ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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I grew up watching my father pushed into the corners of rooms at family gatherings in Brooklyn. No

one ever looked to him for an opinion. I never heard him having any major political agreement

or disagreement with someone. My father was invisible . . .



Books by E. Ethelbert Miller


How We Sleep on the Nights We Don’t Make Love  /  Fathering Words  / In Search of Color Everywhere


First Light: New and Selected Poems Where are the Love Poems for Dictators?  /  Whispers, Secrets and Promises


Beyond The Frontier: African-American Poetry for the 21st Century  / Season of Hunger/Cry of Rain


Synergy: An Anthology of Washington D.C. Black Poetry


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On Silences and Father's Day

By E. Ethelbert Miller

 June 20, 2009


Tomorrow is Father’s Day. I’m hundreds of miles away from my son and daughter. They are 22 and 27 and living in two different cities. I’m not a missing dad. I’ve never been missing. Neither was my father. I come from the tradition of quiet and silent men. The tradition of fathers who never left their wives and children, but instead “disappeared” into basements, backrooms, back porches and bedroom corners. The tradition of men who could always be found asleep in front of a television set or sitting in the dark mumbling at walls.

I come from the tradition of fathers who were watchers and providers; men who were ignored or unable to help during emergencies. My fatherhood has been defined by such things as the inability to drive, master the tools in a toolbox, or place a star at the top of a Christmas tree. How many times during a family crisis did my wife just pick-up the phone and call her brother in Iowa or a friend living down the street?

Within his own home, my father was never viewed as “the smart one.” This title was bestowed on my brother Richard, his first born and later my sister as a result of her becoming a nurse. Every family should have someone in the medical profession. It’s like having a second key or a smoke detector that works.

I grew up watching my father pushed into the corners of rooms at family gatherings in Brooklyn. No one ever looked to him for an opinion. I never heard him having any major political agreement or disagreement with someone. My father was invisible until someone died. That was when he became a man of comfort for relatives that he always considered distant.

When I think about my father, I am reminded about the loneliness that comes with fatherhood. I am reminded of the intimacy that never raised its hand. Stoic is a word I can’t use to describe him. Sadness seems like the proper sweater he could have worn.

My father, Egberto Miller coming home late from work, night after night. My mother always up and ready to fix him something to eat. Yet how often did she join him at the table? Where was the intimacy? Was it the darkness outside the kitchen window? Did my parents just simply speak a common language?

The shadow of my father continues to fall over my fatherhood, as the period of my life moves toward fall.  My children are grown. They are perhaps a few years from becoming parents. I picked up the newspaper today and read where President Obama wants to begin a national conversation on fatherhood. A conversation, maybe that’s what was missing during all my days of fatherhood. A conversation, not a lecture or an explanation. A conversation where one talks and listens, and where one is listened to. How many of us live quiet lives of desperation? We live without partners, within and outside marriage.

We talk about fathers and fatherhood but we often lip sync. We say those things we want others to hear. My father never really said much to me. My conversation was always with my mother, as I find my own children are with theirs.

What we never seem to talk about is how the men who stayed with their families suffered from the absence of intimacy in their lives. We never talk about the quiet death of their hearts. We fail to record these stories because we prefer myths and fairytales. We want to believe in happy endings, especially on Father’s day.  I remember my father this June because he was a good man. Was he happy?  No. I overheard my father’s praying one day to God. I was little at the time. I was surprised to see my father on his knees in the bedroom. I was even more surprised when God didn’t answer.

E. Ethelbert Miller  June 20, 2009

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



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Blacks in Hispanic Literature: Critical Essays

Edited by Miriam DeCosta-Willis 

Blacks in Hispanic Literature is a collection of fourteen essays by scholars and creative writers from Africa and the Americas. Called one of two significant critical works on Afro-Hispanic literature to appear in the late 1970s, it includes the pioneering studies of Carter G. Woodson and Valaurez B. Spratlin, published in the 1930s, as well as the essays of scholars whose interpretations were shaped by the Black aesthetic. The early essays, primarily of the Black-as-subject in Spanish medieval and Golden Age literature, provide an historical context for understanding 20th-century creative works by African-descended, Hispanophone writers, such as Cuban Nicolás Guillén and Ecuadorean poet, novelist, and scholar Adalberto Ortiz, whose essay analyzes the significance of Negritude in Latin America. This collaborative text set the tone for later conferences in which writers and scholars worked together to promote, disseminate, and critique the literature of Spanish-speaking people of African descent. . . . Cited by a literary critic in 2004 as "the seminal study in the field of Afro-Hispanic Literature . . . on which most scholars in the field 'cut their teeth'."

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Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America

By Melissa V. Harris-Perry

According to the author, this society has historically exerted considerable pressure on black females to fit into one of a handful of stereotypes, primarily, the Mammy, the Matriarch or the Jezebel.  The selfless Mammy’s behavior is marked by a slavish devotion to white folks’ domestic concerns, often at the expense of those of her own family’s needs. By contrast, the relatively-hedonistic Jezebel is a sexually-insatiable temptress. And the Matriarch is generally thought of as an emasculating figure who denigrates black men, ala the characters Sapphire and Aunt Esther on the television shows Amos and Andy and Sanford and Son, respectively.     

Professor Perry points out how the propagation of these harmful myths have served the mainstream culture well. For instance, the Mammy suggests that it is almost second nature for black females to feel a maternal instinct towards Caucasian babies.

As for the source of the Jezebel, black women had no control over their own bodies during slavery given that they were being auctioned off and bred to maximize profits. Nonetheless, it was in the interest of plantation owners to propagate the lie that sisters were sluts inclined to mate indiscriminately.

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 20 June 2009




Home  E Ethelbert Miller Table

Related files: Fathering Words  Poem for Our Fathers    A Response to Professor Cleanth Brooks   Fathering Words  My Father Is Dead   My Father Still Comes to Me What do you say to fathers   

The Weight and Substance of A Father's Law    Understanding London: A Review