Few books balance a father’s love and his heavy-hands like that of The Beautiful Struggle. We’re talking with the patriarch of Ta-Nehisi Coates’ book, The Beautiful Struggle, on this edition of Frank Relationships.
FRANK RELATIONSHIPS: PAUL COATES
Guests: Paul Coates
Frank: Few books balance, a father’s love and his heavy hands like that of the beautiful struggle. We’re talking with the patriarch of Ta-Nehisi Coates book “The Beautiful Struggle” on this edition of Frank Relationships.
Yeah. As always, those are my babies. Thanks for getting daddy’s daughter today.
Welcome to Frank Relationships where we provide a candid, fresh and frank look in the relationships with goals of acceptance, respect and flexibility. I’m Frank Love and you can find me, my blog and my various social media incarnations at franklove.com.
You can also find me on ABC’s Good Morning Washington most Friday mornings during the 9 o’ clock hour. If you’re listening to the show on Blog Talk Radio, please follow us and if via iTunes, please subscribe so that you can effortlessly get each show each week.
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Greetings to my co-host, Nancy Goldring.
Nancy: hi Frank.
Frank: Hello, how are you?
Nancy: I’m great, how are you?
Frank: Great. The consummate generalist is in the house.
Frank: We’re also joined by today’s visiting co-host, Kibwe Maniun. Greetings, Brother Kibwe.
Kibwe: Peace, brother. How are you?
Frank: I’m great. Who are you and what do you do when you’re not co-hosting?
Kibwe: Well such an interesting question that you always have to find how to answer it when it’s asked in a particular environment. So today, I would make that statement by saying first of all, I’m a father along with a grandfather, I’m a husband, I’m an educator, I’m a trainer, on top of all of that, I’m well-travelled, and for me with the planet that we’re on.
Nancy: Very good…
Frank: Who do you think you’re going to get along with best today, me or Nancy?
Kibwe: Oh you and I have never gotten along so… Nancy automatically comes in.
Frank: Alright, alright.
Nancy: Thank you, sir.
Frank: Alright, alright. Get him out of here.
Kibwe: You take a look at you versus Nancy, it’s no… contest.
Nancy: I’m not saying a word…
Frank: As is the case this week with brother Kibwe, there’s a visiting guest-host chair available each week here in the studio. If you’re in the Washington D.C. area or travelling to the D.C. area and want to join us in the studio on a given Thursday morning, email me at email@example.com and let me know.
It is a tremendous honor to host today’s guest. Not only is he a friend of my father’s, he’s a leader in the field of independent publishers as the founder of Black Classic Press, which is a publishing company devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent… AND he is the founder of BCP Digital Printing, which produces books and documents using digital print technology AND not only is he the head of one of the few black-owned publishers in the United States, he is also the patriarch in the memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Beautiful Struggle”.
So if you like me want to know his thoughts on a litany of authors like James Baldwin, Richard Wright, what passionate fatherhood is and how he collaborated with his son to create one of the most respected and talked about books on race of our time or atleast in some time, then stay tuned as your Frank Relationship Team talks with father, husband, and publisher, Brother Coates Coates.
Welcome to the show, Brother Coates.
Brother Coates: Thank you, brother. Thank you, Brother Frank. Glad to be here, let me add that to it, okay?
Frank: Thank you.
Brother Coates: Glad to be here this morning.
Frank: Before we get too deep into your interview, I’m a check in and do our segment on what’s going on in the world of relationship… You got anything for me Nancy? Okay, alright…
Nancy: I just want to say I have something but I’m going to defer it to you.
Frank: I appreciate a little deference, thank you. Okay I got something.
Frank: There’s a guy/athlete by the name of Adam LaRoche—I believe his name is?
Frank: He’s a former Washington Nationals first baseman and he’s a recent Chicago White Sox player. He recently retired despite having a $13-million year contract when the team informed him that they wanted him to limit his son’s clubhouse appearances. So his son used to come to the ballpark with him all the time.
Frank: Like every minute of the day where his dad was there, his son was there.
Frank: And I think he went to all of his games, travelled with him to his games, he and his wife, this player and his wife had a tutor work with him on the road but the management of the White Sox informed him that they wanted to limit the son’s time with him and he said—
Nancy: No way?
Frank: “Take care.”
Frank: He said, “I’m out of here.”
Frank: I mean, so what are your thoughts on giving up $13-million a year so that your son can be with you?
Nancy: Wow. Well evidently he didn’t need the money.
Frank: Oh okay.
