“Hello dear friend! [Son] is smiling for the first time in 4 weeks! I say thank u for this day! Just to see him smile makes me smile even if it is just for a few seconds. Thank u! Love [Mother]”
To dozens of children he is affectionately known as Baba. Baba is the Kiswahili word for father, but is also used generally out of respect, when a younger person addresses an older male. Few would tell you the latter. He would. Even fewer would tell you that, that’s why they choose to call him by that title. None would tell you that either way, doesn’t fit.
To most, he is the “old, young guy in the neighborhood who fixes your bike, teaches you karate or how to fix a vacuum cleaner.” “Shh, he comin.’ You can’t too much cus’ round him. Hey, Baba! Iz you ridin’ yo’ mountain bike today?” These are the childish refrains he smiles at inwardly. He’d never tell you as a matter of conversation, but he relishes his role and basks in the admiration … but … it’s mostly about the feeling. Some, might call it pride. He calls it love.
Yes, this is a Bio.
It is as nontraditional as the man it hopes to capture and relate in small snippets of words. To experience him is to passionately inhale that first samplin’ of mama’s summer homemade ice cream, brain-freeze be damned. His LIFE™ is his Bio and his Bio is his life. We may only take you down roads that we have known with him. Yet, there will certainly be more you’ll want travel.
The quote that prefaced us in this unfolding was written to Mukhtar Kojo Ali, our protagonist. It was sent to him as a text message, which he adoringly has saved on his phone for about a year. He often reflects on it, as his solitary reward and silent encouragement during the really tough times. The immigrant mother, who authored the sincere and impassioned gratitude, had confided in him that her son had confessed to her, his thoughts of suicide.
Amongst the post-adolescent/juvenile crowd he wears another moniker. “You have children?” He says, with a glint of recognition that they might. “You’ve seen Lion King?” He doesn’t pause for the acknowledgement. “The baboon, Rafiki, not so good-looking but awful wise.” He’s probably introduced himself like this over a thousand times, by now. Each time, it’s with a smile. He’s corny like that.
This is how he had introduced himself to the struggling mother (weeks from her hard earned Ph.D.), who had learned of him through another mom whose son he had mentored and befriended with positive results. This hopeful mother studied Rafiki for several weeks and many interactions before allowing herself this pained revolt. Her choice to break from her socially accepted normalcy and reach for help, outside the traditional framework of family, could create a wound that not even time could cauterize.
It is from these shadows that you may best view the man, the father, the agitator, the change-agent, the entertainer, the orator, the husband and the friend.