Je’Niece McCullough, a charismatic and bright woman, has journeyed through very unique, robust, and memorable experiences through her childhood and young adult years. She reflects on her upbringing and personal growth as a woman, as well as her development in relevance to having a celebrity and comedian father—the late, Bernie Mac.
Je’Niece learns about her personal attributes in building the relationship with her father such as setting boundaries, addressing needs, recognizing generational differences and the impact of trauma, as well as seizing the great lessons learned to carry on into future moments, even beyond his passing. While very many remember and enjoyed the legendary Bernie Mac for his side-splitting bellows of laughter that he brought upon the community, Je’Niece sees her perspective of him as the most special because she got a “front-row seat” of him evolving and developing as a husband, a father, and a man.
Je’Niece recalls that Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, or Bernie Mac, became a husband and a father at age 19. During this time, he was navigating a couple of jobs to make sure things were covered. Je’Niece saw her dad as the model for every man and thought that any man who didn’t look like her dad was ill or needed altering. He was of course, fun and light to be around. At age six, Je’Niece’s father lost his job, so he became stricter of a father due to the financial strain. This led her to the behavioral pattern of trying to do anything to gain his approval in hopes of peace and connection.
In the next several years, Bernie revisited his passion to become a comedian and aggressively studied the craft to perfection. When Je’Niece was about 14, Def Comedy Jam exploded, which was the point where all of the neighborhood and community kids knew who her father was. As Je’Niece entered high school, her father felt financially comfortable, but took a deeper look at his daughter—he couldn’t believe that she wasn’t still five years old, and that so many years had passed by.
Development as a Daughter and Father
Due to the numerous factors that influence the relationship between Je’Niece and her father, they would often butt heads. She mentioned that in her high school and collegiate years, she still wanted to gain his approval, but she also wanted to address her concerns and share her truths. Eventually, this reached its peak, and both were able to hash out their differences, especially when Je’Niece got engaged right after college. It finally settled in for her father that she was an adult, and her own woman.
Je’Niece mentioned that she was very committed to ensuring her and her father could have the best relationship possible, and that it would always get better. She gives a lot of attribution to her mother in serving as a useful mediator when either party had their concerns. Je’Niece mentioned that one of her developments with her father was enforcing boundaries, which was a struggle because she was a peacekeeper, and there were differences in perspectives amongst generations as to how boundaries may come off. Nonetheless, no matter how difficult it got, they were both committed to things getting better.
Je’Niece reflected on an instance where she had a boyfriend and Bernie would not allow the boyfriend to stay in the house. During the holidays, Je’Niece had to drive her boyfriend an hour to his grandmother’s house after a late movie and she accidentally fell asleep at his grandmother’s house. Her father was overtly disappointed by it, which caused Je’Niece to subtly pull back from him. She decided to write a 7-page letter to her father to explain how numerous situations between them made her feel as a daughter, in hopes that this alternative method of communication will address their concerns and create resolution. He rejected the letter, so she again pulled back. Over time, they were able to hash things out, but the growth mostly came from the recognition of who each other were and learning how to develop in that, together.
While the Bernie Mac showed aired (which is not a representation of their real family, but an idea from a running family joke), Je’Niece recognized that Vanessa was the girl that she wished she could be to her father—vocal, challenging, and bold. In fact, Je’Niece identified more with Jordan, the less vocal, clumsy, and nerdy character.
Bernie Mac’s Comedic Career—Publicly and Personally
Je’Niece mentioned that the birth of Bernie Mac’s passion for comedy started with his mother. During his childhood, his mother had breast cancer, and his father was not fully invested in the picture. One day, the Ed Sullivan show came on while his mom was crying, and when someone said a joke, she laughed and stopped crying. He then saw that laughter takes her pain away, and he wanted to become a comedian because he always wanted to be able to take his mom’s pain away.
Comedy was also an effective tool for Bernie to deal with his own pain and the pain of those around him. Je’Niece mentioned that he was very sensitive, even while seeming quite tough, so things would make him quite upset. In the midst of this, he would still use jokes to express his emotions. While others laughed because it was Bernie Mac, Je’Niece and her mother knew this was serious because it was Bernard Jeffery.
Takeaways from Dad
Je’Niece has so many fond lessons from her father that clearly resonates upon the person she is today. The thing that she quickly mentioned was of course, knowing how to laugh at everything. She was able to get through so many difficult times because her dad taught her the value of laughing through it.
She also mentioned that her father was a wise man. She recognized that although he was not a perfect father by any means, he did not have an example as to what a father and husband looked like. Therefore, he made it his mission to be the best father and husband that he could be and give so much intention to that. As it brought tears to her eyes, Je’Niece highly honors and appreciates his intention in being the best father he could without any previous tools. She saw his success as being beyond the comedic career and achievements, and saw that his greatest accolades, and most proud moments, was in how incredibly much he evolved as a man right in front of her eyes. Je’Niece carries such wisdom in her parenting and current life decisions.
Je’Niece mentioned that Bernie was a very loving person, sometimes to the point that it went overboard. Nonetheless, she always treasured that if anyone needed anything, he would jump in help. He wanted to make sure that everybody was winning.
The most resonating value to Je’Niece was that he engrained that one must have integrity within self and others. She mentioned that her dad would quote, “you can lie to others, which isn’t very good. But it is even worse when you lie to yourself.” Je’Niece still reflects on how important integrity was to him, which strongly shapes the woman that she is today. Overall, she emotionally reflects on how great of a father she has beyond the comedian that most people got to experience. She carries a gleaming representation of the warmth that Bernie Mac brought within the person that she is.
Dear Father (Daddy),
Thank you, so much. I love you, and I’m going to say something to you that I would have never said if you were alive—
You were right. About SO much.
Salute, and Rest in Peace to the legendary and iconic, Bernie Mac. 10/5/57-8/9/08
Much power to Je’Niece who continues on the value of his legacy while creating her own.