Thursday, October 4, 2012

Daddy's Girl

My first love was a man who protected me at all costs. He never lied to me, always kept it real. He talked to me and never at me. We sang songs together, shared many laughs together. We were the perfect team - me,  outgoing and talkative; him, introverted and low key. When the world counted me out, he urged me on and reminded me that I am a Brown, that in his eyes I was The Champ, that I could do anything. My first love was my father. He was the greatest man I've ever known.

 
As a little girl, I have wonderful memories of Friday and Saturday nights spent bartending and deejaying for my Dad. Doo-wop music was his favorite, and he taught me the lyrics to Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers and Little Anthony and the Imperials among so many others. He taught me how to sing on key, and the two of us would harmonize to the oldies on those fun weekend nights in my childhood. He taught me how to play his favorite .45's and albums, how to place the needle on the record so that it didn't scratch. He told me stories of "the good ole days" and I was his captive audience. My love for the art of storytelling began during those wonderful trips down Memory Lane with the greatest Daddy in the world.

As I grew older, he schooled me about the ulterior motives of boys. He was blunt and straightforward, and didn't sugarcoat the truth of what he knew. Still, I was determined to learn so many lessons about love the hard way. And, he was patient. He never called me dumb, naive or silly although in retrospect many of the decisions I made were exactly that. Instead, he would watch me make mistakes and tell me that it was okay, that everybody played the fool sometimes. And he would tell me to pick my chin up, square my shoulders and keep going. When I was a pregnant teenager, ashamed of the whispers and condemnation of my peers, he insisted that he was STILL proud of me. He reassured me that I wasn't the first to have a baby so young, that I also wouldn't be the last, that he had my back and that everything would be alright. When my daughter was born, he taught her the songs, too; told her the stories he had once told me. And he "fathered" her when her biological didn't bother. Eventually, he would walk me down the aisle on my wedding day, reminding me that if I wanted to make a run for it I could. "Don't worry about all these people, Cute," he said. "If you want to change your mind it's alright." He sensed my reservations even though I hadn't verbalized it. And when I shook it off and pressed on, he took my hand and led me toward the altar with his signature Kangol perched perfectly on his head. Years later, when my marriage failed, he stepped in and ensured that my children still had a male role model in the absence of their father. He was at my dinner table every Sunday, eating all the biscuits and cracking jokes with my sons while quietly reminding my daughter and I that we were queens, that we were Browns.


He'd tell us all stories about his years in the U.S. Navy, about his adventures overseas. We watched our favorite shows together - Forensic Files and Snapped - and tried to figure out who did the crime before the true culprit was revealed at the end of the episode. He got saved in the last years of his life, and he would share his Bible studies with me. It gave me comfort to know that he was redeemed, that he had chosen to walk with God before it was too late. He wasn't a perfect man. No one is. But, he was a perfect father for me. He was so very proud of me, and told me often. I was even prouder of him, feeling like the luckiest girl in the world for having a Daddy as wonderful as him. As he drew his final breaths in the hospital in 2008, his eyes locked with mine, and I gave him permission to pass on. He had fought a good fight, had lived a full life, and had equipped me to become the matriarch of my family. It was bittersweet bidding him farewell. I will forever miss him, but I know that he is in a better place and that he left a legacy in his children and grandchildren that can never be denied.


I look around the world today and I wish there were more fathers like mine.  I see young ladies dressing like and acting like men, young men dressing like and acting like ladies. I see girls seeking validation in men because they never got it from their fathers. I see boys looking to rappers and athletes as role models because they never had their fathers to look to as examples. I see grown women and men never realizing that the most important jobs they will ever do is PARENTING. They didn't have the blessing that I had - a great example of a parent who took the job seriously and stayed the course even when the going got tough. Yes, I miss him a great deal. But the wealth of memories and life lessons that he gave to his family will live on for many generations to come. Each year on his birthday, my children and I meet at his grave site and we take turns sharing our favorite memories of him. Soon, laughter fills the silence and we reminisce on all the hilarious times we shared, all the ways he took up for us when we were in trouble, all the things he said and did that brought us joy. And in those moments, he's with us. We realize that he may be gone, but he will never be forgotten.

I'm so grateful for the privilege of being his daughter. If there are any fathers reading this blog, I urge you to stay the course with your children. No matter what happens with the wives/girlfriends/baby mamas, stay consistent in the lives of your children. It can make the difference between them being a success or a failure. It did for me. Had it not been for my Dad, I would not have survived such a tumultuous youth and emerged victorious. I also urge all the sons and daughters out there to give your parents LOVE while they're living. One of the things that has always brought me comfort is knowing that I constantly told my father how much I loved him, how thankful I was for him, how valuable he was in my eyes. While you still can, I urge you to do the same with your parents. Don't let another day go by without letting them know how special they are, how grateful you are for their love.