Nancy: He clearly didn’t need the money. He clearly had made enough money to take care of his family and he had an idea about the value of his son being able to track his steps through life in his development into manhood. That’s the only thing I can think of. He’s pretty serious about it.
Frank: Brother Coates?
Brother Coates: You know, I followed that in the news and it’s one of those since—I don’t know the story that’s under the story.
Brother Coates: I know the story that’s reported.
Brother Coates: Yeah, I know the story that’s reported and on coming in on what’s reported, it does seem like a matter of understanding value to money and then understanding making a choice of what’s important in life to him… and giving that to his son, not only to his son but literally to the world as a value lesson.
Brother Coates: Or lesson of values… that money is not the determiner.
Brother Coates: You know atleast it’s not the long term determiner or the final determiner. Sometimes people have to do things for money as survival but as Nancy was saying, perhaps he has enough money that he doesn’t have to exist on the survival level. But I tend to think even if he did, his values would call this into being in the way that it would act out he would still make a decision that was favorable to his kids and those values, you know.
Frank: It’s worth noting that he—in this article I was reading—that he said, he thought this was his last year playing. He had been in the league for—I think over 10 years.
Frank: So it wasn’t like it was his first year which $13-million would be—$13-million is different—
Frank: —in your first year—
Nancy: Than it is in your final year.
Frank: Yes, yeah. So…
Nancy: Did they say how old the boy is?
Frank: I saw a picture of him, looked to be 11, 12 something like that.
Kibwe: You know, in hearing that story, the first thing that came to mind was Barry Barnes.
Frank: Ah and his father?
Kibwe: Right. In [unclear] because Barry spent a lot of time in the locker room from the time of three and look what he was able to accomplish. The other thing that came to mind is hoping that, you said son with a man—I’m assuming, his African descent?
Frank: No, he’s not.
Kibwe: He’s not? Okay. Well, with someone with that type of dedication to family, I would hope he would have many more sons.
Nancy: Yeah, yeah.
Frank; I didn’t get that impression from the article but you know… Who knows what the story under the story is? I like that Brother Coates, I’m going to keep that—“the story under the story”. There’s also a new book by Deya Smith and it’s called “Soft is the New Power”. Its subtitle is “Embracing your Feminine Edge to Win in Love and Life” and I heard her in an interview recently and she’s really talking about how women get the opportunity to not be so in-your-face with their men or to just simply be softer in an effort to get whatever it is they want or to get to whatever goal they wish to achieve.
You got anything on that Nancy? As the woman in the house?
Nancy: I feel that the soft approach especially as a woman engaging men is much more effective for me than if I kind of try to take the masculine with the man… and that is actually… I almost want to call it skill that I’ve learned to develop and certainly in today’s culture where women are looking for equality and… power. Sometimes—
Frank: A certain type of power.
Nancy: A certain type of power. Sometimes, we come off with a certain level of dominance and almost masculinity in our approach dealing with certain issues that isn’t necessarily necessary.
Nancy: And I feel… You know, I definitely don’t wanted to feel like taking the soft approach is a form of manipulation because it really is not, and it has taken a tremendous amount of inner—I almost want to call it intestinal fortitude and patience with myself because taking the soft approach isn’t always what I’m actually feeling like doing. It’s something I’m having to cultivate throughout the conversation especially a complex or difficult conversation.
Frank: Brother Coates, do you prefer… the question is—it’s almost absurd because it’s a loaded question. Do you prefer for your wife to come at you or to deal with you in a soft or hard approach?
Brother Coates: Actually, I have to invert that because I was thinking more of the question to me—
Frank: To you to her?
Brother Coates: Me coming not her… coming to people and the power of taking a “softer” approach to people especially if it’s a legitimate approach.
Brother Coates: If I’m actually in the space of softness, I think about listening. I think about listening and being in the position that actually hear what’s being said and what’s not being said in the conversation. That’s softer to me. It’s also a very powerful place because you get to understand, get to understand if the person is saying and you getting at the same time an opportunity to understand yourself. So that’s a lot of power in that to me.
Frank: Ironically, that is not how Ta-Nehisi describes you in his book, “The Beautiful Struggle”.
Nancy: Here we go…
Frank: It’s funny because sons… sons know that their dads, given Ta-Nehisi—what is he, 40 now?
Brother Coates: He actually is 40.
Frank: Okay so… given that he’s know you for 40 years, he’s definitely seen you go through life and change and be whatever, and he’s grown so you got two people growing at the same time. So wow, his perception of you of how he describes you, that was not so much “soft”.
Brother Coates: You have to understand in context, I think he would describe me that way.
Frank: Really? That’s great.
