This is a piece from a few years back.
My daughter has always been a rebel. From trying to crawl at only a few weeks old, to being a preschool Moses who attempted to lead her classmates on a great Exodus, she chooses to do things her way—despite adult expectations, structure, or supervision. And her actions make me so proud.
I don’t think that I’m in the minority in my wanting to raise a girl who is strong, adventurous, tough, compassionate, intelligent, and curious. These are traits that my wife and I foster. We encourage her to range out as far and wide as she feels comfortable. Some parents have argued that we allow her to have too many liberties. That letting her engage in Parkour, Capoeira, and other activities is dangerous. My wife and I counter by asking them how they could allow their children to tell them to shut up, litter, and be generally disrespectful. I’ll take the growth that comes with engaging in rebellious acts over the corrosion of caregiver authority that comes from being your child’s friend, and not their parent. But my daughter is only two weeks away from turning seven-years-old and her little acts of rebellion are cute at best, and make me nervous at the worst.
I have to admit that the there is a little bit of sexism informing my ‘list of worst case scenarios’ for my daughter’s eventual rebellions during her tween to teen years. I have been trying to purge myself of this, but I can’t. There is something (hypocritical) about me being concerned about my daughter doing the things that I did when I was growing up.
I, too, was a very rebellious kid. Some of my acts were unconscious—learning to read at three-years-old, despite my dyslexia—and others: rampant theft, capping on teachers in school, and calling out my shop teacher for having Playboys in his desk were willful. However, one of my biggest anti-authority acts, as a kid, happened in 1984. I was on punishment for climbing down our fire escape, in my underwear, wearing a Jamaican flag like a toga, and singing Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon” at the top of my lungs. So when my uncle (mom’s youngest brother and the pusher who caused me to become addicted to hip-hop) told me he had an extra ticket for the Fresh Fest concert, I made detailed plans of how I would break my mom’s ruling and witness the glory of Newcleus, RUN-DMC, Kurtis Blow, Whodini, and the Fat Boys on stage—In One Night!!!
I begged and begged my mother. I explained to her how Fresh Fest was one of the most important things to happen in years, and how I would be a better person for attending. I offered to take on more punishment, if I could have a fiver-hour reprieve. As soon as she saw how important this was to me, she became resolute. Hell no, I wouldn’t be able attend a concert that promoted the Devil’s music. I told my uncle that my mom was on some prison guard shit, and he told me that he had a genius plan for me to attend, and that his sister would never know.
When it came time to head out, my uncle asked if I could help him move some things from his home to the dump. My mom agreed as she thought hard work would straighten me out. As we were driving away, he pulled over into an alley and made me change into the flyest gear. I was b-boy fabulous. When we got to the concert, the energy was such that I couldn’t stop smiling. I have never before—and not really since—felt anything like it. Everyone there knew this this was a Something. A big Something. A life altering Something. That show was one of the best experiences of my life, music or otherwise. But I paid for it.
All was well until an errant ticket stub was found near our front door. My mom called her younger brother and went bad. She cursed in so many fascinating word combinations that I was dumbstruck. Some of those phrases I still use today. Then, it was my turn.
Shoe to the hand to the belt to the extension cord to the spatula: that means a beating. She whooped my ass all through our tiny two-bedroom. I had a little speed and dexterity, so I dodged most of it. But when she connected…I had welts from the back of my knees up to the middle of my back. And it was worth every lash.
Hip-hop provided me with a cultural foundation that was separate from my hybrid Jamaican/Puerto Rican project dwelling, no money having identity. It was raw and rough like punk—but with better music—and complimented my obsession with science fiction. Like Questlove said in the film Brown Sugar: “It was freedom.” But how much of this freedom will I allow my daughter to enjoy?
If my daughter was grounded and snuck out of the house to attend some piece of culture that was important enough to change the trajectory of her life, will I block her? Inside, in that place where I cannot lie to myself, I have to admit that this would be easier to take if my daughter were a son. I have fallen victim to the girls are innocent/boys are mavericks propaganda. The thought of a son defying me in the name of personal justice and freedom feels like a victory for autonomy. For my daughter, I’m anticipating that it will feel like a parenting failure. This is wrong on too many levels to name. So I push her.
I push her to be good. I push her to be curious. I push her to hold her space. There is going to be a time, sooner than I would like, when my daughter will push away from her mother and me. And despite our good parenting, I have a feeling that this will be a hard push. We’ll still be standing in the same spot, but she’ll be going off in her own direction. This is okay. This is what every parent wants. But I am experiencing so many conflicting feelings. I want her to keep her rebellious streak, but I don’t want this to metastasize into wonton defiance. I need for her to become her own person, but I want to avoid her diminishing her mother and me because she can—or because we’ve allowed her to.
So when the time comes and she ‘really needs to see the Holo-Dragons of the Dogon Star’ and her mom and I are unified in our ‘no’ and she conspires with her friends and/or cousins and attends anyway…I may have to light a candle for her long dead great uncle and ask him to lend me some of what he knew so that I do not deny her a positive life changing experience.