I am not an underdog. Statistically, perhaps I should be. I was born to a poor 16-year-old girl and 19-year-old boy. We lived in motels and projects and rundown homes. At times, we relied on food stamps and donations to get by and boiled water for hot baths. We were looked at with pity and even disgust. There were whispers that we were worthless, that my siblings and I would be a product of our environment.
Our destiny was written by for us by others. My sister and I were to be teenage mothers, just as our mom was, struggling to rare the next generation of scourge; my brothers – unfortunate misfits. These aren’t exaggerations. We heard the satisfactory way these predictions were made. Us failing demonstrated the world order. It just made good sense.
But here’s the thing; we were never underdogs. I was never an underdog. I was raised to believe that I was a bad ass no one better ever mess with. Not because my mom or dad would swoop in to save me but because I was strong and powerful and could handle it.
Both my mom and dad gave me traits to not only survive this world but to thrive in it. Humble swagger, that’s what I have. I’m confident and compassionate. Empathy hits me so hard that it physically hurts at times. I hold my head up even as I’m being knocked down because I know I’m getting back up.
I am a product of my environment. An environment of unconditional love, and perseverance. An environment that embraced being unique and different and interesting. An environment that took every roadblock and knocked it out of the fucking park.
These are the things that I’m holding on to as I struggle with my dad’s death. He is in me and that makes me fierce. Man, that makes me fierce. His words echo in my head telling me to keep moving. I don’t have a choice. His standards were too high.
My dad never offered to fix a situation for me although I knew he would if I needed it. He cheered me on as I tackled it, telling me that I could do it. At the end he’d say, “I never doubted you for a second.”
Once, I was on the train in Atlanta and two men began fighting. After a punch was thrown one of the men got off at the next stop. The man that stayed on the train, held the door open and attempted to provoke the other back on.
People were scared. An old lady trembled in her seat and people were huddled together at one end of the train car. I got angry and stood nose to nose with the man, looking him in the eye. “If he gets back on this train I’m going to help him kick your ass,” I said,” Get off or let the doors close but you’re not finishing your fight on this train.” He let the door close and sat down, apologizing.
I called my dad later that day and recounted the story. “He didn’t know who he was messing with,” was his response.
Another time, while I was in Switzerland, a man passing by touched me between the legs, chuckling to his friends. I turned around and kneed him so hard in the groin that he was struggling to breathe as I walked away. “That’s what he gets for fucking with my baby girl,” my dad said later.
He had this confidence in me that made me feel exceptional and even invincible. Both of the aforementioned stories could have turned out much differently and maybe one day one will but I don’t shrink and I don’t run. I am my dad’s daughter.
I’ve never been an underdog. Not for a second.