“There’s a reason why we’re talking,” he said about halfway through our talk.
It wasn’t because I was in the Air Force. That he did with our friend who introduced us. It wasn’t because I am from Mississippi like him. Nor was it because I was raised Catholic, as a black man in the deep South.
No, it's simply because we shared a passion for music, life, and love.
Mark came of age while segregation was supposedly supposed to be dying off. He’s almost a decade older than me, but we seemed to be cut from many of the same materials in life. Neither one of us were considered the best students in our youth. It’s not that we were stupid, no matter how hard our teachers tried to convince us otherwise. We had both heard it said to us, “You’ll never amount to anything.” And “you’ll never go to college.” It will be a stigma we both would carry up to this day.
I asked him if it were possible to go back in time, what advice would he give to his younger self. “Study.” But there was more. Mark was also adopted, and so he’d like to “know my parents.” And now as a parent (and grandparent) himself, he said he’d tell himself to “spend more quality time with my kids.”
Mark met our mutual friend in the Philippines while he serving in the Air Force, and it was there he had his come to Jesus moment. It was also there he would meet his wife of 37 years. And it was there they would have their first son. Their next child would be born in Madrid, Spain. He joked about being stationed near the Canadian border in Maine when his wife was pregnant with their third son. “Right before her water broke, I wanted to go into Quebec to have the baby.” We laughed because we both knew you don’t argue with the woman carrying your child.
After the service, Mark worked a variety of jobs from managing a restaurant to owning his own cleaning business. While he does not have a formal college degree, he has earned numerous certifications that has helped him find some balance in his life. For both of us, that balance is deeply rooted in our shared faith. He and I spoke freely about our faith, and the life changes that had occurred because of it.
Neither one of us wanted to be passive participants in life. And both of us learned how to become who we are today through trial and error. For me, it was a punk rock attitude of proving others wrong. For Mark, it was much like that but with more AC/DC and Motley Cru. Neither one of us want to leave this life having any regrets. But I think we both regrated that our time had to come to an end. But before we did, Mark said, “I want to make a name for myself.”
He told me he wanted to help people in his community, especially young black fathers. And I believe he can. Mark has real wisdom, real stories, and a real faith. But he also has a really big heart and an even bigger passion for life. My heart and my passion for this project just grew a little bigger because of it.
And one last thing: Mark never really knew Sesame Street, nor does he have a favorite Muppet. So perhaps this is where our next conversation will begin. Mark might have thought there was a reason we were talking, but now I see a reason to talk again, and again. This is the kind of stuff that happens when strangers become friends.