One night about a month after Kenyatta and I started seeing each other, we were heading out to see a movie. She asked me a question about how her hair looked. I made some offhand remark about liking it better the way she had worn it the day before. I spent the rest of that evening attempting to douse Kenyatta's anger and convince her that I thought her hair looked fine. At the time, I wrote that episode off as typical male-female miscommunication of the "Do I look fat?" variety. But as we moved into our relationship, it became clear that a part of Kenyatta saw me as the mastermind of a mad plot to pull her into my clutches—and then trample over her feelings. In everything I did she saw clues of this conspiracy. She routinely set out to test me. She would walk into a room and pick a fight, or accuse a mutual female friend of ours of trying to steal me away. To her, this was simply self-defense—she never wanted to experience anything like the pain that resulted from having a father who walked out. So she'd assume the worst and keep her hopes at bay, thus lessening the approaching and imminent heartbreak. Furthermore, Camille's rage toward her ex-husband had rubbed off on Kenyatta, and I was catching the worst of it.

My parents and my younger brother drive up from Baltimore. They pick up Camille at the airport in Philadelphia, and then make the trek to St. Francis. Kenyatta hasn't dilated much since they first brought her in. She shifts in and out of consciousness. Camille calls to tell us that they are just moments away. I'm scared because the last thing I want is a fight with Camille in the maternity ward. I think back to some advice my dad gave me after the baby shower. The time there with Camille had been uncomfortable. Once again, I felt judged and I told my dad as much, hoping for a bit of affirmation. He was unsympathetic: Kenyatta's her whole world, man, and you've gotta understand that. I could see it in how she looked at her daughter. Kenyatta is everything to her, and you really need to respect that.

Yet I remember my father's own attitude toward his in-laws. For most of my childhood, my maternal grandmother's relationship with my dad was polite and cold. I never saw them fight, but I also never saw them have a conversation that extended beyond the level of "How's the weather?" And my dad seemed unwilling to do much to repair it. He would not ingratiate himself in the slightest, and never believed he had to prove that he was worthy enough to be with my mother.


Next Story