American Dream

This week was rough. Why? Well, Jack died.

Who is Jack? My cousin, father, boyfriend, friend, or puppy? Nah, but I would take him as any of those. The worst part is, I’ve know he was going to die for the vast majority of the year I’ve known him. But this week, I finally had to watch him die. Not gone lie, it was traumatic. All the more so because I had to wait for some football game to go off before I could get my Jack-fueled cry on. That was Sunday. Then, I went to Jack’s funeral on Tuesday (Jack is clearly not Black, as you may have figured out, because no Black family has ever even worked out which casket we want in two days). More tears.

I was devastated, even though Jack has been playing ghetto games with my emotions for over a year now. He is (was) a great guy—pretty much everything that a woman could EVER ask for in a man and a kid could EVER ask for in a dad. Not that his kids even appreciated him; his son Kevin is a little slick-mouthed bastard who has needed an ass whooping since the millisecond that he took his first breath and his daughter Kate basically got him killed for a damn dog. He had the cool points out the window and me all twisted up in the game not because he was a FN, but because he was just too awesome to even exist.*

The thing that really took me out about this double-dose of Jack sadness this week was that he just wanted to do the best he could for his family—and that is all any of us ever really want. I haven’t even had kids, but I have already lost track of the number of conversations my boyfriend and I have had about our future kids, what we want to give them, and how we want to raise them. Particularly for any person who has grown up with less, we always dream of giving our kids more. Both more than we had and more than we think we will ever be able to have for ourselves.

That desire is captured perfectly in the book Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue. The book is about a young Cameroonian couple, the Jongas, struggling to remain legally in the New York City. The wife cares for her family and attends a 2-year college with the dream of becoming a pharmacist; the husband is hired as a chauffeur for a top executive at Lehman Brothers (of course this story is set before the fall). The novel is grounded with the Cameroonian couple, but is necessarily drawn to the story of the Lehman executive (Clark Edwards), who hires Jende, and his family as well. Clark and his family are also grappling with the needs of the family, their own needs, and each adult’s desire to be a responsible citizen of the world.

The thing about the American dream myth is that it promises the space, place, and opportunity for each (wo)man to make a life that will give their kids a little bit more. What it doesn’t do, besides actually live up to all of those promises in Jende’s – most of our – case, is lay out the path for what to do when you reach the top (in Clark’s case). The American dream also does not promise to keep everything else in your life in order as you struggle to attain or retain it. For the Jongas, it won’t keep your immigration status sorted out. For the Edwards, it won’t ensure that your wife and children value the same things that you do.

[For Jack, it won’t keep your crockpot from turning your entire house into Dante’s Inferno, only for your hot garbage teenage daughter to send your sainted self back into hellfire in order to retrieve a raggedy ass dog…but I digress.]

Listen. This book was good. It wasn’t great. But it makes you think about the lives of those that are apparently from “shithole” countries, think about their motivations, their joys, their desires, their backgrounds, and their humanity. Some people and commanders-in-chief clearly don’t think about these things enough.

This book is for them…if only they would ever read it.

*Jack actually does not exist, he a the fictional television character. He is still the realest, #doe.


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