Kathy Butler Says “Because of George, I am a proud Black woman”

Name: Kathy Butler City: Atlanta GA | @fancyfree1

Dad’s Name: George

Describe your relationship with your Father and how did that impact you?

The man I refer to as my dad, whom I affectionately call “George”, is not my biological father. He is the man who stepped in and stepped up when I was very young, though I am not a fan of the term stepfather. He raised me as his own and if you didn’t actually know us, you’d never suspect that he isn’t my biological father. He has provided the unconditional love, consistency, sense of belonging and protection that every child needs, and for that I am eternally grateful.

We have an awesome relationship, which I detail through heartwarming anecdotes told in my book, My George: A Love Letter to My Dad. Being raised by such a strong Black man taught me:
– To stand proud in my Blackness
– To step into a room and know that I belong there
– To have a voice and boldly stand in my convictions without apology
– To affirm that my Black life matters…before it was a hashtag
– To understand the value of being partnered with a strong and loving Black man
– To cherish the blueprint I was given to raise strong Black children who know what it is to be loved, nurtured and protected

We have also always had a very open and honest relationship that is built on communication and being our authentic selves. Growing up, he made our home a safe space to speak my mind and push back when I didn’t agree with something. I wasn’t raised to fear him or filter myself through a lens of blind obedience. Instead, I was encouraged to respectfully disagree, think critically and debate my position. This served me well in terms of helping develop my communication skills; shaping my confidence and harnessing my Black girl magic.

What’s the best thing you’ve learned from your Father?

If there is one thing that can be said about George, it is he does not let other people’s opinions define him, nor does he allow them to dictate how he navigates life. He marches to the beat of his own drum and always has. He instilled that same philosophy in me.

I remember being a kid and someone questioned why I call him George and not dad. At the time, their questioning really stung because unbeknownst to them, they were picking at an unhealed wound — a dad size hole in my heart that resulted from the abandonment of my biological dad. In the aftermath, I ran and told my parents what had been said. George immediately sought the person out and ripped them to shreds, verbally speaking.

But it was through his comments that I learned the importance of not allowing other people’s opinions to define me. He assured the person that I was his daughter in every way that mattered regardless of whether I called him dad, daddy, father, pop or any other colloquialism. He also reminded them that our family dynamic was truly none of their business and they would do well to remember that the next time they felt inclined to speak on matters that didn’t concern them.

This experience was a real watershed moment for me because through his fierce defense of our family dynamic, I realized what other people thought about us was inconsequential to our reality. We define who we are, not anyone else. That lesson has stuck with me into adulthood and gave me a framework to not only learn to live comfortably in my own skin and choices, but it also helped me and my husband shape and define our own family dynamic independent of outside influences and opinions.

What struggles did you face in your relationship with your Dad and how did you get through them?

When I was 16 years old, I left home because I was experiencing an identity crisis. I had been raised in a loving, two-parent, middle class home, but inherently, I felt something was missing. I needed to understand why my biological father had chosen to abandon me. So, I found him and began acting out in my home so I would eventually be allowed to go and live with him. This broke George’s heart. But, he didn’t speak ill of my biological father and he didn’t try and stop me. Instead, he watched his heart walk out the door into the arms of a man whom he knew didn’t have the capacity to love me the way I deserved to be loved.

Over the course of the next two years, I would visit my parents’ home, even spend the night from time to time. George was always there with a warm hug; a conversation rife with his wicked humor and sarcasm, or he would simply sit quietly with me while his jazz tunes played in the background so I could just feel his loving presence. It was his silent strength during those two years that would later come to define what unconditional love really looks like. He could’ve beat his chest and guilted/shamed me for wanting to know/ live with my biological father, but he understood my need for answers. So he granted me the space to figure out what he already knew…he was my dad in every sense of the word and I would have to learn that lesson on my own to truly understand the depths of his love for me.

I look back on those days and I really hate that I put him and my mother through that pain because they didn’t deserve it. I learned so much about myself during that time, but I learned so much more about him. He is a giant among men in my eyes, because not only did he allow his heart to walk out the door, he held the door open anytime I need the loving arms of a dad while navigating a mess of my own making.

What has your relationship with your Father taught you about what to look/not look for in your partner?

My relationship with George has taught me that love shows up; love protects, and love offers grace when we need it.

As a kid, the only hard and fast rule he had was “don’t lie to me”. He demadned the truth no matter how ugly it was. In turn, he showed up for me when necessary and he gave me grace when I messed up. No matter what I did, I knew he would have my back and we would deal with the consequences behind closed doors. There was no public shaming to assuage the respectability parenting often demanded by old school norms and traditions. Because I saw this type of love in action from him, I knew how to spot it in a romantic relationship.

Upon meeting my husband, I was immediately drawn to his intentionality about showing me that he cared about me. He was loving toward me. He was protective. And he was respectful. He was all the things that I had experienced in my home with George and the antithesis of the things that disturbed me about my biological father. Had I not known this type of love, I might have been drawn to someone who would’ve failed to love me in the way I deserved and caused more harm than good.

How has your relationship with your Father shaped the woman you are today?

Because of George, I am a proud Black woman! Now don’t get me wrong, my mom has a lot to do with that as well. But, in terms of a father/daughter dynamic, George played a pivotal role in helping me define Blackness. He was instrumental in my developing an appreciation for Black history and the sacrifices of those who came before me and challenged norms and the status quo. He also showed me in realtime what it looks like to:

– Stand up in the face of discrimination and refuse to be moved
– Protect your people at all costs
– Be principled and keep your word
– Walk in my power, but not abuse it

My life has been full of lessons, some by design, but mostly organic. I had a front row seat in watching him move through the world on his terms, often defying respectability politics, social norms and dare I say even Black religiosity. Because of him, I know that respect is earned and should always be reciprocated. And if it isn’t, I speak up! He also taught me that there is great power in the freedom of choice, but also great responsibility and natural consequences. So, I wield it wisely.

If you could write a short letter to your father, starting with “Dear Father,” what would you say?

My book, My George: A Love Letter to My Dad (available on Amazon) tells him everything I needed to say and simply hadn’t take the time to do so. It started as a few thoughts to tell him how grateful I am that he came into my life and literally chose to raise me. But as I began to write, all of these life lessons began to flood my mind and it occurred to me that I had spent so many years “in search of my father”, and I had failed to acknowledge the dad right in front of me. I hadn’t been conceived in a moment of intimacy between him and my mom. Instead, I was conceived in his heart and our bond is just as meaningful and impactful as fathers and daughters who share DNA. So I decided to publish my book to give him his flowers while he can appreciate them. The book is also a resource for kids and adults alike who may not have been raised by their biological dad because it can help them reshape their perspective about the person who “fathered them” and heal the dad-size hole in their heart just as it healed mine.

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