Dannie, Are You With Me? Pushing Me, Pushing Me, Pushing Me …!

whilwindA force pressing against my back

Yet leading from my front as well

A whirlwind of spiritual urgency

Like an alarm clock as a church bell

 

Waking me up early most every morning

Keeping me awake late many nights

Setting aside other preoccupations

For the priorities that are in my sights

 

Holy Man Dannie

My eldest brother Dannie McBrayer

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

 

My eldest brother’s earthly life was ended

Suddenly, violently with tragic woe

Snatched from the vault of my favorite familiars

Leaving my soul pummeled from the blow

 

Kwabena as Dannie

Me looking like Dannie

I … miss … him

My other part, my uncertain twin

The sameness of our facial feature

Compared nothing to our unity within

 

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

 

Sadness and mourning still does haunt me

Lurking around corners, thug in an alley

I am not yet safe from pain in my heart

And the deep loneliness that I still carry

 

oar in the riverAll the while though, there is something good

Something so steady and sure

When I feel ravaged in the river of life

I find at my center a steady, familiar oar

 

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

 

I’ve known his prescient presence all my life

Schooling me on what challenges will come

My rites of passage was a one man show

Adding to my growth until adulthood was the sum

 

Dannie @ peace

Dannie is his adopted city of Dallas TX

Now waging the deciding battles of my time

Determining what shall be, will be, or not

This sibling of supreme allegiance and love

Is still fighting by my side after his war is fought

 

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

 

Always having been a protector in my youth

Whether by force or wisdom to me distilled

I was forever watched over, steadily guarded

And I do believe Dannie fights for me still

 

opportunity knockerI feel him lifting and shoving barriers out of my way

Or bringing opportunities knocking to the door

He is both brute of strength and essence of honey

His legendary wit and charm lasts with most evermore

 

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

Dannie, are you with me?

Pushing me, pushing me, pushing me …!

 

If you wonder why I cannot, will not stop

These words are to unravel the riddle

It is not me alone that is riding this magic carpet

I have a co-pilot steering things right from the middle

 

risk aheadLike many good brothers turned father before him

Dannie taught me how to drive an automobile

“Focus on the center, rather than threats on the side”

Lessons of steering through life taught behind a wheel

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An Elegy for the Man: Who Will Cry for Little Dan?

Dannie the name

Dannie means “God is my judge” in Hebrew

In literature, an elegy is a mournful, melancholic or plaintive poem, especially a funeral song or a lament for the dead. Although a speech at a funeral is a eulogy, it can be customary to later compose an elegy to someone you have loved and lost to the grave. The purpose of this kind of writing is to express feelings rather than tell a story. The noun elegy was borrowed in the 16th century from Middle French élégie, from Latin elegīa, from Greek elegeia, from elegos “mournful poem or lament.” This elegy is a lament of my heart on behalf of my family for our dearest brother, husband, father, and uncle Dannie.

Dan the Landscaper

Dan during his landscaping career

In the shock of the immediate loss of Dannie, my emotions and thoughts were a mixture of acute pain along with an urgent need to remember who he was as a full person. Perhaps I felt a call to protect his life legacy from being truncated by the one act of a tragic death. However, my journey to deeper pondering and search for understanding came through phone conversations with my brother just older than me Marvin McBrayer. He took the time to call me during these recent days of grieving to check in on how I was handling things, so I in turn did the same for him. It just happened that way.

Marvin & DannieMarvin and I talked about our brother Dannie. Covering many areas, we kept trying to perceive together what might have been the root of the despair that could lead our life-loving brother to take his own life. After thinking it over again and again we could come to no absolutely conclusive answer of course, as matters like these are often left unknowable in a complete sense. But there was a general theme that reoccurred as a very likely source of the calamitous clouds that ultimately proved to be more than Dannie’s beams of beautiful sunlight could shine through anymore.

who-will-cry1

little AntwoneThis poignant poem was written by the author of a book that turned into a feature length movie that many may have seen. The film explores themes of abandonment, child abuse, race, psychiatry, and general healing. I have been deeply moved each time I’ve seen Antwone Fisher. It seemed to honor the profound human reality that we seldom truly move beyond deep trauma in our collective or personal lives until these is an equally deep experience of authentic healing. This could be said for a group like Black people who strive to survive the “Maafa” or African Holocaust which includes the Arab and Atlantic slave trades, and continued through imperialism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression to the present day. Or it could be the vulnerable little boy still wounded inside of a grown man, but never healed.

