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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

Things My Father Told Me

Guest Post by E. Ethelbert Miller

Poet, Writer, Teacher, and Literary Activist

Editor's Note: The following poem by E. Ethelbert Miller first appeared as part of a compilation in the November 2021 edition of The Delmarva Review, Volume 14, which published new poetry, fiction, and nonfiction from 70 authors that stood out from thousands of submissions during the year. The nonprofit Review is available in print and digital editions from and other online booksellers, as well as from regional specialty bookstores.

Author’s Note: “I was one of the first students to graduate from Howard University with an undergraduate degree in African American Studies. I learned a lot about the history of the Black family from reading books and attending conferences. This experience however didn’t explain the quiet dignity of my father. His love for his family was not an abstraction but a difficult and fragile thing I came to honor. I was grateful for my father who worked hard every day to provide a roof over my head. Today I still struggle to understand the mystery of his strength and the power he found not to leave or close a door.”

Things My Father Told Me

Long before terms like role model and conferences about the black family, and black masculinity and why so many black men are incarcerated, my father turned down the volume of the television and casually told me how he could leave my mother, how he could be like other men who walked out the door and never came back.

I was too young to understand what he was saying because he was speaking to the future in me. My father always kept his hat by the door. There were nights when I could not sleep, when I walked from the back of the house to the front door, when I went looking to see if my father’s hat was still sleeping, that it had not found its shirt, pants, shoes, or coat.

I once held my father’s hat in my hand like a crown I could not wear. My age undeserving of its weight and not understanding the beauty of its pain.


The Washington Post once called E. Ethelbert Miller, "arguably the most influential person in Washington's vast and vibrant African American arts community. And perhaps its most unappreciated." Miller is a poet, writer, teacher, and literary activist. He is the author of two memoirs, including Fathering Words: The Making of An African American Writer, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year with a reprinting, and several books of poetry, including The Collected Poems of E. Ethelbert Miller, which celebrates more than 40 years of his work. For 17 years, Miller served as the editor of Poet Lore, the oldest poetry magazine published in the United States. His poetry has been translated into nearly a dozen languages.

Miller is a two-time Fulbright Senior Specialist Program Fellow to Israel. He holds an honorary degree of Doctor of Literature from Emory and Henry College and has taught at several universities. Miller hosts the weekly WPFW morning radio show On the Margin with E. Ethelbert Miller and is a producer of The Scholars on UDC-TV. Miller was inducted into the 2015 Washington, DC, Hall of Fame, awarded the 2016 AWP George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature, and presented the 2016 DC Mayor’s Arts Award for "Distinguished Honor." In 2018, he was inducted into Gamma Xi Phi and appointed as an ambassador for the Authors Guild. Miller’s most recent book, If God Invented Baseball, earned the 2019 Literary Award for poetry by the Black Caucus of the American Library Association.


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