My Dad, Will Smith and Me

Dad Fam Pool

Writing Saturday’s post about the strange cast of characters that I’m proud to call my family served as another reminder of what a fantastic job my parents did raising us Burri over the years. My various life experiences, and perhaps most notably teaching for two years, have made me see how significant and positive a role having an involved father in one’s life can be in who he or she becomes later in life.

When you’re a 20-something like me, you generally start trying to define yourself, often without any awareness or acknowledgement of the whole process. As I approach the big 3-0, I’ve done a bit more reflecting on the person I’ve become and have increasingly come to the see the truth behind the many comments on how similar I am to my dad.

While I don’t profess to share his penchant for napping or (lack of) organization skills, there are many traits that the two of us undoubtedly share. To name a few, we both have a love of the guitar, good music, peanut butter, road trips and technology. More importantly, however, I like to think that I’ve become the compassionate, cultured, inquisitive, driven, fiercely loyal, fun loving, overly sarcastic and accepting person I am today because of him.

I’m proud to say that I see so much of myself in my dad (and Mama Burrus, of course). While there are entirely too many things to list for which I’ll be forever grateful to my parents, one of the most striking at this moment is that they always made sure my siblings and I appreciated and embraced our African-American heritage, and that we never tolerate any form of prejudice because of it. I can safely say that I’m not only the man I’ve become because of my parents, but the Black man I am because of them as well.

Anyone who knows my dad is also keenly aware of his kind heart, ever-chill demeanor and the prudence he exercises in his choice of words and their timing in a given situation. With that said, I recently saw a quote from (the fake Twitter account of) Will Smith that reminded me very much of my dad (and indeed myself) that I wanted to end on here.

Screen Shot 2013-06-16 at 11.09.37 PM

And as on Mother’s Day, since the fam and I couldn’t physically reunite for the holiday, we met up on Google Hangout – a pic for your viewing pleasure…

Fathers Day Hang Out

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My White Sister Has Got Me Thinking…

Family Bombeck Quote

My fav middle (and white) sister, Elizabeth, Instagrammed this quote from journalist Erma Bombeck on my birthday this week. Perhaps because of all the birthday wishes or the fact that it’s now Father’s Day weekend, but the quote she shared has increasingly resonated with me these past few days.

I’ve mentioned this to people on and off over the years – and yes, I know it sounds hella cliché – but my family are my best friends. We’re indeed a strange cast of characters who may look nothing alike but share so very much in common – from our winsome smiles and inane senses of humor to our core values and many little quirks. We’re a bunch who’ve each become fiercely independent while still learning to grow together through our individual and common experiences.

No doubt there’s been lots of loving and laughter over the years -two qualities that go hand in hand in our family. We’ve also had our fair share of sharing illnesses (really, the ‘rents are saints for taking care of our sick selves, especially with Mare’s hypochondriac ways), hiding (and breaking) toys, borrowing (and at times stealing) money, among many other challenges, which I view as having only served to further unite us over the years.

As important as loving and laughter are to any functional fam, I’ve also come to find the “defending” component as equally essential to the mix. We’re all quick to call each other out on our shit, but even quicker to defend one another. We may not be fighters (well, except for maybe Annie after that hockey stick incident), but I would caution anyone to mess with the Burri.

Sure, with the six of us (seven if you count our token black sheep or good ol’ Grandma across the street) occasionally comes the selfish diva, moody bitch, annoying vegan, inconsiderate ass, unsought counselor and insufferable know-it-all (often as a result of the blond – ahem, Elizabeth). We’ve seen each other at our best and at our absolute worst – I know I’ve resigned myself to never living down Annie’s wedding reception…

After some solid reflection on that moment and so many others these past few days, I keep coming back to something my dad told us time and again growing up: “You’ve all got to stick together.”

Well, Dad, stick together we certainly have. I believe it’s this that has become the common thread that’s bound us all together.

Move Over Taylor Swift

Guitar

If T-Swizzle can play the guitar, then anyone can, right? Learning the guitar has been secretly sitting on my bucket list for some time now, so I recently decided to take the plunge and bought an acoustic guitar. Now mind you that I haven’t played a musical instrument since my middle school days of playing the oboe, which did as little for my social status as it did for my parents’ discretionary income given the countless $8 reeds that I destroyed – sorry again, mom and dad.

In addition to bringing back some unpleasant memories of my overweight younger years, taking up the guitar has helped me recall how learning a new instrument represents the perfect combination of fun and frustration. After a few short weeks, though, I can easily say that the “fun” has totally trumped the occasional moments of frustration. It’s awesome to just get lost in playing and not give a single thought to the real world for a while.

Along with self-teaching out of one of those ridiculously juvenile (but admittedly appropriate) beginner books – we all remember those, right? – to add more fun to the process I’ve begun taking lessons at a local guitar store in my neighborhood.  

Forgive me for the unkosher yet fitting reference, but my teacher is the tits. Just a few minutes into my first lesson, I not only had a good feel for Jay’s exceptional guitar playing, but the way in which he’s able to put himself in his students’ shoes and teach to their individual level as well.

One of the best parts of our lessons is the humor, exemplified by him cupping his hands around his mouth and mocking the roar of an arena crowd after I cleanly played “Ode to Joy”. He also rips on the Taylor Swifts of the world a fair bit, which is cool… until he brings Bieber into the discussion.

For homework this past week, he asked me to devise a list of five songs I’d like to   ultimately learn to play down the road. I mentally tossed around a ton of tunes over the past few weeks and came up with 10 songs (narrowing it down to five was entirely too difficult) that I feel are pretty representative of my musical tastes and who – without the risk of sounding overly precocious – I’d like to consider as influences. I appreciate the fact that he’s already having me learn the chords to a couple of them, too.

I thought I’d share my list here along with links to each considering a few aren’t generally well known. Oh, and I’d also like to thank my parents for having legit tastes in music, as I fondly remember them playing a number of these growing up.

Missouree/Missouruh. Potato/Potahto.


I  came across this story in the New York Times today about politicians’ pronunciation of “Missouri”. As a native Midwesterner and having gone to school in Missouri, I’ve heard both pronunciations aplenty, but I never gave too much thought to the need to use the state’s pronunciation for political gain. This is classic political pandering, but I suppose every little bit helps in tightly-contested campaign races anymore.

The article notes that most people–myself included–use “Missouree”, but even I’ve dropped the occasional “Missouruh” every now and then. I know my mom–a native Missourian–uses the former and my dad goes with the latter. I think there’s a lot of merit to the notion that this debate is rooted more in geography (urban vs. rural) and a generational gap (older vs. younger) than anything else, so it makes sense to exploit the pronunciation for a political gain in ads and on the stump.

While this whole discussion is a bit fatuous, it is fun to think about. And I think we can all agree that there’s no right or wrong here. Just so long as no one uses “Illinoise”, we’ll be good.