Brother Coates: Oh yeah, I think he would.
Brother Coates: What he’s doing in “The Beautiful Struggle”, is really looking at a period of his life and he’s really taken himself back and placing himself inside that period and looking there as opposed to being 40, looking back on.
Frank: Yes, yes.
Brother Coates: So he’s looking at how it appeared and how it appeared to him at that age. You see, and he’s looking at his world actually from the same space like, he’s looking at his time from 5 years old, 9 years old, 17 years old… that’s the space that he’s interpreting that story from. But in fact, he’s written many, many times about the reserve that his father is. A lot of his reserve is in that same vein. It’s a matter of listening, it’s a matter of… I think about it like as an art to know when you’re supposed to apply the pressure.
Frank: Yes, yes, yes.
Brother Coates: And not to say that I do that expertly, but that’s a goal.
Frank: You’re aware of it?
Brother Coates: That’s a goal. Yeah, you have to be aware of it to notice it is in itself an extreme amount of help. I think he would agree with that.
Frank: I got to give my quick commentary on this book. Number one, I think this book is the perfect work for a young man who is between maybe 12 and 20, particularly a young black male because it really examines a young person’s… view of their father at so many different levels and an understanding of their father along a different timeline.
So my… the book was—it’s outstanding to watch this young man from—describe his father before he was born. So going back to talking about you being in the Vietnam War or being a member of the black panthers… This is all before he was born up until going to college. I listened to the –what’s the newest book Between Me and the World?
Nancy/Brother Coates: Between the World and Me.
Frank: Between the World and Me. I listened to that months ago. So I don’t remember everything about that book as well as I do this one. This one I just did this week and it seems like one is almost a sequel to the other. So the first book takes you up until Ta-Nehisi goes to Howard University. So it goes from his fathers—before he was conceived, when his dad was in the Vietnam War t that. All of that stuff I said, all the way up to him attending Howard University.
And then the second book, much of it has to do with Howard University and he’s talking to his son about his life. They go really hand-in-hand. It’s quite a beautiful piece of series.
Nancy: Yes, yes.
Frank: And not only that—god, I’m rambling. There’s just so much I want to say. But there’s—you often hear about abusive relationships between fathers and sons like that’s the… when you talk about fathers and sons particular in books and on tv and the movies and stuff like that, if you have to pick a way the relationships tend to go, they’re abusive more than they’re not, more than they’re healthy.
Nancy: Yeah, they’re archetypal disciplinarian,—
Frank: Yeah, exactly.
Nancy: —rough and tumble…
Frank: And this book, you get a feeling, you get an insight of a father that’s hardcore that’s for me as the black male, that’s a little older than Ta-Nehisi who has a father that’s a friend of Brother Coates, you can see the similarities. And I can also appreciate it to know it. The hard edge, I appreciate that in my dad and it sounded—although Ta-Nehisi doesn’t explicitly say this in the book, it sounds as though he appreciates it in his father also.
Kibwe: Well you know, [unclear] to jump in, Frank… I’ve seen Ta-Nehisi on several democracy now which has led me to Youtube and listen to quite a few of his lectures and his speech. I’m honored, I’m just a wham and honored to be sitting here next to his father. And as a father of 3 sons by birth and several nephews and grandchildren or grandsons, I see that discipline. Being a father, I know that there was a soft side that had to come along with that discipline when the son was in the room complaining or crying about having to take out the trash. So in meeting this brother and sitting next to this brother, and as a father as I said, I know that there was a soft side. That soft side was what made that discipline stick.
Brother Coates: Yeah, that brother, that’s very insightful. You know, one of the things… the book you’re mainly talking about, “The Beautiful Struggle”, when I read it I get a lot of times I’m laughing, right? Because you know, as fathers you know. You lay down the law. You lay down the law and then you go in the room especially if you’re gifted to have a wife, a partner with you, you go in the room and laugh about it.
Frank: Right. I really can relate!
Kibwe: That’s right!
Brother Coates: You actually laugh about it. So you’re showing and this is one of the reasons why I’m saying… he understands it now that he has his own son.
Brother Coates: But he’s writing from the perspective of this 14 year old.
Brother Coates: This 9 year old. And so, he’s given you that view. But he understand now that when you’re laying down the law, you’re doing it, you’re shaking your head, “Son you know this is the way this is going to go. It’s going to go my way.”
Nancy: It can’t go no other way.
