In 2016, I lost my father to a battle with drugs. Here's what I wish I could say to him:

Dear Dad,

I’m sorry. 

When Keyshia Cole’s mother, Frankie Lons, passed away this week, I immediately thought of you. You, too, struggled with substance abuse for most of your life and like Cole, I was the child left to deal with the aftermath, time and time again. Most of my formative years were spent one of two ways: despising you for succumbing to rampant drug use that led you to abandon me or daydreaming of this whimsical, alternate reality where you were present in my life. As I’ve gotten older and wiser, I realize that so much of my life has been centered on my resentment towards you. Now, I realize I never gave you the grace you deserved. 

When I think of our relationship, I become consumed with conflict. I want to be angry at you for your absence in my life. But I also want to empathize with you because your struggle with addiction was never your fault. Both can be true. Oftentimes, when we think of addiction, the onus is normally put on the person who is grappling with it as opposed to challenging the root causes.

It’s no secret that the Black community is disproportionately criminalized at higher rates than our white counterparts but it’s important that we address the stigmatization of addiction as well. You didn’t deserve shame, you deserved help. I vividly remember my mother doing the best she could to liberate you from this enslavement to drugs and I can’t help but wonder if you’d still be here, had we all taken her empathetic approach.

Looking back on it, I wish that I would’ve taken that approach and then some. It was so easy for me to wallow in misery when I could’ve taken the time to truly try and understand how I could support you in becoming clean or at the very least, doing my part to keep in touch despite our differences. For that, I’m sorry.

I’m sorry that I let my pride get in the way of reconnecting with you before your death. I’m sorry that I didn’t give you the grace that you deserved in dealing with your addiction. I’m sorry that you didn’t get that compassion from so many others. I am, in no way, justifying your absence from my life nor excusing it. But I am sorry for playing a part in stigmatizing you for your addiction.

Before you passed away, I naively thought that we had all the time in the world to repair our relationship. I never imagined that we’d be robbed of that opportunity by the same culprit who’s caused such a dent in our bond, already. The moment when I received the phone call of your transition is the moment that I realized that time waits for no one. There was so much left unsaid between us and it taught me a valuable lesson about what it means to put my pride to the side and embrace those who need it the most. You not only needed that love but you deserved it. 

At this stage in my life, I’m choosing to not focus much more of my energy on the “what if” scenario had you been the ideal father. I’m choosing to move forward with the lessons learned from your experiences and living my life accordingly, implementing them into how I govern the way that I live. Whether it’s doing my due diligence in loving people a bit harder when they need it or doing the work to create structural change that eliminates addiction and its byproducts, my life’s journey will forever include you and I choose to embrace that.

I once looked at your absence as a flaw in my persona, along the lines of an insecurity like a blemish on my face. I now know it has helped to shape me into the man I am today — a man I am so proud of. I think you would be proud too. When people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them, “I write about pop culture,” I quietly laugh to myself because I know that I inherited my love of pop culture from you. I’m grateful for the lessons that you taught me, even when you didn't know you were teaching them.

With love,