“Would you die for me, daddy?”
Grace tiptoed behind me into the kitchen to ask her question.
She knows I love her, because I always hold out six plain wings for her 8-year-old taste buds when I make them spicy for her sisters and I kiss her face and sing songs about her even if she doesn’t particularly want me to right then.
“Would you die for me?”
To die for her would be to let her down in a way, so I have to measure my words carefully.
How do you tell a baby that yes, you’d die for her, but that you’d rather not? It’s better to stick around for when she starts middle school and high school and finds the going rough on the soccer field or in home room or in the mall when a friend thinks it’s a great idea to steal earrings. Just one pair.
I would die for her.
What dad wouldn’t die for his daughter?
So, why is a freckle-faced second grader asking me this?
It began with a “back in my day” discussion with her sisters about the genre of rap music, today so wrapped up in a new holy trinity – money rolls, cars and clothes. Oh, and women. Nameless women. Clubs. Affirmations of toughness and manhood and degradation of women, to make things simple.
I told the girls about conscious rap in the early 90s, music written from the souls of men amidst social upheaval following the L.A. riots. Attempts to personify a plight of young black men and young Mexicans who found their voices with those of Dr. Dre and the Wu-Tang Clan and Snoop Dogg.
“Would you die for me, daddy?”
It’s more than 20 years later, a 2,453-mile drive from Rodney King’s run-in with police, and here I am, all brown on the outside, but white on the inside, raised in a white neighborhood and as close to any inner-city heritage as I am from Canadian ice fishing, and I’m talking the talk like I lived it.
I tell the girls about the iconic dad way back then who, right about this time of year, heard the outrage and fury of the young men around him, black and brown, filled with anger and revenge. He lifted his young daughter onto his shoulders, and, in a soundbite that resonated throughout a culture and a music genre, uttered perhaps the greatest dad quote of our generation:
“I’m gonna tell you right now. If I have to die today for this little African right here to have a future, I’m a dead mother****er.”
“Would you die for me, daddy? And, how would that work?”
I scooped up Grace, fortunate that my fight to live for her would probably be such a smoother ride than the unnamed father I’ll always admire. I’ll likely never understand the day-to-day struggles he and his little African knew.
Our neighborhoods are worlds away, but our bond is in fatherhood.
My most conceivable roadblock to living well for my little American? It’s probably my own health. I should eat a salad and make sure I wear my seatbelt. We’re not far from crime and stray bullets where we live, but we’re not immersed in it.
I explain a bit of this to Grace, so she won’t imagine a Hunger Games style of test in store for me to prove my devotion to her. Rather than die, I will live.
We talked a bit about it. About the heart on my driver’s license and what it means for me as an organ donor. About the fact that if a tiger or rhino or allosaurus should ever chase us down the street in search of a meal, I will stay back and wrestle to the death.
She has strict instructions to climb a tree or find a policeman and live to be 100.
This makes her smile.
I’ll do all I can to keep from becoming a dead mother***ker for another 100 years.