Brother Coates: And then you hold that straight face and you really, really hold it and then you get out of the room and you just cack [unclear]…
Frank: Right, right…
Brother Coates: So it doesn’t mean you’re hard. You know, it doesn’t mean you’re hard. It means that you’re consistently driving home a point. You’re consistently preparing, what I consider to be preparing the child or the children in this case. In this case, Ta-Nehisi said he had five brothers to—
Brother Coates: I mean 4 brothers because he’s fifth. At that time, there were seven children. And so, he came up like that and they were dealt with—when you have seven children, all my children are not in the same house, by the same mothers at the same time… but whenever you have seven children together, you got to dispense just as quickly.
Nancy: And emphatically.
Brother Coates: …well, junior, please don’t do that. You know… You say “Look, if you do that again, I’ma pop inside our head.”
Nancy: Oh my goodness…
Frank: Oh… but I got a quote…
Brother Coates: [unclear].
Frank: I got a great quote. There’s different things in this book that I really—I laughed. Not laughed to myself, I laughed. He said “You deploy the strap to enlighten children and bring them into balance.”
Brother Coates: This is true.
Frank: And it worked!
Brother Coates: This is true, this is true…
Nancy: Oh my goodness…
Brother Coates: But you know, the interesting thing that he does not get there and it amazes me because he didn’t get in the “Between the World and Me” either that I always thought not so much and so many… There’s a community of people that does not believe that all and touching people, touching their children, at all. So when Ta-Nehisi talks about that, he talks about it from an enlightened place.
Frank: Okay. He was balanced.
Brother Coates: Yeah. But other folks will see it as the most grievous sin to touch your child… and people have written about it. People said “Oh gosh, he abused him. He needs to be in jail.”
Nancy: Oh my gracious…
Brother Coates: All as if no, no… If I needed to go to jail for anything, the strap that Ta-Nehisi talks about and even the use of the strap—I don’t think that was a crime to me. I think the thread of it. If there’s one thing that I’m like, like really mindful of is… you don’t beat children like—you can’t beat children, beat, beat, beat, beat…
Brother Coates: But you got to always say “Look,–”
Brother Coates: You know what [unclear]… You can always say that [unclear]…
Brother Coates: …inside of that Frank is this thing that I firmly believe, it is very important for us to teach our children that there are consequences to everything.
Brother Coates: There are rewards in life and then there are consequences in life. It’s important that that’s a part of home lesson. That’s a part of being raised and I think that’s what in my world that’s what good parents do, especially with black boys. Especially with black boys because they don’t get it at home, then suddenly one other place they get it, and that’s the street.
Frank: In the legal system, which is part of the street—
Brother Coates: In the legal system, that’s it. Yeah. That’s it.
Kibwe: It is. Yeah.
Brother Coates: You get it one way or the other and if you’re successful I think, if you’re successful, those lessons come home.
Frank: What’s your story? How’d you get into publishing?
Brother Coates: Publishing came out as the Black Panther Party. It was like, when I left the Black Panther Party, I still wanted to—the large experience in the Black Panther Party for me was educating our community. I still wanted to do that. I still had a commitment and had people in jail in Merlin when I left [unclear], just was recently released from jail. That was a 44-year commitment.
So I had people in jail… when I left the Black Panther Party that I was still committed to and I began working in the jails with the publishing, working on the street with the publishing as a way of… What I always think about is combating ignorance and killing ignorance, I always looked at books to kill that ignorance. So coming out of the Panther Party, I still wanted to do that and that’s what I did.
We put together—I put together a bookstore initially that was to work in the prisons and on the street. On top of that, it was supposed to come up a publishing company that would supply the bookstore, and on top of that it was supposed to come a printing company. If you look at Black Classic Press and BCP Digital, today you see that’s what it is.
Brother Coates: And we do work with people [unclear] incarcerated people… quite a few of them and had worked with them over time. So that’s really where the vision comes from.
Frank: Tell me about the BCP Digital Printing. Is that for anybody to present you with a file and say “I’d like my book printed”?
Brother Coates: Yeah, the first thing is we print all the books for Black Classic Press, for our books.
Brother Coates: But we also support most of the independent full-time black publishers across the country. We support them by printing their books. It’s a real interesting—I’m very excited about it and thank you for asking because I think that’s the… publishing books is fine but I think building the printing company because there are no black book printers. There are just very few white ones but there are no black book printers.
To be able to create an environment in which a black reader—a black writer, first of all conceives of a book, carries it to a black publisher and then that black publisher carries it to a black printer and then their book is in turn so… in a black bookstore, and consumed by a black reader. To be able to do that with the dollar is amazing… is an amazing, amazing, amazing accomplishment in this time.