 I thank God for my Daddy, my first love and my best friend.



Happy birthday in Heaven, William Brown, Jr. <3

Ralph R. McKee High School ~ 10/4/2012

Today I visited my Alma Mater - Ralph R. McKee High School in Staten Island, NY. At the invitation of the school's wonderful principal, Ms. Sharon Henry, I went to speak with the students about my experience as a student at the school from 1989-1992, and my experience in my life after graduation.


It wasn't the first time I've been a guest speaker at the school. I've gone back often over the past year or so to share my story and to motivate the students to push past the obstacles that they may face and succeed. I shared my experience as a popular student who became a teen mother, and was told by a teacher that I was doomed to be on welfare for the rest of my life. I explained how that experience was one of the best things that happened to me. I saw the surprise on their faces when I made that statement. But it's true. Her condemnation fueled my determination to succeed. Had I not been subjected to the stares and whispers of my fellow students, teachers, and neighbors, I may not have been motivated to prove them all wrong. That pivotal moment in my life spurred me toward living up to my greatest potential so that I could prove the naysayers wrong.

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But, I wasn't just there today to discuss my story. Instead, I wanted to give the students an assignment as it pertains to their story. I had a couple of questions for them to answer; questions that would begin to set them on the path toward living their own lives to the fullest potential. I started out by reminding them that the four years in high school are pivotal. It's during those years that they transform from children into young adults. And, it is during those four years that they must set their minds on discovering where their passion lies so that they can be fulfilled in the careers that they choose. The questions I asked them would help them differentiate between choosing a career that they love and settling for a job that simply pays the bills.

QUESTION #1: 

On the surface, the answers to this question may seem simple. I used myself as an example. I am Tracy Brown. I am a black female. But once we get past the obvious answers, we start to go deeper into truly answering the question. I am a writer. I am a poet. I am a talker...

I challenged the students to write down the question and to list ten answers to the question. Some balked at the idea of listing TEN answers. But I insisted that within the ten answers to that question, they would discover where their passions lie. Perhaps, in writing down: "I am an artist", or "I am a boss" or "I am a leader", or maybe even "I am a bully", they will begin to discover some truths about themselves. It's not too often that we step outside of ourselves to give an honest assessment of who we are and what we're all about. Maybe in answering the question "Who are you?" they can uncover some aspects of their lives that they wish to change. But one thing is certain: they will discover the things that make them happy, that make them feel fulfilled. And in discovering those things, a first major step will be taken toward determining what career will bring them the most success. 


One of the things I've discovered in my life so far is that when you get paid to do what you LOVE to do, it doesn't really feel like work. I gave an example of a girl who hates her job at a fast food joint, and her hatred of her job is displayed in the lackluster way that she performs it. By contrast, someone who loves their job wears a smile on their face, and actually looks forward to the tasks at hand. I wanted them to figure out who they are - what brings them joy, what motivates them - so that they can target a career in the fields where their joy resides. Someone who answers "I'm a rapper" should clearly be aiming for a career in music, even if that's not what their parents or guardians have in mind for them. As they approach adulthood, it's about finding their own definition of happiness, not someone else's.


QUESTION #2:

What is your role in YOUR story?

As a writer, I am often approached by people who feel that they have an amazing story to tell. The truth is, every single one of us has a unique story. Some are horror stories, some are love stories, some are stories of triumph and some are stories of defeat. The question we have to answer is: what role am I playing in my story? Am I the victim? Am I the hero/heroine? Am I the protagonist? The villain? The narrator? A sub-character or the main character? By defining who we are and what role we play in our own story, we make a decision about whether we take control of our lives or instead just react to the plot twists that inevitably come. Again, using myself as an example, I pointed out that I could have easily gotten comfortable in the victim role in my own story. I was a young, abandoned teen mother in the projects who was being talked about and condemned. I could have accepted my teacher's assertion that I would be on welfare for the rest of my life. I could have accepted the stereotype that many labeled me as, and just given up. But, instead I chose to turn my seemingly tragic story into one of triumph. When I set out to "write the story of my life", I cast myself in the role of victor as opposed to victim. I challenged the students to decide what their own roles would be in their story. 

As a kind of "homework assignment", I asked the students to visit this blog and to post the answers to the questions that I posed to them today. I'm hopeful that in the comments below, they will list their responses and demonstrate their views on who they are and what roles they have decided to play in the stories of their lives. I can hardly wait to read their responses!

One of the best things about my career as a writer is that I get the chance to talk to young people and, hopefully, to motivate them to greatness. But it's not just the youth who can benefit from the exercises I demonstrated in those classrooms today. We should all be asking ourselves who we are and what roles we have cast ourselves in. It's never too late to change. I invite you all to list your answers below, or at the very least to list them in your own personal notebook so that you can see where your passions lie and how you can redefine your role in this wonderful thing called life. 