Shaft DanI am fond of revelling in how much me and Dannie look and are alike in so many ways. He used to call me a bad carbon copy and other joking put downs that were part of our brotherly fun. An Adonis of a man physically and Imhotepian in his brilliance, it made me very proud growing up to be even considered a facsimile of the first born son in our family. As I lay in bed early this morning, comparisons between Dannie and me kept swirling through my mind as I struggled to understand what was different about us that would keep me from reaching the same conclusion that he did about life. The answer came to me in a clear vision that was both the fruit of discussions with my brother Marvin as well as a revelation of transfiguration.

Baby Dannie

Dannie as a baby

With all the problems that have been a part of my life, the core of my childhood is not one. I was blessed to experience a relatively secure upbringing, where needs were met and nurturing love abounded. These were as much the gifts of my doting older brothers and sisters as it was that of my parents, all seemingly in cahoots with an open conspiracy of affection and most notably protection. So in my moments of greatest despair through life, I always had this reservoir of self confidence and intrinsic value to pull from when existential emergencies of personal self worth required it. Along with divine Grace, I have often been able to make it back from the brink of self destruction with this internal tether of love.

Nerd Dan

Dannie in childhood

I am not here to say that Dannie did not have this. Nor am I offering some psychobabble explanation of the complexities involved with Dannie’s life. My point is mainly to lament for Dannie what some know to be too true. While every home can have its bad and good times, the McBrayer household Dannie grew up in held deep pathologies created or inherited by those within. This is the insight that Marvin shared with me as an older sibling in our talks, but then it became the awareness that I’ve come to know deep in my own heart. Dannie could not find healing as a man because like Antwone Fisher, he needed to discover healing for the little boy within himself first.

Antwone Fisher Viola Davis

Antwone’s character confronting his mother

In the movie, Antwone’s character acted out his childhood trauma by being temperamental and often behaving violently at inappropriate times. He struggles to find the balance in his life until a compassionate and insightful psychiatrist offers the right therapeutic response he needed (notably without medication), allowing him to begin a self guided journey to real healing. At the core of the healing process were confrontations with his childhood abusers and even his own mother who had abandoned him to that fate. For his own peace of mind, Antwone needed to express how he felt to those who had hurt the little boy inside of him now that he was man enough to stand up for himself. This cathartic exercise of psychic vindication not only freed him from the anger that blinded his ability to see contemporary life clearly, it also allowed Antwone to trust love for the first time with a woman that truly valued him for the man he was.

handsome DanIn my grief, I had been so focused on waxing nostalgic about all the wonderful things Dannie had done for others his whole life that it took Marvin to help me consider that maybe this was also a cover for the inability of Dannie to actually care for himself. Similar to Antwone’s violence, Dannie’s extraordinary benevolence may have obscurred something we all needed to see. Whatever the tragedy of his suicide is now, I believe it began many years ago with the trauma of an abused little boy who never learned to cry for himself. With the full mind of our mother gone from us due to Alzheimer’s disease, it is left to our father to offer some closure on this if he has the courage and will to do so. Often abusers have their own stories of abuse to tell.

Most importantly, we must decide going forward as a family to never again allow harm that can be prevented to visit upon the most vulnerable among us: our children. With all reasonable considerations, we must be unwavering in our determination to protect the right to a safe childhood for those who can’t defend themselves. The lives we save will be our own.

Dannie, Jerry, Kevin, & Marvin

Dannie on the left with brother Kevin, Jerry, and Marvin

Dannie, my brother forever

dannie-mcbrayerDannie McBrayer is my eldest brother and he joined the ancestors of my family line yesterday on November 17, 2013 as he transitioned from this mortal plane of existence. Dannie is the first born male of my parents, Dolores “Pauline” (Alston) McBrayer and Jerry Lee McBrayer, Sr. His other siblings include Karen, Belinda, Jerry Jr., Denise, Amanda, Kevin, Marvin, Lance, and Randall. Dannie has one beloved and treasured child, his daughter Danielle McBrayer through his first marriage to Dorra Blue. He current wife is Lita McBrayer of Dallas, Texas.