And so there are those types of partnership—you know not only publish for black companies, of course we publish with many, many publisher peers and educational,—
Brother Coates: —large educational publisher in the country. So we do a lot of other publishing. But to be able to have that resource in our community, I feel such a tremendous accomplishment and tremendously grateful for.
Frank: Where’d you grow up?
Brother Coates: Philadelphia…
Frank: And what in Philly—in Philly or I guess, you got a major stake in Baltimore. Baltimore is a big part of your world and it has been for many years.
Brother Coates: Yeah, yeah.
Frank: Could you speak—
Brother Coates: I came to Baltimore right after the military in love… See that’s a soft side… Knows wide open from my first wife… and went down there and…
Frank: Your first wife was Linda?
Brother Coates: My first wife was Linda and the three children from that marriage, two of them worked with me and two of them are in Black Classic Press and run the company pretty much now. My first wife was Linda.
Frank: And they’re… So give me the rundown on the children, the names…
Brother Coates: Sure, sure. My first three children are… In fact my son, shout-out to Demani who’s big billing that [unclear]…
Frank: Ahh yeah…
Brother Coates: His birthday is today. So there are three children there in the Black Panther Party, there were… I had three children born… in the Black Panther Party and two children born after that. And so that’s what that is… yeah.
Brother Coates: It’s a total of 7 children.
Frank: Got ya. And what was your history in the Black Panther? Because when I hear you talking about leaving the Panthers, I don’t get the impression that it was just… “I’m moving on”. I get the impression in the book that it wasn’t an amicable split.
Brother Coates: It was amicable in the sense that I arrived at a place… I used to run the chapter in Baltimore as the defense captain. When I went to California, under Panther orders, I didn’t go because I wanted to go. I still had—I had about 20 people in jail and that have become the focus of my life supporting those people and getting those people out of jail. And the Panthers ordered me out to California so I went out to California thinking I was going to get support for the people who were in jail. Three of those people were under double, triple murder charges, you know… I had been under murder charges. No, I’m sorry not murder charges, attempted murder charges.
So it was very personal and very serious and being ordered out to California to sell newspapers didn’t sit well with me in the collect I made. So I stayed out there for a few months, left the party and just felt I was not in sync with where the party was going. So it was amicable in that sense, it was a time—I came to a place to leave… and came back to Baltimore and worked with a lot of ex-this, ex-Panthers, ex-nationalist, ex-Pan-Afghanist to begin to put together Black Classic Press.
Brother Coates: It was actually put together as George Jackson Prison, that’s what it was.
Frank: How did it—
Brother Coates: So it was good.
Frank: Okay, okay. You were known for being a passionate father and the book Ta-Nehisi says that you were often seen with your sons… or with your children.
Brother Coates: My children…
Frank: You had your children with you OFTEN.
Brother Coates: Of course.
Frank: Why? Or how? Anything you want to say about that. I mean, you don’t have to explain anything to me because I’m—in many ways, I’m the same way. I mean, I’m known for having my kids…
Brother Coates: Yeah, I was going to say I don’t know what to say about that… You know, I think that’s a part of fathering. I mean like you’re… and it’s a part of particularly again, the thing for me that I constantly go back to is getting, particularly boys, getting them across. So it’s what Ta-Nehisi would say this. I said like, “Look, I don’t expect you cold military. You are not—“
Frank: That’s not you.
Brother Coates: You are not like me. You got to love me.
Brother Coates; You know, I mean I’m not here for you to love me. I’m not here to be your firend. I’m here to be your father and get you across that line. That’s why I’m here.
Brother Coates: You know, and that’s the way it’s going to be. So carrying children and exposing them to the culture to other people that you consider to be positive to the experience of being black that you live in every day, carrying them into the jails and Ta-Nehisi talks about this when he’s 4 years old. Actually, he went to the jail shortly after he was born, a few weeks after he was born. That resistance to jail was bred into him purposely that’s why he was taken into the jail and he writes about that so that he would know the circumstances of the world.
Frank: And so you never want to—
Brother Coates: That’s what you do with children.
Frank: You never want to even act like you want to go there?
Brother Coates: No.
Brother Coates: No but also you know how to distinguish and you know when things work in your interest and when they’re not working in your interest as well, you know…
Nancy: You know, I don’t want to side step what you just said. Especially in today’s culture where most of our kids grow up in day care. Number one, so the privilege it is for a child of any age to be able to follow their father now, number one. Number two, in a discussion about love, love, love, you come forward to say “I’m not here for you to love you. I am your father and my job is to get you across.”
Frank: Got you.
Nancy: That is powerful.
