a number of levels. Our relationships (or lack there of) with our fathers often reflect our relationships with our mates. I can personally attest to this. What I appreciate most is that both of you have taken accountability for your roles in the dynamics of those relationships. And despite the emotional strain, you both still have so much love and respect for your fathers. That is the clearest sign of growth. So beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

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