Fathers: Chris Bray
Not long after we met, I ran into Billykirk’s Chris Bray on a chilly, Fall Sunday at the Brooklyn Flea where he entrusted me and Brandon Capps with the care of his daughter Matilda while he shopped for saddlebags and Civil War memorabilia. It was then that I saw this man for what he really is: an old softy and one of my favorite people on this Earth, downright. He, like his brother, Kirk, has a natural warmth and a smile that goes on for days. Happy-go-lucky, and with good reason, he’s worked hard to get to where he is, and he’ll only continue to succeed in the game called Life. However, at the end of it all, it’s patently clear, his children, as with all the dads in this series, are his raison d’être. He lights up at the mention of their names. Since that day at the flea market, just about every electronic correspondence has included a picture of his Free-Spirited, Tie-dyed and Tutued, Beaded, Beatnik Beauty, Matilda. While I’ve yet to meet, Willa — surely not a reflection of my babysitting skills — the newest Bundle in the Bray Bunch, as long as dad is around, I’m sure no moment is spoiled spreading the love. And if the eight photos attached in his e-mail to me for this post are any indication, occasionally, the man loves to show off. And with kids this adorable, who wouldn’t?
When Max asked me to write this Fathers’ Day post for his blog, I wasn’t sure how to approach it. Should I simply list bullet points on things I see as important to my daughters growing into successful, productive, happy, caring adults? Should I write them a story of my youth that they would gain some kernel of knowledge from? My mind was darting back and forth, and then like a bolt of lighting, I remembered the hilarious bit Chris Rock did when he said that his only job in life was to keep his daughter off the pole. Was that the most important thing we as fathers need to focus on? I am not sure. While the bit was funny, he more poignantly said that his relationship with his daughter will affect her relationships with men for the rest of her life. This resonated with me as I hope to remain a father my daughters can trust, learn from, count on, and be there for 100%. I want more than anything for them to be open and honest and have zero reservations about telling me anything on their minds. Likewise, I will remain open and honest with them if they have questions for me.
Then I remembered that my Uncle Buford wrote me a 6 page letter when I turned 21. This was back in the early 90’s. It was one of those man to man, from-the-heart letters with pearls of wisdom strewn in with past transgressions and ways to avoid such things. He talked about finding the right girl and treating her with respect, to be open with your family and that learning from mistakes was a big part of becoming a man. In the closing, he wanted me to send his letter along with a similar styled letter of my own to his daughter (my cousin), who was around 4 at the time, when she turned 21. In 2007 Natalie turned 21, and she got both of our letters. In the closing of my letter I asked Natalie to send both my letter and her father’s along with a similar letter written by her to my daughters when they both turned 21. This sort of family time capsule is something I am very passionate about, since so much gets lost through the generations. Just imagine if this had been a family tradition for the last century and what all our relatives would have deemed useful and important.
In my letter to Natalie, which my daughters will one day have, I talked a lot about our family and what it meant to be a Bray and how proud I was of her and the path she was on. She recently graduated with her Master’s Degree in Special Education, and just last week landed a job at the school she had her sights on. My daughters, no doubt, will be inspired by Natalie one day.
In my letter, I told her trivial things like how easy it was to get fake IDs in the 80’s, climbing water towers in the rain late at night, my many fashion faux pas, like my bleach blond mullet, safety pinned jeans, and my days when I lived in a an old 60’s trench coat 90% of the time listening to The Cure, The Smiths, and Siouxsie and The Banshees. I spoke to her about more serious issues like the importance of being non-judgmental, having dignity and self worth, how to speak up for yourself and to get out and explore the world. I touched on the differences and similarities of our age groups. I commented on some tough issues that my peers and I rarely saw in print or TV but her age group saw splashed all over the news on a daily basis. Terrorism, on-line predators, school shootings, teachers getting pregnant from their students, child abductions, etc. My age group certainly didn’t witness the strangle hold all the trashy tabloid news and paparazzi have on the media executives. When the stumble of a celebrity takes precedent over some serious world event there is something very wrong. What will this be like in 15-20 years?
During the 17 years that separate Natalie and I, we have witnessed the credibility of our news media go down the drain. With its constant push to sensationalize any story involving death, greed, war, deception, slander, rape, adultery, or insert any other unsavory activity. They have essentially made us afraid of our own shadows, and in doing so, have slowly eroded the moral fabric of our society.
I shared with her an interesting article that someone wrote on soldier’s combat behavior during WWII vs. the first Iraq War. One of the findings was that many of these young soldiers in WWII routinely had trouble pulling the trigger on their enemy. They froze knowing they were about to kill another human being. However, in comparison to the first Iraq War, these soldiers had no trouble firing away. The author was relating it to just how desensitized our young adults have become due to violence in the media and in video games. I shudder to think about how much death, sex, and destruction will be pumped at my daughters as they go though their teenage years and into young adulthood. What effect will this steady societal degradation have on them and their peers? Is it really any surprise that when one becomes a father their views towards these types of things becomes more conservative? I did not have a media filter a few years ago, but now, it is tuned-in, and finely tuned at that, 24-hours-a-day.
Alas, I want them to stumble; I want them to feel struggle and challenges. I want them to think the world is not all roses and sunshine, but at the same I do not want them to live in fear. I want them to be optimistic and know when they do fail to pick themselves up and try again. I want more than anything for them to fully realize that they can make a difference if they truly believe in themselves. This life can be extremely rewarding, and I will be there guiding them at every step… that much is certain.
– Chris Bray, Billykirk