My Father is Not Your Baba & Other Funny Stories: Tale of the Redneck

My Father is Not Your Baba & Other Funny Stories: Tale of the Redneck

There’s no HR friendly or PC way to tell this story and fortunately no one was harmed in the making of this incredibly awkward exchange…

My father has been in this country for over 30 years, but there is only so much nuance and cultural literacy one can own in the absence of having not been born and raised in this country. And even then, many people still either choose to, are not exposed to, or find it difficult to understand how various races and cultures operate linguistically.

That’s enough of a preface, so boom:

My father and a white employee of ours were working hard in moving a shipment of oxygen tanks to the basement of our previous office. This was hard work. They were both up and down stairs carrying these cylinders that are heavy and that you also have to take care not to bang up. Our employee was working their ass off and my father was really impressed.

While they are up and down, I’m minding the phone lines. And as they are working I can hear their conversation both because I have the ears of a demigod but also because the walls were paper thin. All of a sudden I hear my father say, “Wow you are a really hardworking redneck!” To which she responded with a laugh.

I just…

After the panic subsided I immediately pulled my father aside for a hushed conversation and told him to never use the word again. He was shocked! He said he thought it was a compliment. And sure the denotation of the word is based on the premise that when a white person is working hard outside, and their neck is exposed to the sun, it gets red. The connotation is what gets us in trouble. I had to parallel the use of the n-word; because while not nearly as offensive, the same rules apply. If you’re not of that race, just don’t use it. Put in that context he felt horrible and said he would make it right.

I then heard him approach the co-worker and ask her if the term he used was appropriate for the circumstance because he wasn’t sure. He mentioned that all his white friends used it, so he thought he could too. She went on to tell him that she used it all the time and it was okay that he used it. But, that sometimes people may get offended. But she wasn’t. He apologized and said that he did not know the term could be offensive and that he really wanted just to convey how much he admired her strength. She laughed and said that there was no issue.

She came to me laughing and began to tell me the story so I too could have a good laugh. I acted as if I knew nothing and then made sure she saw that I was mortified. I immediately apologized to her and told her that he probably didn’t understand the meaning behind the use of the term.

In a way, I can’t blame my father. When you are black and an immigrant, and you come to a country like America; is there much that can verbally harm white people? In a nation built for the gain of whites, what stones can you throw to dent their exterior? The reality is that white people in America have never been slaves, subjugated, or maligned. There is no white subaltern voice in America because they have always maintained hegemony. The language reflects this. The language of the colonizer, unless dismantled or altered, will always inherently favor them. This is why the employee laughed, because ultimately what’s a redneck to a nigger?

In any case, this serves as a beautiful example of immigrant acculturation. There’s only so much our environment can afford us, outside of seeking that information ourselves. We still laugh about the whole thing. And fortunately, my father can now avoid such a faux pas in the future.

Advertisements

Entrepreneurship is a Love Unrequited

Entrepreneurship is a Love Unrequited

Imagine giving your all; your nights, your weekends and even your sleep to something and not seeing your return for days, weeks, months, or even years. You spend the dreams of your days and nights working, thinking, and re-imagining dilemmas, new approaches, and ideas for this thing. But, nothing gives. All that stands is what you’ve given and there’s no take off. There will sometimes be a glimmer of flight, but then it doesn’t sustain. So again, you go back to the drawing board and think, where’s the damn love?

“All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible.” – T. E. Lawrence

Business ownership is often touted as possible for everyone, withstanding through time, passion inducing, exciting, and even sexy. But, just like that ex, it’s got no love for you. A small business does not care how much time or energy you’ve given. It doesn’t care that you’ve told everyone you love about them. It doesn’t care that you have given the most precious thing a human can: time. It does not care that you have the education, experience, network, capital, or drive.  It’ll take, and take, and take and look at you like any parasite does: pathetic.

About two years ago my father and I prepared for two weeks for a major bid submission. It was two weeks of 12-14 hour days mulling over contracts, cost analysis, vendor research, and combing through verbiage. I ended up sick during this time and between the piles of tissues, stacks of documents, and going cross eyed we treaded on. By the end of our submission we were wiped. We stood back and looked at the marvel. We felt so proud. This bid was our baby and we just loved the damn thing.

A year later that baby looked at us brand new and rejected us. Yes, sir. We did not win that bloody bid and we felt so defeated. We gave it our all; our snot, sweat, and tears and we lost. How? I mean, we were perfect for it, in every possible way. It was going to be our major break. We prayed over it, our family prayed over it, our friends did as well. And there it went: our time, energy, and hopes. In the weeks following we heard of other competitors who won and couldn’t help but wonder, “but they couldn’t love or treat you better than we could”. Ha!

