Fathers and “Daughters”

A good friend of mine asked me what I thought about Nas’s new song “Daughters.” The song reflects on how Nas has informed his daughter Destiny Jordan’s judgement in the wake of her Twitter posts featuring her condom collection, crude language, and general lack of discretion. Apparently, Destiny’s mother, Carmen Bryan, who wrote a tell-all book about her relationship with Nas as well as the affair she had with Jay-Z, was “disappointed” by Nas’s song. I think she mis-reads his song as castigating their daughter but I see it as more of a critique of his job as a father. Sure it’s an admission of his disappointment with his daughter’s decisions but he didn’t invent the indiscretions. I think she should be expected to be held accountable for those. I recently had this discussion with a teacher who was trying to convince me to have sympathy for something that happened to a student we both knew. I did have sympathy for the young woman, I just didn’t feel responsible for the details of that young woman’s life. “Those are for her to manage,” I said to my friend. “When is she going to ever learn to manage those details if she never gets practice in it?” Similarly, Destiny is responsible for the repercussions of making those under-examined posts. One of the lessons here is that if you’re ashamed of what critics might say, if you don’t want to answer for it, don’t post it. I read her father’s song as a comment on her post and it was an honest, heartfelt, melodic one.

As I listened to the lyrics, I thought about growing up with people who cursed their parents for trying to tell them what to do in light of their mistakes. It was an argument I was never sympathetic too. My father made tons of mistakes and I appreciated him for sharing them with me. In fact, I thought my father was a wonderful raconteur of ‘hood tales of what not to do. To this day, I’m not sure what was true and what was false but I know his life could be grimy enough for me to believe him. Maybe because my father did tell such compelling stories and he made mistakes that he was willing to share, I paid attention to the kind of character I wanted to be…and the last one I would’ve ever wanted to be was one of the women in his tales. When Nas rhymes about sharing his pimpin’ ways with his daughter, I’m not quite sure that that was the problem. My father was horrible with women–at times, he wasn’t good with me–but I never would have tried to get him back by becoming one of the women in his stories.

Interestingly, my father was once a major player in the drug world but he never wanted a woman as a partner who drank or got high. She was the “kinda trick [he] ain’t want no parts of.” He would talk so bad about her that I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to be her. Then there were the “stars” from back in the day who everybody wanted to go out with who got strung out, had a bunch of kids, and “just let everybody run thru her.” My father would always point this woman out after he had seen a woman who was only a shade of her former self. If I was actually around to meet the woman and he wasn’t just telling me about her, I would be horrified, straining to find her former glory. It was so sad. The fleeting glamour that might have been purchased, it seemed to me, cost far too much for it to be worth the trouble. I thought the people in my life and the characters in my father’s stories were the perfect ones to discourage me from joining their number.

My father didn’t like rap music. He certainly didn’t like their lack of discretion in talking about “the dope game.” Even though he didn’t like the music, I can’t help but to see him through the lens of that genre. T.I. reminds me of the kind of guy my father was. Had my father been a rapper, he might have been like T.I.: a talented, charming guy with lots of potential who keeps getting caught up in things far beneath his thoughtfulness. But, when I heard “Daughters” I thought about my father because he would have hated to have had to write that song, but he would have; he would have shared his ideas about me even if he didn’t like what he was seeing.

The difference it seems between Nas’s relationship with his daughter and my father’s with me is that I didn’t much care for the markers of status that my father liked. Nas seems to have taught his daughter to value the things that he values in worldly terms. Despite the overall sharpness in his catalogue, the products that one can buy as a result of his success is what he taught her to value. I think I valued and embraced the things my father wished he could. My father liked the idea of embracing non-material values, I even believe he thought they were attractive, but he couldn’t resist the pressure from people who wouldn’t understand and see the same. Admittedly, though, it was easier for me to have a critique of cars, clothes, and status items in general because of the risks that my father had to make and the destruction that he caused in order to get them. It must be difficult to have another idea of what you can value when you have earned the money, and lots of it, honestly and can easily afford things for your children. As Destiny’s story shows, it helps to have another model by which to live. Her story shows how unattractive it is to take hedonism as a gospel. What I like about Nas’s response is that it shows the potential of having a critique to rescue ugliness from itself by moving the story beyond those foolish tweets. In rhapsodizing about the mistakes he made as a father, he makes suggestions that can help us to parent better. My father used to say about his mistakes, “I’m like Dennis Rodman baby, I rebound; check me in the fourth quarter.” In claiming his daughter in the face of those tweets, Nas shows a willingness to confront his responsibility as a father. There’s still time on the clock and I think they can rebound.

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