Brother Coates: Yeah the thing that I would say Nancy and I used to always say [unclear] they—we are loved, I mean we’re totally loved—
Brother Coates: But that’s one of the things you say and you go I the room and you laugh about it.
Nancy: Right, right.
Brother Coates: But the real deal is like on the stern phase note, you will love your mother.
Brother Coates: You will love your mother, you will always respect your mother, you will respect me.
Nancy: Right, right.
Brother Coates: But I’m not here to be your friend.
Brother Coates: Because I’m going to tell you some things that you’re not going to like… but you’re going to have to do.
Brother Coates: It’s one of those things.
Brother Coates: And like, Ta-Nehisi… Oh gosh… I don’t know, last year some time we were talking and I was saying, “Well I knew you want to hang out with your buds or something like that or your friends,” he said “Dad, wait a minute. You know, you’re my father but you are my friend.” And—
Frank: Now that you’re—now he’s 40.
Brother Coates: Yeah, we kept talking.
Nancy: And balanced by that.
Brother Coates: …calling back to that. I said, “You know, that was really, really powerful” because I’ve never sought to be the friend of—
Brother Coates: Fatherhood for me, fatherhood has that in it but that’s not—you got—
Nancy: It’s not the foundation. Right, right.
Brother Coates: Yeah. I may not tell you the straight stuff all the time…
Nancy: Exactly. We pay them not to.
Kibwe: And you know, it’s especially when you’re raising them.
Brother Coates: That’s right, that’s right.
Kibwe: And particularly when they become teenagers.
Brother Coates: That’s right.
Kibwe: In reference to your children being with you, particularly your sons as you said, it comes to a point of looking at persuades them versus influencing them. When you know that they are with you and they see what you’re doing and they see how you—and to act and they see how to carry themselves when they walk in to the barbershop, that’s an influence.
Brother Coates: That’s right.
Kibwe: The thing with the [unclear / strap]. That’s a persuasion.
Nancy: Very effectively.
Frank: Ta-Nehisi called you and enlightened [unclear]. That got a laugh from me too. That really had me…
Brother Coates: Yeah, I think that he was probably looking at that now from 40, looking backward for whatever period at that time it would have just been a [unclear]. But looking back, he was able to see and… you know, looking back is different. You’re crossed the line there.
Brother Coates: I’m not even talking about his success. That’s not the line.
Frank: Yeah, I get it.
Brother Coates: The line is getting to a point in manhood where you can make reasonable, sensible choices where you can look back at your family and understand that you have responsibilities to bring them—that’s the line. So I think he was on the other side of the line when he was looking at that. [Unclear].
Frank: I’m going to throw a few names at you and I’d like to get a sentence or two or comment on each of them. So here we go… Dr. Clark.
Brother Coates: Dr. Clark is a mentor and a father figure, for me. Many of their early books, we published because John Henry Clark would say… you know like, “You need to bring this book back.” He never said it about his books so we were able to bring a couple—as a matter of fact, his one book scarred me and the vision of Africa is one of the most influential books on me, which was one of his books and some of his best writing. He never said that we agreed to that much later. But he and brothers like [unclear / Janji] Jackson were… the old brother who knew the books, who knew the history and knew the importance of those books being back, the vary of obscure histories. Janji Jackson used to give me books that I’d have to go through something to find those books, but he knew those books. Those books—this man is 80 going 90 years old.
Brother Coates: Those books are trapped on up in his brand and he’s passing them off to someone who is younger, who has a responsibility to pass them on to people who come behind. These were great men.
Frank: It’s—when I say Dr. Clark, I almost said Dr. Clark on purpose without saying Dr. John Henry Clark because that is—in the black community, you can say Dr. Clark and everybody knows who you’re talking about. It’s just that simple. Alright, here’s another one: Dr. Ben.
Brother Coates: Dr. Ben gave Ta-Nehisi’s name actually. I don’t know if you know that. But Dr. Ben who had known since early 70s, this was when we set up the bookstore and I became for me with Dr. Ben. He called right as the day that Ta-Nehisi actually was born. I had talked with him a couple of weeks before and told him I needed help with the name. For whatever reason, he never called me that much. He just never called me that much. That day he called and I told him I was I between going to the hospital and I had narrowed down the names… and from his work, I had pulled two names and one was Tamari and the other one was Ta-Nehisi. He said, “Name him Ta-Nehisi. He will need a strong name.” And that’s what he gave him so I went to the hospital and gave it to [unclear] and that was it.
Frank: There was a little bit of a Dr. Ben impression in there too and I got it. JFK.
Brother Coates: Well that wasn’t the Dr. Ben impression. The Dr. Ben impression is Brother Coates, I tell you something that my father told me… “What is it Dr. Ben?” “Never get old.”