*Students who do not wish to list their answers publicly can email their responses to me at TracyBrownWrites@aol.com

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Rebuilding the Temple

Recently, I've committed myself to revamping my life - mind, body, and spirit. I started by making positive changes in my thoughts, actions, and my environment. Then, I began to focus on my spiritual well being. Instead of being a "Sunday morning believer", I began to really focus my attention on God and on living the best Christian life that I can. As part of that commitment, I did a spiritual cleanse - a fast - abstaining from meat, bread, sweets, wine, pasta, and all of the things my body had come to love. For three weeks, I ate nothing but fruits and vegetables and drank only water. That meant none of my beloved coffee and tea each morning, no desserts, no fresh baked bread! While my family ate the delicious meals I prepared, I ate salads, sauteed spinach, and baked potatoes. But, my objective wasn't to lose weight. I wanted to abstain from these things that I love in order to focus my attention on God. When I felt a craving for something, I closed my eyes and prayed. Instead of picking up a cupcake or a cookie, I picked up my Bible or my gratitude journal and gave my attention to things that my spirit needed to focus on. Fasting isn't widely done among Christians anymore. But the benefits of it are absolutely incredible! My lunch hours were spent in quiet prayer and meditation instead of stuffing my face with burgers and fries. My sacrifice of the foods and drinks that I enjoy was rewarded with a spiritual awakening unlike anything I could have imagined! It was a major step toward my goal of rebuilding my temple (my mind, body, and soul) from the ground up.



Each Saturday morning, I rise early, say my prayers, read my Bible and head out to my local farmer's market. It is one of the best parts of my week! I stock up on pears, apples, fresh ears of corn, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, onions, watermelon, kale, and all the things that the local farmers grow. Since my borough of Staten Island, NY doesn't have a Whole Foods Market, the local farmer's market is my haven. My family and I can attest to the fact that the organically grown foods at the farmer's market taste far better than the stuff sold at the local supermarket. It's cheaper, tastier and healthier!




Over the three weeks of consuming only fruits, veggies and water, I broke my addiction to sweets and to processed foods. (Which was no small feat! I LOVE SWEETS. So, being able to say no to a slice of cake was like an addict staring at their drug of choice and having the strength to walk away.) Sure, I still enjoy a cup of coffee from time to time. I still do a happy dance at the smell of dessert baking in the oven; still have a love affair with bread. But I don't NEED these things throughout my everyday life the way that I once did. I'm able to treat myself to these things every once in awhile, whereas before I had conditioned myself to have them on a daily basis - sometimes several times a day. In fact, once I went back to eating meat, I got so violently ill (nausea, diarrhea, and terrible gas and abdominal pain) that I have resolved to wean myself off of red meat altogether. I never want to feel like that again! As a self-professed junk food junkie, I never thought I'd be someone who embraces healthy eating. But I'm here to tell you that I'm now convinced that a healthy lifestyle is one that I can and will embrace.


I feel better than ever. The weight loss is actually a mere side effect of my newfound love of health and fitness. As many of you know, yoga is a big part of my life. There's real power in drowning out the noise of life and focusing our minds on our inner voice. Yoga is a spiritual, mental and physical workout. I adore it!



With my favorite season upon us (Autumn), I'm out each weekend taking in the beauty of the fall leaves changing colors in local parks. As my lungs fill with the crisp Autumn air, I feel renewed. As I walk around, gathering leaves (which my daughter thinks is incredibly CORNY! LOL), and snapping photos of nature's grand finale before winter starts, it's truly a treat for my eyes, my lungs, my spirit. I feel happiest at this time of the year.


At least once a week, I go outdoors and walk, jog, run, stretch...MOVE. (This past weekend, I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge along with my daughter. I absolutely LOVED it!) As so many people battle obesity, heart disease, fatigue, and overall poor health, I've determined that life is too precious to spend it living badly. After a workout, I feel FANTASTIC! There's a physical and mental reward for the hard work that goes into being active.





Breaking old habits is never easy. I used to smoke cigarettes, and I remember how hard it was to quit. But now that I have, I'm glad that I did. I used to approach food in an unhealthy way, also. I lived to eat, rather than eating to live. Since I changed the way that I eat, I feel better physically than I ever have before. Since I changed the way that I think and the way that I spend my time, I feel better mentally than I ever have before. Since changing my approach to God, to life, and honoring my own inner voice, I feel better spiritually than I ever have before. I'm still a work in progress. But for the first time I am actually MAKING progress! I'm treating my body as the temple that it is. And, while it's still under construction, a solid foundation has already been laid.



Maybe it's time you start your own construction project. Trust me, you'll be glad that you did.

 For more info on healthy eating and vitamin supplements, contact Sakina Iguina. Visit her webpage at https://www.goherbalife.com/wgwellness/en-US/Catalog/
  or her Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/w.g.wellness/