As we near the close of week one of the A to Z Challenge (and I’m still alive—yayyy!), it’s time for another brainstorming session! A prologue, two backstories, and two character sketches down, and I’ve come to discover a major theme in Prodigal Son* (*title a work in progress)…
Or, more specifically, the lack of fathers.
Tony and Gregory lose their father at the peak of their adolescence, at the age arguably when a young black boy needs his father the most.
The absence of good fathers, especially in the black community, has become an epidemic. No offence to single mothers, but young boys need their fathers. Training up men is something a woman just can’t do, and she shouldn’t have to. Nevertheless, many women have taken on that burden. Unfortunately, just as babies quickly pick up our not-so-glamorous habits, children learn from example, and with no father in the home, boys will learn how to be men from what that see in the media and on the streets.
These influences are rarely positive.
The uprooting of black families is a destructive cycle that began in slavery and continues to this day, with the overcrowding of jails and prisons—more than half of that population being black men—the questionable killings of unarmed black men by police, the belittling of black men by law enforcement and government agencies, gang violence, drug-infested streets (if you thought this heroin epidemic is a new thing, you never lived in Harlem in the 60’s & 70’s), rap music videos that degrade black women, the insensitive stereotypes that label black men as dangerous brutes and black women as emasculating, oversexualized, welfare queens. I could go on, but I’ll stop right here and let this list take effect.
I use black men as a prime example of how black families are being uprooted because this novel will also have a strong Christian theme, as seen in Leslie’s character profile (and the interim title, Prodigal Son, alluding to the parable in the Gospel of Luke). In Christianity, the husband and father is said to be the priest of the home, in reference to 1 Corinthians 11:3 which says, “the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.” (Also see Joshua 24:15, which says, “as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”)
Back in the Garden of Eden, God’s commandment not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil originally came to Adam. He was supposed to relay that down to his wife (and slap that damn fruit out her hand). Likewise, in today’s Christian household, spiritual guidance would come to the man from Christ above (through the Holy Spirit) and trickle down to the rest of the family. That’s why the Bible says, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your husbands, as unto the Lord” (Ephesians 5:21). So, when the enemy comes to “steal, kill, and destroy” (John 10:10), he will attack the man, the head of the house, and subsequently everything else will fall out of whack.
Tony and Gregory are exceptions to the “deadbeat dad” syndrome. They didn’t lose their dad to gun violence. He’s not locked away in prison, and he’s not fathering another family. His death was purely natural (albeit sudden and severe), yet these are still two young black men now growing up in America without a father. Society wouldn’t look at them any differently. How will that realization resonate with them? How will they identify themselves?
It brings to mind that sense of double consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois explored in his The Souls of Black Folk, seeing oneself in a double identity—as you would view yourself, and as others would view you—and that difficult task of trying to reconcile the two.
In contrast, Detective Frank Maye, whose race hasn’t been revealed (and probably won’t be), loses his father much later in life. However, not knowing where he is or what happened to him leaves an open wound that is just as deep, and his ability to connect the similar traumas may be the key to finding Gregory.
Another theme this novel will likely explore is one that goes hand in hand with fathers: masculinity. What does it mean to be a man?
Gregory tries to answer this question as he goes off on his own, distancing himself from the (unintentional) coddling of his mother, Leslie. Unfortunately, with his father gone, good examples of men are short to come by, and things quickly start to spiral when he begins dating Tanisha, a parasitic woman who bounce from man to man, leeches off of Gregory to get what she wants, demeans him, cheats on him, and gets pregnant by another man. While her character may be veering toward the stereotypical, I can’t deny that there are women like her out there, and her behavior is what drives Gregory off the deep end. So for now she stays.
Lastly, in future posts, we’ll take a look at Tony, Gregory’s older brother. His character is still one-dimensional at this point, as I’m not sure how significant a role he’ll play in the novel. For now, all we have of him is the flashback in yesterday’s post, where teenage Tony behaves apathetically toward the busy work of preparing for his father’s funeral. Maybe that uncaring attitude extends into his adulthood? We’ll see as the novel comes together.
Now, I already know what you’re thinking. Since tomorrow is “G,” you’re hoping to get a character sketch of Gregory, but I think I’ve been doing plenty of sketching of him throughout all these posts, so I may do something different for tomorrow. Stay tuned!