I saw my father cry twice in his life. Ironically, the moment he was near death was not one of those times. I imagined when that day did come, he would have already made peace with his creator, thus welcomed the opportunity to transition into a life where he was cancer-free and no longer in pain. So, no; both times my father cried in my presence was not to lament his own mortality, but that of others.
The first experience took place while we were on our way to his father’s funeral. Before you say that it only makes sense he’d be emotional at that time, I have to add that my dad and grandfather had a very complicated relationship and were often at odds. Honestly, my grandfather was a man that was hated much more than he was loved (a reality I swear he wore as a badge of honor). I was never tired of hearing about the time he removed a battery from my pop’s boat. He didn’t ask permission or think twice about how my pops would feel about it. He needed it, so he took it. My father didn’t realize the boat was inoperable until it was time to go fishing. Imagine that scenario? Up at the crack of dawn, tackle box full of bait and a cooler of beer ready to go, he boards the boat, goes to power it up…and nothing. When he finally discovered what was wrong and put two and two together, he asked Big Daddy (as my grandfather was called) about it. Well, suffice it to say, that was not the most prudent course of action. My grandfather wasted no time and minced not a single word as he reminded his son in an expletive-filled retort that he “raised his ass” and he’d better not ask him again about that damn battery. Mind you, my father was well into his 40’s at this time. And yes, I can assure you, he never broached the subject ever, ever again from that day on. Still, despite that exchange and many others like it, my father could not hold back his tears at the thought his father was gone forever.
The other time I saw my dad cry was the morning I went to his house to deliver the news of my mother’s passing. My mother died about one year after their divorce, which was turbulent and bitter, to say the least. The moment he heard that she had passed away, the flood gates opened. If there was any doubt my father still loved my momma following the break-up, his grief dispelled it. After a long pause, and with tears streaming down his face, this man, who stood as strong and tall as East Texas pine, looked me in the eye and, with his shoulders slack and a quiver in his voice said, “Nothing like losing a momma boy. You only get one.” We embraced and showered each other with “I love you’s”. It was the closest I’d felt to that man in a long time. You grow up in a society where men are expected to remain stoic and assume a role as pillars of strength even in the most tragic of circumstances. Men are the shoulder to lean on; the unyielding back that carries the weight of other’s grief. In that instance, all those stereotypes shifted and fell away.
So much was expressed in that moment between my father and me. As I reflect on that pivotal period in our relationship as father and son, I realize it was then I understood that it’s okay for men to cry.
Ultimately, both expressions of emotion and profound sorrow caught me by surprise, albeit for different reasons. But the lesson these experiences imparted was invaluable. Each taught me it was ok to hurt. So, when faced with another unimaginable, unexpected loss, I let myself mourn, and I was not ashamed.
The passing of legendary basketball player Kobe Bean Bryant in January shocked everyone in the sports world and beyond. For days we shared personal reflections of the man that redefined the game, athleticism, the meaning of discipline and the importance of commitment. Kobe Bryant singlehandedly changed the way society regarded how to approach challenges. His name became synonymous with an anti-failure state of mind, the “Mamba mentality”. Kobe was and continues to be the personification of endurance, confidence, and control on and off the court. He inspired generations of athletes, young and old, to aspire to greatness every single day. Kobe was the walk that he talked; the walk others tinkered with but never executed. How rare to see someone point to the stars and make it their lifelong mission to reach them, step by step. Every action and idea was so meticulously thought out; each achievement framed by discipline, hard work, and pure, raw, steadfast determination.
Of course, as we reminisced about a life that ended too soon, some were quick to remind us that into each life, no matter how well-lived, controversy may fall. For Kobe, a rape allegation in Eagle, Colorado in 2003 interrupted the tears and the mourning. For many of us, the mention of the incident – which dominated headlines over 17 years ago, came too soon. I for one was still stunned and heartbroken at the news one of my all-time favorite athletes died just as a new phase of an already remarkable life was beginning. Why the events that took place nearly two-decades ago needed to be revisited before the bodies were even recovered and the twisted mass of metal was removed from that mountainous terrain, is beyond me. Moreover, who are you—the ones so quick to point out how “imperfect” Kobe was– to judge that man? Why is society so comfortable with casting stones? Are that many of you without sin? It is not okay to drag a person’s name while his family mourns, even if that person is a “celebrity”. In this age of open access to people’s lives because of social and traditional media, many feel as though they know celebrity figures personally. We hear and read about their trials and their victories; we have front row seats to their sorrow and their success. We pay a few bucks to watch them perform or compete and somehow convince ourselves that superficial acquaintance gives us the right to chime in on their personal lives. It does not. The same way you would not want your indiscretions laid bare at your most vulnerable time—God forbid upon your death—is the main reason everyone, including celebrities, is owed that deference. They are human beings too. Kobe owed one person an explanation and an apology; his wife Vanessa. Kobe had to make amends to his family, the people within the home he shared with the most important people in his life. It is their opinion that mattered. Any anger, disappointment, sadness and ultimately forgiveness was theirs (and theirs alone) to show. People are so quick to tell folks to “mind their business” when the criticism being flung affects them personally, yet somehow, they are loath to apply similar boundaries when others are being maligned. And Kobe is the hypocrite?
