From Chicken Soup for the African American Soul

Where’s Your Notebook?

Being a black man in America is like having another job.

Arthur Ashe

I was thirteen years old when Dad called my two younger brothers and me into the game room of our house. I was excited! I thought we were going to play pool or pinball or maybe even watch movies together, just us guys! “Bring a notebook and something to write with,” my dad bellowed before we reached the game room. My brothers and I stopped dead in our tracks and stared at each other in horror! His request was unusual, and our excitement turned to dread as we became well aware that games or movies were not the reason we were pulled away from watching Fat Albert. This felt more official and tedious, like schoolwork, chores or worse, a family meeting.

As we each retrieved a notebook and pencil we continued to ponder the reason for this summons. We ruled out a family meeting because Mom was still out shopping. We entered the game room to find three metal folding chairs facing a huge blackboard. Dad instructed us to sit in the chairs and NOT on the cushioned sofa just inches from us.

“I want your full attention. That is why I have you sitting in these chairs,” he stated, businesslike.

Immediately we began to pout and whine.

“Where’s Mom, aren’t we gonna wait for Mom?” my youngest brother asked.

“Is this gonna take long?” my other brother sighed.

I silently squirmed in the uncomfortable metal chair.

“Your mother won’t be back for hours, and if you must know, she has nothing to do with this,” he said calmly. “And how long this takes depends entirely upon each of you. The more you participate, the more you’ll learn, and the faster we can move on and be done. Understood?”

“Yes, sir,” we responded unenthusiastically.

“Now,” my father began, “we are going to have a weekly meeting with just us guys. We will have these meetings every Saturday morning, but if you have school or sports activities on Saturday morning, we’ll reschedule for Sundays after church. I’m going to teach you what I have learned about life. It is my responsibility, before God, to prepare you to be strong, proud, African American men who will be assets to the community and to the world at large. It is a responsibility I take very seriously.”

I just had to jump in, “You’re going to teach us everything about life?”

“Everything I can.”

“But that will take forever.”

“Maybe.” He turned to begin writing on the blackboard. “Maybe.”

For the next five years, rain or shine, in sickness or in health, Dad taught us about life once a week. He instructed us on a wide variety of subjects—personal hygiene, puberty, etiquette, the importance of education, racism, dating, respect for women, respect for those in authority, respect for our elders, Christian salvation, a good work ethic, what it means to be an adult, what to look for in a wife, landscaping, minor home repairs, auto repairs, budgeting, investing, civic duties and the list goes on. We begrudgingly filled notebook after notebook after notebook.

As I approached my eighteenth birthday, the weekly lessons became monthly lessons and then every other month, until they slowly drifted away. My brothers and I were older, we had girlfriends, school activities, sports activities and job responsibilities that became extremely difficult to schedule around. I’m not sure when it happened, but the importance of our weekly lessons and notebooks began to pale in comparison to our busy teenage lives. Soon the classes and the notebooks were mere memories.

It’s been years now since we had those classes with Dad in the game room. We are grown with careers and wives of our own. At every challenge in life, my brothers and I have frantically looked in attics, basements and storage sheds for our notebooks. We can’t find them anywhere.

At least once a month one of us has a situation where we need to call home and ask Dad for his advice or guidance. We hesitantly pick up the phone to call him, knowing good and well he’s going to laugh and say, “Where’s your notebook?”

John W. Stewart Jr.

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