The Fire This Time “Composite Pops” by Mitchell S. Jackson Summary
by Jesmyn Ward

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“Composite Pops” by Mitchell S. Jackson Summary

While mothers receive most of the recognition and reverence in African American culture, “Mitch” Jackson asserts the irrefutable need of Black boys for fatherly influences. As a father of a daughter, he understands that his wife is often better equipped to guide their daughter. And as someone who grew up without a single, constant paternal presence, Jackson believes it’s the same for his son, whom Jackson will teach how to “navigate” his life as a Black man.

Jackson’s life has taught him that a boy’s need can be fulfilled by the presence of various “fatherish” influences who “compose” a father in the absence of one full-time dad. Jackson was born when his mother was nineteen, and though his biological father lived close by, he was absent for the first ten years of Jackson’s life. Even so, Jackson never felt the absence, because he created a father for himself out of a number of men to whom he was close, much as Barack Obama did growing up.

Jackson’s “pops” was composed of his mother’s boyfriend Big Chris; his maternal grandfather, Sam; his maternal uncle Anthony; his paternal uncle Henry; and eventually, his biological father, Wesley. This group of influences provided a loving example of manhood for Jackson, teaching, nurturing, and inspiring him.

Big Chris was a paroled bank robber and street hustler who swept Jackson’s mother off her feet and had two children with her. They stayed together for several years, and even after Big Chris left, he would regularly drop by to visit his sons and try to rekindle the romance, never treating Jackson any differently than his own flesh and blood. While others might criticize Big Chris’s way of making a living, it was from him that Jackson learned that the importance of a man’s influence in a boy’s life had “nothing to do with genetics.” When Jackson heard from his sister in Phoenix that Big Chris was dying, he made plans to visit as soon as possible, but by the time he landed and deplaned, Big Chris had already died. When Jackson’s sister picked him up at the airport, she consoled him by sharing Big Chris’s last words about needing to hold on long enough for Mitch to arrive, confirming the father-son bond that the two had shared.

Jackson’s maternal grandfather, Sam, worked the same job for thirty years, owns the house he’s lived in for even longer, attends church and neighborhood activities regularly, and was always there to support Jackson’s mother and family when Jackson was young. Granddad Sam attended all of Jackson’s basketball games and gave him chores to do so he could earn money to hang out with his friends on the weekends, not once complaining about having to take care of his grandson. Sam showed Jackson how to be a “stand-up dude,” humbly committed to his family and community without expecting praise or reward.

Jackson’s maternal uncle Anthony, known as “Ant,” was a former high school track star whose “almost All-American status” was legendary in the family. In sixth grade, the one year Jackson competed on the track team, Ant came to his meets and gave him pointers to improve, teaching him that anything is possible with faith and technique. When Jackson was finally able to defeat his season-long rival, Ant was as proud and happy as if it had been the Olympics. Through Ant, Jackson got to taste the thrill of championship and learn that with confidence and hard work, anything is possible. Ant’s being able to take pleasure in teaching Jackson to be stronger, faster, and better than he himself had been showed his unconditional love for Jackson.

Jackson didn’t know his paternal uncle Henry during the drug kingpin days that landed Henry in prison, when the newspaper labelled him “Oregon’s biggest dope dealer.” A lifetime criminal and addict, Henry had made enough money for a Rolls Royce and a plane before losing it all. Even after his many years in prison, he never went straight and continued to use drugs while...

(The entire section is 1,352 words.)