I have no idea what happened in his hotel room that awful night. I believe the woman who claimed she was the victim of rape deserved to be heard, should not (EVER) be shamed and she has my sympathy. I can’t imagine (and won’t lie and say I have the slightest understanding of) what she endured; the public scrutiny and the pain of the trial must have been unbearable. Nonetheless, the fact is Mamba was never convicted of the crime, therefore, according to the law, he is not a rapist. Personal opinions aside, that is the reality.
I was also floored by the added controversy stoked by people who reminded the public continuously that Kobe and Gianna were not the only people to perish in the crash. As if somehow grieving the loss of the souls we were most familiar with, the ones who resonated with us the most by virtue of their notoriety, took away from the tragedy of losing seven other lives in this unspeakable tragedy. That is absolutely not the case and an absurd assertion. Losing Kobe hit me personally. I followed that man’s career on and off the court for as long as I can remember. I admired his work ethic, his dedication to his family, his business acumen and philanthropy. We grieve because we feel we have lost something that contributed to our life in some way. The friends, family and loved one of everyone who lost their lives that fateful day mourned for the souls they will miss—the souls that touched them personally. This reaction to the death of a well-known figure traveling with others who were also killed seemed particularly acute when it was Kobe Bryant. If memory serves me correctly, Stevie Ray Vaughn, John F. Kennedy Jr., Aaliyah, Corey Lidle, and Kurt Budke were not alone on their final flights, but their fans were not taken to task for mourning their heroes. I can’t think of a moment when their devotees were continually reminded of the obvious fact others were onboard their aircraft; made to feel guilty they did not mention the dearly departed they knew nothing (or very little) about. Why are the rules all of a sudden so drastically different in Kobe’s case? (This is a rhetorical question because there is no answer, I will deem acceptable).
All I know is, Kobe Bryant was not only the best Laker to ever wear the uniform (per Magic Johnson), he exemplified Black male excellence. Kobe played the game for 20 years with no excuses. This is the same athlete that played three seasons with a broken finger because, as he explained, if he had surgery that would mean missing a season. Kobe was unstoppable. I recall a player who was dominated by a much bigger and talented Celtics team in 2008 and responded by adding 20 pounds of muscle in the offseason that followed and went on to return the favor in 2010. That is the Kobe I remember and relate to. The Black Mamba. The man who never took no for an answer and who taught us that your opponent should never outwork you. He even ended his basketball career in grand style: Scoring 60 points in his final game. He retired from the sport he loved the same way he arrived; he never saw a shot he wouldn’t take.
Kobe the businessman yielded the same results post NBA. He died leaving behind assets valued at over 2-billion dollars (according to estimates). With all the discussion in the Black community regarding the need to create, foster and teach about generational wealth, let’s give credit where credit is due: Kobe Bryant put that agenda into action. We celebrate Jay and Bey, Will and Jada and of course Barack and Michelle, yet there was very little, if any, mention of Kobe and Vanessa. That somehow escapes the glaring scrutiny of the critics and the fanatics lamenting that there are few examples of financial success in our community. Sometimes, it helps to look beyond the distractions of what media is showing you, and actually come to your own informed conclusion about people. Stop letting others determine what you believe in and celebrate unless you are okay with co-signing someone else’s agenda. I for one, am not. And I know that in a world dictated by “likes”, “followers”, Jordans, Red Bottoms, luxury bags, who’s got the “drip”, and driving high-priced cars, you have to look past all this “noise” in order to grasp what real, solid, generationally transferable success looks like.
Success and wealth are not loud. Those who attain success don’t put it on display. They understand that whether or not you are impressed by what you perceive as the trappings of success will not add one red-cent to their investments. Your approval does not earn interest. Kobe figured it out. In the end, the only thing that will come across loud and clear is his legacy. And that, to me, is the greatest success imaginable. You can’t get more uncomplicated than that.