Becoming a father has brought me over the past 11 months the greatest, most unmitigated joy of my life.
It’s true what they say: Bringing a child into the world reorders one’s priorities. The job of rearing a child more or less lines out the tasks as her development dictates — feeding her, singing to her, teaching her to wave and clap her hands, running after her, removing foreign objects from her mouth, counseling her on dealing with mean kids, talking about safe sex and the consequences of using drugs.
Okay, I’m getting a little bit ahead of myself, but you get what I mean. There’s no point in trying to complete the task, because it’s never done and it really depends on her pace, so listening and paying attention become more important than doing.197
In an odd way, I feel more relaxed as a parent. The burden of my own reputation and accomplishments becomes refocused on merely trying to set a good example for a child that ravenously emulates my every pose and mannerism. Second-guessing past decisions becomes much less important than attending to the demands of the present. Time is finite and fleeting. All I can do is give it my best shot. This child will be an adult in a flash, and I don’t want to miss any of her growth.
Becoming more relaxed and comfortable in my own skin as a parent has also allowed me to reflect on the series of events that brought me here. Mine feels like a fragmented and haphazard history. I guess that proves there’s an element of fate in life.
It was roughly 10 years ago that I first came to Greensboro. I’ve watched this city grow up as I’ve grown in to middle age, while charting a similar progression in Winston-Salem and High Point, to a lesser extent.
Exactly 10 years ago I was in Vermont celebrating my grandmother’s 80th birthday with cousins, aunts and uncles. This week I’ll be in Vermont celebrating her 90th birthday.
In the summer of 2004, I was quietly grappling with an existential crisis that was quickly unraveling my psyche. My vocation as a journalist meant everything to me, but I was buried under debt from my new, fancy Ivy League degree and struggling to develop competency at my first job. The cultural disconnect embedded in the gig — I was a young, crusading Anglo reporter from Kentucky tasked with uncovering corruption in a predominantly Latino public-school system in rural northern New Mexico — threw into question every value I thought I had. Whose side was I on and where did my loyalties lie? Was I trying to build the community up or tear it down? What exactly was my purpose?
Over the intervening months from July 2004 through late November, when I found myself at Brian Clarey’s Thanksgiving table in Greensboro, I extricated myself from the job in New Mexico, landed an interim gig with the Institute for Southern Studies in Durham to monitor the presidential election for voter disenfranchisement, quit smoking and figured out my next move.
When I landed in Greensboro, it felt both familiar and foreign. The anarchist collective house where I stayed on Mendenhall Street was an echo of my experience in Durham, albeit less self-righteous and more esoteric. Like Durham, the Greensboro to which I became acquainted thrived under the radar through indie rock and punk shows at house parties, scavenging and sharing food and group bike rides.
At the same time, what passed for culture in the legitimate commercial economy seemed like a throwback to the worst, most superficial aspects of the ’80s. I didn’t get Joey Medaloni’s boom-boom nightclubs on South Elm Street, or the appeal of a personal appearance by Vince Neil at Greene Street with a VIP section — I guess some things don’t change.
I found a peer group and a sense of collective identity in the 18-month series of group encounters that was the Truth and Reconciliation process, which was focused on repairing the injustice of the 1979 Klan-Nazi shootings. I was vaguely aware of Action Greensboro, which was leading a parallel collective process to promote prosperity by planting the seeds of collaborative entrepreneurship, an effort to replace the top-down corporate culture that was going by the wayside. At the time I vaguely distrusted Action Greensboro, viewing their efforts as empty civic boosterism.
The Gate City was still firmly in the throes of an auto-dominant sprawl, and I remember Councilman Robbie Perkins expressing disdain for an initiative to add bicycle infrastructure by saying that as long as the majority of people want to drive cars, transportation dollars would be reserved for roads. Since then, bike lanes and bike racks have proliferated, and Perkins reinvented himself as an urbanist of sorts who appreciated the importance of a vibrant city life.
Action Greensboro has become the lead agent in creating a walkable Greensboro by raising money, building and promoting the Downtown Greenway. Over the years I have seen the reparative justice emphasis of the Truth and Reconciliation process and the pro-growth focus of Action Greensboro become less mutually exclusive and more complementary.
Over the past 10 years, the world has bent towards me, and I have bent towards it.