My father, William Baxter Gaines Sr., and I always had a contentious relationship. He didn’t talk much to his children about his military experience. He did not hug, read bedtime stories, give out compliments or kiss goodnight. This didn’t seem to bother my siblings. I, on the other hand, languished.
I took my father’s shunning personally and I left home as a teenager, deciding that I didn’t care what he thought of me or whether he ever said, “I love you.” But of course it did matter. My bottled-up desperation to be loved exploded again and again.
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This was us. On the evening of April 4, 1968, as news spread of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, riots erupted in the District. I was pregnant with my daughter and trying to comprehend bringing a child into a racist, violent world. As I walked into our house in Glenarden, my father said
“Your people are rioting.” His comments sparked a loud, heated exchange between us.
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