All jokes aside, we heard that the bid was a bust and that those who won were being paid very little and being enforced by rules and regulations that were strict and daunting. Reimbursement for services would allow most to break even and the demographic was not necessarily desirable. In the end, the loss was a win. All that time and energy we put in, the several months after we remained faithful and envisioned a future with this win, and in the end it served us better to be without it.

The moment we let go other opportunities and contracts became available. And, because of the crash course we experienced, we shaped up our own policies and procedures. The experience made us better, and in the end we were rewarded with better opportunities because of how we grew from the experience. It’s funny, because now, if offered to us on a silver platter, we’d kindly decline that bid. Maybe not kindly, but we’ve got better having to do less. So, bye.

“Perfect behavior is born of complete indifference. Perhaps this is why we always love madly someone who treats us with indifference.” -Cesare Pavese

I believe, this is often why so many business go bust within the first few years. You cannot unwaveringly love someone without knowing them to their core. In business terms you’ve got to know the industry, you have to know the market, you’ve got to offer something new or different, you’ve got to have the startup or be willing to work for free, and finally have the kind of focus and ethics that will ingratiate you to not only your consumer base but any partnerships you forge within or outside of your business. Just like you know that love like the back of your hand, you must have a command of your industry. You know who that person may be seeing or have an interest in; know your competitors and what they offer. You know that your ex is a compulsive liar; market on that weakness and market integrity as your leverage.

The business itself has eventually learned some reciprocity. The toxic relationship it once was is now turning a bend and offering a return for our tireless commitment. But it’s a love not meant for everyone. It’s an endless endeavor that carries you beyond the computer screen and into your bed. It’s there in the meals you miss, the social activities you cannot go to, the bottles of wine you empty, and arguments you regret. It’s there, a pit in your stomach, that you cannot pass.  Entrepreneurship is for the unrelenting; for the kind of formidable force that will not recoil at “no” and retain hope in the face of seeming failure. It’s an endeavor not for most for it’s a love that even when seemingly won, requires constant attention.

If in the face of failure you leave and look elsewhere, a 9-5 working under Bob or Sue may be better for you. Otherwise, if picking back up and taking failure as leverage excites you like the sadist you are, entrepreneurship is an adventure to eventually grip the reigns of. A love to not see as hopeless, but always on the horizon.

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

My Father is Not Your Baba (and Other Funny Stories)

Inevitably, when working with your family, there are going to be cringe worthy moments of either complete embarrassment or disaster. Before embarking on joining my father, I wasn’t sure what to anticipate as far as our work relationship was concerned. Would he be a totalitarian and dictate to me how he wanted things? Are we going to fight over every important decision? Will we think likeminded and maintain professionalism? How would our work and home life balance?

Suffice to say, working with my father has probably been the easiest part of this experience. We discuss and analyze options and directions logically and try to maintain compassion for our customers/patients without getting personal or taking anything to heart. This doesn’t mean faux paxs and mild arguments don’t occur. Sometimes we do take work home and to the dinner table. There have been times I haven’t spoken to him and vice versa at home, but upon entering the office doors, we resume communication. But really, he’s probably the easiest person I’ve ever worked with.

Honestly, the best anecdotes are the funny or embarrassing ones. The very first incident being the story behind this post title; which I think I may turn into a series where I compile all the embarrassing, cringeworthy, and/or funny moments I’ve experienced working with my father.

For around the first two years of my joining the business, it was only my father and myself. We did everything. From my scrubbing the toilet to interviewing hires, to him visiting his patients to going to business meetings; it was just us two keeping the ship afloat. As such, the environment was more familial than professional. I got used to yelling across the office, “Hey Baba, did you get a chance to…” or, “Baba, I thought we were going to…” In turn he’d respond or call for me by my full name: Kalkidan. It was, after all, just us.

As business grew we made our first hire. This person has come to be an important part of our team, but at the time was simply an employee who was neither kin or kinfolk. Simply put: she’s a white woman. Okay? So, she joins our team and we begin to build our workflow and rhythm for our day-to-day. Well, one morning she knocks on the door to come in for the day and my father opens it. All of a sudden I hear her say, “Hi Baba, thanks for opening the door.” Maaan. We definitely had a good laugh.

I no longer call my father Baba in the office, but by his first name. And because my full first name is not used by Americanas, he started calling me, “Kallie”. There is a lot of intimacy in language and this was a lesson we both had to learn for the sake of professionalism. Not that my full name is unprofessional, or that my father should not be called endearingly, but that the way you communicate with one at home is not for your professional world to be invited to. If you can’t pronounce Kalkidan, don’t try because I’m not amused. And don’t call my father Baba, because he ain’t your daddy.