NYAME NNWU NA MAWU

NYAME NNWU NA MAWU
“God never dies, therefore I cannot die”

Within traditional African philosophy, there is no distinction between the physical world and the spiritual world; the afterlife is regarded as simply a continuation of life on earth. Death is regarded as part of man’s destiny, a departure in which the physical body decays but the spirit moves on to another state of existence, As long as there is someone alive who can remember a deceased person, that person is considered as part of the “living dead.” After no living person remembers the name of the deceased, he or she becomes part of a collective, community immortality (New World Encyclopedia).

dannie-mcbrayer 2In the heritage of this very African concept, I wish to remember my brother here by sharing some of what I experienced and know about him. For me as a young boy, Dannie was one of my earliest and best examples of manhood. I grew up unabashedly admiring him for what he could do and who he was. It seemed to me that he was capable of incredible feats, fixing anything that needed repair and making all things possible. He was strong, a physically strapping product of my father’s formidable genetic inheritance for body build. Having played several sports in school, he was also a life long athlete with his favorite pastimes being basketball, football and tennis. Dannie was also a very handsome man with classically masculine features chiseled in his face and a confident, disarmingly warm smile. He was also very charming, possessing a personality that knew no stranger and generous with laughter or wit.

Kingdom HallMy brother Dannie was a deeply spiritual man. Raised as a Jehovah’s Witness as we all were in my family, he had an enduring love for the Bible and God that he fondly called “Jah”. Rooted in his faith, Dannie also had a profound sense of community and oneness with humanity. He was a true man of the people, making friends easily wherever he went and leaving behind an impression through his deeds of kindness or service. I use to marvel and perhaps envy a bit how naturally he could make connections with complete strangers or how varied his associations where in all walks of like. He had the gift of ministry and in his best days preached a gospel of universal love.

jack-of-all-trades-710x412A proverbial Jack of all trades and master of some, Dannie was skilled at many things. He was perhaps best known as an automobile mechanic, having chosen this trade very early in life. He had the mind of an engineer and loved to solve problems. A serial entrepreneur, he tried his hand at a number of businesses over the years. I was an under aged employee of his landscaping enterprise during my adolescent years in Dallas, Texas. The manner in which he worked me was certainly in violation of some labor laws, but I benefited from gaining early the value of industriousness and pride in craftsmanship. He was precise, reliable, and thorough. These are the elements of character and core values that I learned at the feet of my big brother.

family @ Danielles graduation

Our family at Dannie’s daughter Danielle’s graduation from college

Perhaps more than all else, Dannie is a head of our extended family clan. He loved his family and being family. With a strong sense of who we were and how we should be in the world, he modeled the values of fidelity to kin as a elder sibling. There were enough of us brothers and sisters for him to be a surrogate father to we younger ones and he fulfilled that needed capacity gladly. He continued a dedicated focus on young people in his roles as an uncle and member of congregations or other social networks. He taught me how to ride a bike, cut a manicured lawn, drive a car (manual shift), play chess, perform an oil change, put on a tie, shoot a jump shot, and swing a tennis racket. He showed me how to be a man.

ResignOne of Dannie’s greatest joys in life was chess. He had an all consuming affection and fascination with the game. It spoke to both his competitive spirit as well as Dannie’s formidable intellect. He was no casual player, investing himself in studying chess books and the Masters. At the same time, he was always willing to teach a novice the basics of the game as if he were its ambassador to the uninitiated. In chess, it is respectable for a player with no more reasonable moves available to resign in a gesture of dignity and pride by laying down his king piece on the board. For reasons too complex and unknowable for me to address here, Dannie gradually resigned from the game of life some time ago. We played our last chess match together online during my birthday last week on November 10th. Good game, my brother.