Frank: You know one of the things I can appreciate that Dr. Ben said—well Dr. Ben had an appreciation for women.
Brother Coates: All the time.
Kibwe: He really did. He was going to wush up something. That was it.
Brother Coates: See I don’t have a lot about JFK that’s pretty been much—whatever I had as a child has been wiped out by the… by all of the memories—I mean all those memories have been wiped out by the realities that I’ve learned about JFK that I’ve learned about his administration and I’ve learned really about the government and opposition to black people were actually seeking their rights.
So I don’t have a lot of memories there.
Frank: Walter Mosley.
Brother Coates: Walter is someone I just finished talking to a few minutes ago. He’s just a wonderful, powerful creative genius of a man.
Brother Coates: I introduced him—I don’t know if you know this but he was named the grandmaster of the mystery writers of America.
Brother Coates: That’s a distinct honor. He’s the first African-American, that award has been around for 70 years. He’s the first and the only one. So he asked me to introduce him to the crowd. You know Walter’s not the first black mystery writer, okay? There’s a long tradition of mystery writers but I did introduce him to the crowd about two weeks ago actually and that was a singular honor. I have the distinction of being able to read Walter Mosley’s pieces quite often when he finishes them, he’ll send them to me. I have the honor of reading Ta-Nehisi pieces not often when he finishes, okay?
Brother Coates: I use to get it a little bit later… which carried him back. I do want to clear up one thing, I’ve never collaborated with Ta-Nehisi on any of his writing. He has given me on both of the books and on some other stuff he’s given me the honor of critiquing it when it was editorial stages or something like that. its not good to be a father critiquing.
Brother Coates: Let me just say that okay… Because you still… you want more, you want more. It’s just like when they used to do school papers and then you get back and say “Gosh damn that was so hard.”
Frank: What I was thinking about when I said you collaborated with them was—when I listened to the most recent book…
Brother Coates: Yes.
Frank: At the end they say you have rights to—your company has rights or something like that, copyright to the audio. It’s something [unclear].
Brother Coates: Not audio. It may be images or something like that…
Brother Coates: I’m not really sure in that because I haven’t heard the audio. But I’ve never collaborated with him. I’ve always talked with him during in any major writing project—
Brother Coates: —but he… yeah, he does his own thing and particularly in his last case, he and Chris Jackson brilliant, brilliant brother up in New York, they had the ones that really worked closely on this last part.
Frank: Alright, okay. Walter Mosley. Back to Walter Mosley for a second. There’s—I want to plug him myself. There’s a series that he does by a P.I. by the name of Leonid McGill.
Brother Coates: Yes.
Frank: I love that! And mind you, I’ve listened and read a lot of easy rolling stuff, short [unclear] movie, I’m familiar with Socrates Fortlow—
Brother Coates: Yes you are. You are a Walter Mosley guy.
Frank: Yeah. Fearless Jones, however, this Leonid McGill—I mean, is something really powerful about this character and one of the things that come to mind, there’s an issue that comes up between him and his wife. They both have other relationships. They’ve both been in other relationships over the course of their marriage. One of the guys that the wife is seeing decides that he wants to basically harm her because he doesn’t like that they’re about to break up or something like that, something to that effect, do something to besmart her. So he sends unbeknowing—he send pictures to Leonid, the husband and Leonid gets the pictures and they don’t say who they’re from. They’re just pictures. He gets the pictures, he deciphers who sent the pictures and he goes to this guys and basically says, “You ever threaten my wife or you do anything that’s going to cause a problem with my wife and it would be me and you.” That is such a different perspective than most people want to give a dynamic like that. so many people want to—oh you get pictures of your wife doing whatever—
Frank: —and you go off on your wife. Nah, he says “I’m going for you, that’s my wife!”
Nancy: Right, right.
Frank: “I’m going to protect her.” So that’s an interesting story in a fascinating series and kudos to Walter Mosley.
Kibwe: Let me just ride on that just for one moment since this is about Frank Love. That is an approach that women take in other cultures. I’ve experienced some cultures where the women would tell you, “I’m not worried about my man, he’s a man. It’s that other woman that I got to keep an eye on.” So that brings to mind when you talk about that approach.
Frank: Interesting. James Baldwin.
Brother Coates: [unclear / seminar]. Just untouchable. I wish I had… developed, had many, many opportunities to develop relationships [unclear] did not do it. Chose the laidback and observe from a distance more… I don’t—I shouldn’t say I wish… there is a space that could have been taken advantage of so that I would have even more memories.
