Following in My Dad’s Footsteps Nearly Got Me Killed
My father joined a branch of Hinduism, but his lifestyle rejected its religious principles and his legacy took me down the wrong path.
I came into this world through the love-hate dynamics of two quick-witted, young Black survivors. Both of my parents were Christians, born and raised in Detroit, a city known for its automotive industry and as its place as the on-again, off-again murder capital of our nation. My mother told me she met my father soon after he had joined the Hare Krishnas, a group practicing a form of Hinduism. According to the Bhagavad Gita, Hinduism is considered the highest form of spirituality. The practice is focused on compassion, humility, kindness, love, community and selflessness—the exact opposite of what I experienced as a child.
My father’s character towards my siblings and me did not reflect the teachings of the Gita. He appeared to be living a double life. I'm not sure how a Black family, living in the poorest and most violent area of Detroit connected with the Hare Krishnas and Hinduism. Everything felt awkward. The majority of its members were white people that had very little in common with us. My mother and father split up when I was one. After my parent’s separation, my mother and siblings became outcasts, and the community frowned upon unpartnered mothers. We moved in with her sister and from that point forward I saw very little of my dad. My family was one of two Black families in the community and we faced subtle forms of prejudice, but my father’s world was far removed from the principles taught by the Hare Krishnas.
Following in My Father's Footsteps Was Expected
Apparently, my dad had mastered the art of wearing a spiritual mask. He had enough spiritual practice to access a level of consciousness that separated him from other street men. My mother was a young, petite Black woman from a large poor family of nine. She was naïve or full of faith (depending on your point of view) and she followed people blindly. To her surprise, soon after saying “I do” at the altar, she learned later that evening that her new husband was part of one of Detroit’s largest 1980s drug cartels. My father told her that her duty was to simply follow his instructions without question. She did just that. She later confided in me that she felt like she had signed a life contract with the devil himself.
My dad was the epitome of the stereotypical drug kingpin—he had multiple children and various women, was extremely dangerous, cold-hearted, emotionally unavailable, and wielded lots of power and influence in the streets. I often asked why God would give someone like Dad access to this level of power. How is this spiritual? As I entered my teens, I uncovered my dad’s plans for me to take over his position. What kind of person would desire this lifestyle for their own child?
My recollection of these memories sends chills down my back. I spent my childhood in a dark space, lost and trapped in between two worlds that were polar opposites. I spent a few years living off-grid in a small community in the sticks of West Virginia. The people I prayed to God with were the same people who showed me the meaning of racism, hate crimes, physical and sexual abuse. After a few years of living in isolation in this community, I found myself back in the inner city, in training to properly be my father’s son. I was clinically labeled unfit for society by the age of 17. I began to see the world as the problem and rebelled until the moment that I was shot and found myself dancing with death.
It Took a Near-Death Experience for Me to Wake Up
Bang! The room instantly went silent and all I could hear was the growing echo of the loudest noise I’d ever heard. Immediately after my ears went dead, I went deaf and was overtaken by the sensation of my pulsating body. It felt as if time had slowed down. I heard my mind shouting inside my head, “Damn you shot me”. Somehow, I mustered the strength to scream it out. “Damn you shot me!” as I stared into her wounded eyes.
“Arjuna, I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Arjuna. Why did you make me shoot you?! I’m sorry, I just shot you, Arjuna. Oh my God, I just shot you.”
I felt the flow of blood when my fingers finally found the hole. Somehow, I remembered from watching E.R. to apply pressure to slow down the gushing blood. It felt like razor blades cutting through me. Everything seemed to rush into my head. It felt like my body was about to explode, like I was about to pass out. “This is it,” I kept thinking, “My mother is going to kill me.”
I was fighting with all my senses to keep my mind focused on breathing. Faintly, I heard people’s voices gathering outside my door and, for an instant, my mind raced. “Damn, people are just waiting for me to die to break in and take my money, drugs and guns.” I knew I couldn’t get too caught up in what I was experiencing. I saw flashing thoughts, hallucinations in my mind. “I’m going to die in the middle of a drug house floor?” “No, dying is not an option, especially not like this.” “What would my mother think?” I felt what little strength I had left leaving me. I felt the shallowness of my breath and my eyelids wanting to give up and close.
What I Learned When I Almost Died
Thwack! Thwack! I felt her hand slap me across the face demanding that I “don’t die,” and to “open your eyes!” I told her I needed a moment to pray and speak with God. I experienced flashbacks of previous spiritual experiences and conversations with God and the image of my one-year old son flooded my mind. I couldn’t stop imagining what his life would be like if I died. “How can you live like this Arjuna?” I kept thinking to myself. “Spiritual people don’t live like this.”
I finally surrendered to the inner silence. While suspended outside of time and space, God finally answered my plea and assured me he was giving me a second chance: a fresh beginning and a new perspective on life.
Since that day, I have learned to embrace my past, to forgive myself, to trust and follow my heart instead of following in my dad's footsteps, and to be grateful for everything that I am. I can now use all of my life experiences to inspire my children and others to believe that change and healing is possible. I honor both my mother and father for all the lessons they shared in making me the person I am.