“Parenting is a dance.” ~ from This I Believe: Communication & Dance
Out of a bedrock of false starts, opaque walls and denied inspiration does this essay arise amongst the most difficult feelings I have struggled to capture thus far in this series. I find myself fixed between the desire to indulge the fierce honesty which courses beneath the surface my present writing life while being careful of the temptation towards copious verbiage realizing that saying too much can be as broad a shield as saying too little. My art is the proof and substance of that proverb. Poetry is a whimsical suit fashioned in an attempt to clothe my failures and frailties in colorful garments that you might attend to them more readily than you do those other ugly things you are soon to learn about me. This is why I am ever in conflict when writing about a thing which inspires either vexation or pain. Do you see how I crouch behind the myth of my words?
“Co-parent” and “co-parenting” are two terms for which I have developed a certain zealous affinity as of late. The story begins in the course of one typically awkward moment which most co-parents may find familiar where both are present in some social situation and a third party poses the question “Is this your wife/husband?” Always accompanied by a precocious smile. Both parents turn to each other for a brief, uncomfortable glance before issuing a nearly simultaneous “No.” This is followed by a halfhearted and habituated explanation such as “this is Jah’kaya’s father/mother”.
After enduring yet another of these curious encounters, I began to wonder to myself why I had allowed my relationship with Auset to be truncated inside of a term which implied the only connection we held was filtered through the affairs of our child. I have envisioned my life as filled with lessons worthy to be understood not only by myself, but made available for the growth of others. I began to ponder how I could redirect the language towards a more fitting understanding of how she and I are presently positioned in each other’s life when I began considering the term “co-parent”.
I am sure that I overheard the term in some previous discussion, but I don’t think I had come to grasp the full comprehension of it until just that moment. We do not operate mutually exclusive drop off centers. We interact with each other and plan together. We talk to one another and discuss new prospects happening in each of our lives. The degree to which we have been able to initiate an open discourse in our parental relationship has abridged the amount each parent must labor to be aware of what is going on in the life of our child. As her needs change, we are able find ways in which each parent may adapt for the lack of availability of the other.
No one should be struck with the romantic notion that this level of engagement came easily for either one of us. We parted households soon after Jah’kaya was born. I was certain I had failed and withdrew from our circle of mutual friends out of fear that I might be called to account for that failure. I had been fired from a position at American Pharmaceutical Partners on December 31, 2001 which saw me take a 7 month free fall during which we lost our apartment in Woodlawn and found our relationship rapidly fracturing by the time we moved to a new location in Hyde Park. We lingered on as most separated couples do seeking to ascertain if there was still the potential for making it work. I recall telling my mother even a year after Jah’kaya’s birth I was certain that Auset and I would be together. This would not come to pass.
We each navigated our way though those 5 stages of grief. Denial. “This is just a growth phase that we must to go through. All will return to normal soon.” Anger. “If you would simply stop blaming me for (x), then you could see what you are missing.” Bargaining. “How can I change (y) so that we can make it whole again?” Depression. “I never want to think about love anymore.” Acceptance. “I’m sorry. I understand. How do we move forward?”
In my journey to stop blame shifting, I had to find the flaws in my own character which contributed to weakening the relationship including an unrealistic portrait of manhood bordering upon dictatorial patriarchy, a lack of communication about our shared problems and a desire to be independent of any need inside of the relationship. We share mutual blame for its failure. In working to repair the fractures of the past, I have continually reshaped my ideal of the person I bring into future relationships even once finding myself a dogmatic proponent institutional marriage as I again grappled with internalized patriarchy.
Here I stand now nearly 10 years grown from that point on July 15, 2002 at 9:59 pm when Jah’kaya Sirius Tekhen entered this life and discovered me hastily attempting to retool myself into the sort of father required of such a dynamic human being. Auset and I have managed to trade off through most of those years. She facilitated birth and primary years through age 3. I was able to preside over her enrollment at New Concept Development Center and later guided many of her activities between Kindergarten and 4th grade. During my most recent career and contract transition, Auset has returned to directing Jah’kaya’s schedule again.
Through all of these iterations and changes in our individual adult lives, we communicate with one another. I seek to help her not simply with the affairs of the child, but whatever process she might be engaging. I recognize that to the extent I can make life easier for her, I make life more stable for our child and the familial community we have created around that child.
I am fortunate to have come from a pair of remarkable role models for a non-traditional, non-nuclear family unit. My mother and father divorced when I was a mere 5 years of age. I moved south with my mother soon thereafter where she was remarried to my stepfather, James. He came with a daughter and son, Washay and Jayvonnie who remained in Chicago, but came to visit us on occasion in Louisiana. My older brother, Rahsaan, and I would return to Chicago each summer where we were welcomed into the arms of a larger family as my father had remarried my stepmother, Geneva. She brought with her 2 sons, Willie and Denardo as well as 2 daughters, Shayla and Shenitha.
My mother and father throughout their own transition have remained steadfast friends. I always knew my father and both respected and feared his authority. I felt his love not only for me, but for my mother. His proximity as a continuing co-parent was even known to make some of my mother’s future companions jealous. As I have grown in life, my mother was also in the habit of adopting many other individuals into the fold of our growing family. I have cousins as close as my own siblings and godsisters whom my mother treats the same as her own daughters. Did I neglect to mention my oldest brother, Antoine, and oldest sister, Danielle?
All of these growth experiences together and those which I continue to encounter have shown me that only part of family consist of the ties we share by blood and birth. Much of what holds us taut to each other is the substance of what we endure that draws us nearer together as a family unit. I believe in co-parenting. Both the word itself and the substance behind that word. Time has certainly changed how families are formed. While we have seen some detrimental effects of these changes where children are caught in the middle, co-parenting offers us the opportunity to change the paradigm and create a space where children are richly nurtured and allowed to prosper. I made more than one choice when my relationship ended. There was the decision that although Auset and I might not be right for each other, we could still be completely right together. There are no more awkward meetings. This is Auset and she is my co-parent.
Johnathan ~ Jah’kaya ~ Auset
If you have found yourself on a co-parenting journey of your own, I highly recommend viewing the resources available at Co-Parenting 101. While I have only discovered them within the past week of researching this article, I have found them to be an incredibly valuable resource for discovering new ways to make the act of parenting together a more richly rewarding experience for all members of the family.