Much attention is paid to absentee fathers without affording due consideration and respect for the sacrifices and strong impact of mothers. My eldest son, in this article, pays homage to his mother, the true spirit behind the OG. – Watani Stiner.
January of 1948 brought the birth of my parents. In January 1969, gunshots on the U.C.L.A. campus effectively ended their marriage. In January 2005, the children my father produced while in exile arrived in America to live with me as my father’s re-incarceration stretched into years. Now, in February-March 2014, I write in reflection of how the completion of this unusual circle of life was made possible. I salute the woman behind the Invisible OG.
Behind every good man is a good…well, you know the rest. I had been in my mother’s stomach for seven months when the Los Angeles “Watts” Revolt exploded in August 1965. That uprising changed the course of my life even before I breathed my first breath. By the time I tasted the sweetness of my fourth birthday cake, my mother was dealing with the pain of her husband, my father, being sentenced to life in prison as a result of his dedicated involvement in an intense revolutionary movement. Indeed I can say I lost my father’s physical presence to his incarceration, prison escape and subsequent self-imposed exile but, thanks to my mother, I cannot say I grew up without his influence. Though she wasn’t always in agreement with what he was called upon to do in fighting for “the cause,” she was steadfast in her effort to make sure I understood his sacrifice and why he chose to walk the path he did. In essence, she kept alive the positive spirit of the Invisible OG.
Through a limited collection of photographs, my mother satisfied my craving for a visual representation of my father. Like bandages wrapped around the invisible man, those Polaroid pictures gave presence to the absent dad I grew to greatly respect. She helped clarify my father’s voice by truthfully answering my questions about some of the letters he had written to me from prison before becoming a fugitive. Later, she would present me with a scrap book of newspaper and magazine articles documenting the high profile incident and court case that lead to him being separated from our family. Though media accounts would often differ from the stories she shared with me about my father, my mother understood the importance of not hiding opposing viewpoints and allowing me to form my own opinions as I matured and processed information from all sides. As a youngster, however, I found comfort in picturing my father as illustrated by what came out of my mother’s mouth. After all, no one knew the unseen OG better than the woman he married.
My early childhood group of friends consisted of several boys also living in fatherless households. Often, sprinkled into general conversation, negative comments about their fathers would easily roll off of their young tongues. Because those comments were usually preceded by the words, “My mama told me,” I never felt compelled to question them. After all, my unwavering belief in the goodness of my own invisible father was based wholeheartedly on my mother’s words about him. Whether beneficial or detrimental, my friends and I shared a one parent world in which whatever mama said was usually perceived as law. If she said, “Your daddy is a hero,” we’d look to the sky for a muscle-bound man in a cape. Conversely, if she called him a dog, we’d save a few chicken bones in case he showed up for dinner one night. It was a world that seemed to be simple enough but, in actuality, had the potential to be quite complicated without a father’s presence to balance things out. Moving forward in life, I began to better understand the sheer power of a single mother’s influence. I started to recognize the impact, either positive or negative, that she could have on a child who hung strongly on her every word.
In the years that followed, the anger, attitudes and actions of some of my father-resenting friends caused me to consider how differently my life might have turned out had I grown up without a respect for the Invisible OG and what he was about. Absent the strong backbone and foresight of my mother who highlighted a constructive image of my father, I may very well have looked elsewhere for someone to emulate and seek validation from. I might have given in to peer-pressure and not been so willing to go against the grain when necessary. I may have easily been swept up by that huge wave of gang activity that flooded the streets of South Central Los Angeles just after the various socially conscious organizations started to fade. Some would call it a miracle that I made it through the unprecedented inner city violence of the late 1970s and 1980s without taking either a bullet or a plea deal. Statistics were also against me managing to maneuver through the 1990’s without being lured into the trap of crack cocaine which, at the risk of death or addiction, provided temporary riches, relief and “Hood-Star” status to many of my peers.
Fast-forward to January 2005. With my father still incarcerated more than ten years after voluntarily surrendering to authorities, a plane landed at the Los Angeles International Airport carrying the six children he fathered in South America while on the run. With the blessing and unconditional support of my wife, I had agreed to take in and become the legal guardian of the teenaged siblings I had never met. One could say their arrival put me in the position of substituting for the invisible OG. In addition to focusing on being a father and male role-model for my own two daughters, I suddenly had four young sisters and two young brothers to care for. It wasn’t long into this new challenge before I started to realize I was at the center of a remarkable circle of life. And thanks to the words and actions of the woman who raised me, I had grown into a man willing to do all I could to hold that circle together.
“My friends and I shared a one-parent world
in which whatever mama said
was usually perceived as law”
Thinking back and understanding how important my mother’s unique parenting had been in conjunction with her constant effort to have me see my father in an admirable light, I felt like I had a solid blueprint to follow in guiding my siblings. Not only had that design kept me out of trouble but it had also managed to keep me spiritually connected to my father despite his many years of invisibility. For that reason, even while separated by prison walls, it was easy to quickly develop a true relationship with him upon his return to America. And over the nearly 20 years that he’s been back, I’ve been able to see for myself that my mother had been sincere in proclaiming my father to be a good man. More importantly, I truly understand that behind every good man is a good…well, you know the rest. I salute my mother and all of the positive women behind the invisible OGs.