Dannie & Lita

Dannie and his wife Lita

Love + Time + Values = Fatherhood for Me

As is often said about many challenging roles in life, fatherhood for me came with no particularly clear instruction manual. Fortunately, my children arrived in this world blessed with good health, sound minds and I believe the blessings of our ancestors, but their mother and I pretty much had to take it from there. As their untested father, I felt somewhat less equipped due to the apparent lack of obvious biological reinforcements for what loomed as the most challenging and difficult thing I have ever done in my life. There was no milk in my chest that unmistakably demonstrated my purpose and value to our young babies. Perhaps even less present were cultural and societal reinforcements for how best to proceed with what had become job number one in my life: How to be a father to a child.

My father, Jerry Lee McBrayer

The equation that developed as a solution to my many fatherhood questions came to me through mostly instinct I feel, and a willful intent on my part to be the father my children needed most. Like too many men in our society, my biological father was absent for much of my life. Due to my mother’s brilliant and effective rise to the occasion, I have no extraordinary sob story to present for this reality. I feel my youthful years were good, relatively secure, and nurturing in many of the most critical ways. And I actually have a number of meaningful and positive memories of my birth father’s involvement in my early childhood development, even if they are fleeting and far too few. The hugest liability of my younger years seems to have been a paucity of place due to frequent relocations as my mother moved us again and again in seemingly endless gyrations of separation and reconciliation with her husband (my father). My father’s dominant absence may be an opportunity cost that my psyche will not let me fully appreciate at this point.

Love + TIme + Values

Cool Kwesi

Baby Issata in the sun

I loved my babies from the first moment they burst forth from their mother’s womb. Both relationships with my son Kwesi and my daughter Issata seemed to begin like primal romances filled with excellent drama and deep affections. The first thing I did for my son was sever his physical attachment to his mother but cutting the umbilical cord and setting him on his path as an individual human being. I kept the shirt on which the blood splattered for many years as a relic of this family sacrament, held in the holy abode of the hospital delivery room. He was beautiful to me from the beginning and grew more so each day as a Man-Child of our own doing. The bond with my daughter was also immediate, but truthfully took longer to mature due to her strange “Men In Black” alien appearance as a new born (just being honest). The trick was on me as she has grown to be my heart, probably the closet expression of my nature between the two, and a gorgeous sight to behold.

I started putting the time in early with my son. In the first months, it seemed he would not rest fully unless bundled on my chest and coaxed to sleep by the rise and fall of my breathing. I became a master at diaper changes and kitchen sink baths, while relieving his mother as much as possible with late night bottle feedings of breast milk. To spend the maximum amount of time with him while still earning a living, I launched a “daddy day care” called Alkebu-Lan Family Home Care which allowed me quality time with both him and several other children of friends from my home church The Shrine of the Black Madonna. Kwesi not only knew who I was, but he knew “whose he was”. I believe this intense early investment is much of the reason for the tight bond I enjoy with my son to this day. For most children, quality time is everything.

While I was less available for my daughter is her newborn years due to increased work responsibilities and service as a community leader, Issata didn’t seem to need me as much or even be very interested in a father at first. All she wanted as a baby was her mother and the teats that gave her so much joy and satisfaction. I distinctly remember feeling left out and unappreciated, but also realizing that you can’t always be with the in-crowd. Those years of marginalization eventually melted away as she weaned off her mother alone and embraced both parents equally. While it may too early to call her a “daddy’s girl”, my daughter does love her some Kwabena. Our time together is often some of the best fatherhood moments so far for me, as I see in her many reflections of my own temperament and thinking. She melts my heart when she says, “I want to be a politician like my daddy” even after community meetings at no end. I take my children with me every where I go.

Learning to grow & love vegetables

Another critical part of my fatherhood equation has been the sharing and transferring of values to my children. I am very intentional about helping my children learn loyalty to one another as brother and sister, knowledge of and pride in their African identity, commitment and service to community, and a close relationship to the natural world through horticultural literacy. Good manners are also a very important standard that I try to instill with them, as well as truth telling and critical thinking. I enjoy talking with my children and hearing what their young minds or hearts are making of the world. I am grateful that they listen to me and follow instruction for the most part. More than all else I am trying to do in this world, I take the responsibility of raising these two human beings most seriously. I believe it is the most important thing I will ever do.