About a few months ago I decided to write my father a letter. It was a letter I wanted to write him a few years ago—but didn’t. The words to it would begin to reveal themselves and scroll through my mind every time he would say things like he missed me. Every time he would ask why I do not call him. Every time my mother would squawk and say she’s tired of seeing “that man” in my mannerisms.
Each time I would successfully convince myself not to write any of those words down. I would say things like “It is too soon,” or “I don’t think he’s ready to hear what I have to say.” When the truth is, I wish what I had to say never needed to be said.
Maybe in another world that would be the case. Maybe in another world a 14-year-old Giovanni Melton would have never met a bullet. Maybe in another world Giovanni’s father would have not been the one to pull the trigger. Maybe in another world Giovanni and his father would have been able to talk about Giovanni’s boyfriend and it would not end in a crime scene. Or a court case. Or a room in their family’s home drenched in the cold blood they both share.
However, this is not another world. This is our world—and in our world a 14-year-old boy can be shot to death by his father because he is gay. And, for that reason, it is this world that I refuse to accept. And since I was taught by so many freedom fighters before me that new worlds can’t simply be wished for, that they must be forged, a few months ago I decided to send my father that letter.
My father and I have never been particularly close, a fact for which I can’t wholly place the blame on him—though I spent most of my life desiring to. He wasn’t an absentee Black father like so many societal scripts would lead us to believe is true for all Black queer children. He wasn’t abusive, or mean. He didn’t tell me to “man-up” when I was under distress, or question my worth when he didn’t see me bringing girls home. He was just distant, and I never attempted to close the gap or even ask the reason for it.
For as long as I can remember, I knew I was gay. I also always knew the implications of being the gay son to a straight Black man. The world told me that my father could not possibly love me, and I believed it—before even giving him a chance to prove differently. I allowed this story to shape our relationship, to make me resent him for violences he did not commit.
Yet, today, while holding Giovanni in my chest, I am reminded of why I decided to write to my father in the first place. Why I decided to tell him the truth of how much I love him, and my fear that he would not be capable of loving me back. If I wish to live in a world in which Giovanni does not die, I must not continue to feed the beast that makes his death inevitable.
I must not contribute to this narrative that tells us Black men and their queer sons cannot live a life of abundance together—tells us that contention is the only possibility for such a dynamic. So often we only place responsibility on the father for contributing to this narrative but in this case it was me. There are so many Black children like Giovanni dying due to the lack of imagination on the part of all of us adults, and I refuse to continue this tradition.
After receiving my letter, my father responded by asking me out to eat. While at lunch, he told me stories of his childhood I have never heard before. Stories filled to the brim with loneliness, and abandonment, and feelings of not being loved. He then apologized to me for being so distant but, “you have to understand. When a person is not taught how to show love, it becomes difficult for them to do so.”
Who knows what may have happened to Giovanni’s father. Perhaps, similar to my own, he was not taught how to show love, and in turn expressed the opposite. But no matter the case, that wound was not young Giovanni’s responsibility to mend—nor was it my responsibility as a child either. Yet now, blessed with the privilege of reaching adulthood, it is my responsibility to commit to the love I am now curating with my father. Not a responsibility to my father, but to Giovanni, and all of the children like him.
When he heard of the news of Giovanni’s murder, my father texted me saying Giovanni’s dad did not love himself, and that it must be horrible to be so afraid of your own son.
I think the same could have been said about me not long ago, and the fear I held for my father.
The fear of the unknown. The fear of him actually accepting and loving me, yet me not knowing what to do with that love. The fear of not having a script to pull from. Yet, if we truly wish to create a world in which Giovanni does not die, this unknown is where we all must start.
Timothy DuWhite identifies as a writer, poet, playwright, performer, freelance journalist, advocate, thinker, believer, lover, friend, son, brother, and Black! Their work focuses specifically on love, racial & gender justice and the state of black health. Currently DuWhite is obsessed with teaching their community about the connections of the state and the violence inflected on the black body through their writing workshop “HIV & The State: Coalition Building Beyond The Condom.”