Gabriel Williams

by Terry Watson | September 20th, 2021
Gabriel Williams

Gabriel Williams

All fathers want the best for their children. We protect them, nurture them, guide them, teach them, all in hopes that one day they will find their path, see the beacon that will guide them through life. We hope that we have learned enough in life that we will be able to bestow the best of ourselves in them. I am one of those fathers. But through all that I have learned in my forty-five years God has blessed me with, the most valuable lesson has been this:

Sometimes the teacher can become the student. The teacher must only be humble enough to know that he or she doesn’t know it all.

Last year during the pandemic, I discovered I liked to write. Liked is actually a misrepresentation. I loved to write. I began penning my first novel, fin: a story of love and hope. It was exhilarating and frustrating all at the same time. I was through my first draft and laboring through rewrites, when one day my youngest son, Gabriel approached, his face full of boredom and angst from the lockdown.

“Daddy…”
“Yes?”
“I’m bored.”
“I know, buddy. I wish you could just go outside.”

His face grew sad but changed to excitement within seconds.

“Daddy, can I get a book?”

It was a simple request; one most parents would love to hear from their children. The problem? It was June 2020, and America was in the midst of the COVID-19 lockdown. Here in the Hampton Roads section of Virginia, everything was closed. Gabriel, or “Poppa” as I call him, and I sat at my computer and searched online for a book he might enjoy, yet we had two different reactions. While Gabriel became uninspired by the available books, I became irritated. None of the books featured a young, Black boy as the protagonist unless they were overcoming some stereotypical struggle.

The death of a loved one. Not making the team. Overcoming being the “different” kid in class, code for “the only Black kid”.

Where was the Black Harry Potter or Black Diary of a Wimpy Kid? Where was the book where the little Black boy toppled a dragon or explored the stars? I decided to put my book aside (a welcomed break I might add) and do something about our conundrum.

“You know what, Poppa? I’m gonna write you one!”

I sat down and began plugging away, well into the night. With the first chapter done, I slipped it underneath his bedroom door. The next morning, Gabriel awoke, read it, then ran to me.

“Daddy, where’s the rest?”

This routine repeated, another night, another chapter. Then something happened, something special, something beautiful, something I never anticipated. One morning, he ran into the kitchen.

“Daddy, you know what would be really cool? If after they jump in time, they go…”

That was it. That was the moment. The moment I became the student. I mean, who better to learn how to entertain an adolescent, Black boy from than an adolescent, Black boy? Gabriel became part of the story, part of my writing journey, and I a part of his.

We sat next to each other and plotted out the adventures of Franklin and Brooklyn, the brother and sister that star in our book, JUMP. I watched as he would light up and explain to me what a fight scene should look like or what “OP” meant (overpowered, for all you parents). What I saw as one book, Gabriel saw as multiple, seven, in fact. We created an entire world, full of its own rich history, people, wonder, and adventure. People that looked like him, doing amazing things that is normally reserved for others. When it was done, he smiled at his creation.

When he held the first proof copy in his hands, complete with illustrations and his name on the cover, I fought back the tears as he marveled at what we had done, what he had done. The thing Gabriel has taught me most is humility. When asked how it feels to be a published author, he giggles, shrugs his shoulders, then a simple word flows out of his huge smile.

“Cool!”

The sight of his book on shelves in a local Barnes & Noble left him in awe. He didn’t need words. His face said it all. When he got his first fan, a mother that not only bought a copy of the book but asked to take a picture with him so she could show her son whom the book was for, he smiled big and hugged her. He didn’t need to say thank you. His hug said it all.

“You’re welcome,” she replied.

Maybe it’s from a place of naivety that he responds this way, an innocence that hasn’t let him fully appreciate what he has accomplished. But I cannot take credit for this amazing child alone. He has a huge support system. His step-father, David Logan, probably gets more excited than I do. Sometimes I don’t know who is the bigger fan: he or I?

“Gabe, this is huge! You got your book in stores! I’m trying to be like you when I go up!”

In typical fashion, Gabriel simply smiles.

Yet when he and I are alone, his imagination goes into hyperdrive, and he opens up. A discussion about the continuing adventures of Franklin and Brooklyn could spiral into his favorite anime or a character he created or his favorite food, and these conversations could last for hours. Sprinkled in between, I share life lessons and he, in turn, shares his with me. Then we take what we have learned and pour them into our characters. For Gabriel, it’s about the process.

“It’s the ideas. I get to be very creative and develop characters and their powers. But I love Franklin’s feelings. A lot of times with superheroes, they are always brave. But Franklin feels scared sometimes, but he becomes brave. He feels like a normal person. He feels like me.”

Frank Pittman once said, “Fathering is not something that perfect men do, but something that perfects the man.” And so, as I teach him, guide him, nurture and love him, I remember the most important thing he has taught me: humility. I’m watching, Poppa, and I am ready for my next lesson.

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