I walked into the coffee spot with my newborn baby strapped to my chest, caffeine the only way to survive the atomic bomb of new parenthood. To my left, a mother sat with two young girls happily devouring cookies and I smiled, picturing myself sitting in that same chair one day with my own two daughters, slipping them "don't tell you mother" treats before dinner. And then their dad walked in. The girls abandoned their cookies for tentative hugs, the father and the mother radiating waves of bitterness between them. The room went gray—children of divorce can sense a child custody arrangement in the air like mice can sense a hawk hovering overhead. Those weren't treats, those were appeasement cookies, chocolate chips offered as medicine to ease the pain of dad's house every other weekend. The girls dutifully followed their parents to the parking lot, removing My Little Pony backpacks and Frozen pillows from the trunk of their mom's Prius and then dutifully collapsing into the backseat of dad's Buick sedan. I sat in that cafe and watched it all, unable to turn away, holding my daughter closer.
Divorce is terrible. I watched my parents' marriage disintegrate into something more like outright hate, and the thought of my wife and I no longer being together is horrifying. But truth be told, divorce alone isn't my worst thought. My worst thought, the thought that makes all the blood in my chest rush to my throat, is not being able to see my daughters whenever I want. The image of them putting their backpacks into the trunk of my car for the desolate drive back to their mother's house Sunday night, that's the image that induces true dread.
Not seeing my children every day, that's my nightmare. Future is living my nightmare.
When I first heard "Thought It Was a Drought" I heard something new, the same new something that catapulted Future from a mid-level rapper to the kind of wave-generator even Drake wanted to ride. In many ways, DS2 was the same trap talk we'd heard before, but now there was a real undercurrent of regret, pain and self-destruction running underneath the Bando like a river of slime. His engagement had fallen apart, he was separated from his infant child, his drug addiction was spiraling out of control, and we loved him for all of it.
"Bitch, I'mma choose the dirty over you / You know I ain't scared to lose you"
When I heard that line it struck me, but not because Future was choosing drugs over Ciara. Sure, it was vaguely incomprehensible how a man could walk away from a woman capable of moving her hips like a pneumatic drill, but what did I know about being in a relationship with Ciara the human being? Maybe she was actually a terrible person, maybe not. Either way, I didn't particularly care about choosing sides in a celebrity break-up. What hit me about that line was that in choosing the dirty over his bae, he was also choosing the dirty over his son. He was choosing the dirty over what was sure to be a prolonged custody battle, choosing the dirty over potentially watching his son take his first steps. Choosing to break up or divorce, even knowing that it will mean going through lawyers to spend Christmas morning with your children, is a decision people make for all sorts of reasons or have made for them, but it's clearly a decision that's come to haunt Future, and that haunting has made for the best music of his career.
"I gave up on my conscience gotta live with it"
Kanye's "All of the Lights" hit me in the throat for the same reason. It came out just a few months after my first daughter was born, and suddenly I was able to be right there with Kanye, suffering through public visitations at Borders, begging "She need her daddy, baby please." It's impressive that Kanye was able to summon that kind of emotion before having children himself, and while Future's lyrics take a far dirtier form than "All the Lights," there's the same desperate emotion running through much of Future's music now. Remove the fame and celebrity and it's not hard to picture Future and Ciara meeting at a Borders, a cafe, a safe public place, with baby Future hauling his backpack from car to car, Russell Wilson waiting silently in the passenger seat. And as Ciara and Wilson drove away with his child forgetting him more and more with every mile, he'd reach for his trusty codeine cup. The only way to shield himself from seeing the wreckage he's made of his life is to keep blinding himself with the same mistakes that caused the crash in the first place.
He certainly appears devoted to his children, but I can't say if Future is a good parent or a bad parent, who's at fault in his ongoing and embarrassingly public custody battle with Ciara. I can barely understand the complicated interworkings of my own family, let alone the relationships of complete strangers, and I've seen enough divorces and broken engagements up-close to know there is no wrong or right, just a swirling haze of regret and anger that parents try (and always fail) to keep from descending on their children too.
I can't recognize most of Future's music as truth, moving bass and piling stacks of cash have never been a real part of my life. But here, in this one case, on a fundamental human level, I can relate to watching Future confront the abyss that is being denied your own child. In this one small way, as fathers, I can picture us as one and the same.
I just want my children. That's all.
Photo Credit: Instagram