Frank: Tupac Shakur.
Brother Coates: I think about his sister, I think about Sekyiwa. If he didn’t just died—
Brother Coates: As you know and… I think about—you’re talking about soft, his sister was soft and I think about—when I talk about starting a press in Baltimore, the person are actually was instrumental in Tupac launching into a rapper was a sister in Baltimore who works with young kids. And she’s taken Tupac down to the YWCA. That same sister was one of the people—I needed $300 to buy a press in order to start Black Classic Press. Brother gave me $200, I just talked to with him, I didn’t ask him for the money but is said, “As a press out there, I need $300 to do it.” Brother Emilio came for and said, “Paul I got $200.” Sister came forward and said, “Paul I got a $100.” That was a sister who helped bring Tupac along right?
Brother Coates: But I think about that… she died. She was one of the early victims of AIDS and so she died a long time ago. Tupac ends up going to the West Cost with Afeni. But I think about Sekyiwa who hadn’t talk to him a long time, had a chance to talk to last week who’s healthy and who’s well in spite of her mother dying, you know…
Frank: Very nice. JA Rogers.
Brother Coates: Rogers I never met but I’ve always admired. His work, his wife I knew and his wife I used to interact with. Rogers was a… a person… like so many other committed researchers of black history had been told at an early age that black history had no history. You probably know this, he grew up at Marcus Garvey. They grew up as boys I Jamaica together. They would come together in New York much later and he would write for the negro world. Garvey and his greatness and Rogers, in his greatness, Rogers is left us… great inquiries, not into so much black ancestry but into more white ancestry. What that actually means since Rogers research dealt with race mixing.
Brother Coates: And how the staunches of white lines, you know we’re influenced by black lines. How much black blood was in the white race? That was fascinating to him and intriguing. He left such a great body of work there… but truly a great writer.
Frank: We’re talking with father, husband and founder of Black Classic Press. A company devoted to publishing obscure, insignificant works by and about people of African descent. He’s also the founder of BCP Digital Printing which produces books and documents using digital print technology . he’s also the patriarch in the memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Beautiful Struggle”. He is Paul Coates. Brother Coates, please tell us what you’re p to and how listeners can find your publications and procure your printing services.
Brother Coates: Sure. People can find us on the web, www.BlackClassicBooks.com. That’s the website for Black Classic Press and it’s the best place—
Brother Coates: —to deal with it. That’s www.BlackClassicBooks.com. Our printing comes under BCP Digital Printing and that’s BCPDigitalPrinting.com.
Brother Coates: And the BCP, that’s Black Classic Press.
Brother Coates: They’re doing printing.
Frank: They’re not unrelated.
Brother Coates: They’re not, they’re not. Or they can type in “Black Classic” to the web or “Paul Coates” to the web and company’s based in Baltimore and been in Baltimore for the last 38, 39 years. A family-owned company with deep, deep roots in our community.
Frank: Absolutely. You were in a polygamous relationship for some time.
Brother Coates: I don’t know about polygamous.
Frank: Okay, alright.
Brother Coates: I don’t know about polygamous. There seems to be almost like permissiveness or something like that with polygamy. I don’t know. I’ve always been someone who believed in multiple relationships, okay? And as someone who believed in multiple relationships, I engaged in multiple relationships most of my life and it was never monogamous until most recently. I remarried in 2008 and had been happily, happily monogamous.
So in multiple relationships, since you opened that door… In multiple relationships, I love the idea of multiple relationships. I don’t know about polygamy because polygamy is the relationship of the man having multiple wives.
Brother Coates: You see, I’m not really hung up on that. I think people should have the opportunity to experience life as they see it. So if that means women having multiple husbands, that was their choice—that’s their choice and if it works in a societal way in which society can support it, then I’m in favor of that. my engagement in multiple relationships Brother Frank, I have to tell you in all seriousness in the end did not work. It did not work. It took me years to understand it, the [unclear] are engaged understood it.
Frank: That it didn’t work?
Brother Coates: That it didn’t work. They understood it didn’t work. I didn’t understand that it didn’t work. I didn’t understand it didn’t work until I was talking with a sister one day and… this was after my last marriage and I was in between marriage. We were talking about getting together. So you have to give up a history. You have to say what you’ve done, etc., etc. She gave a per history in about—maybe about 10 minutes.
Frank: 2 minutes?
Brother Coates: I mean, it was like 3 relationships or something like that… I went on and on and on…
Frank: She said “Alright, well let’s pick up tomorrow morning.”
Brother Coates: She said it must have been—the end of it, she said two things. She said, “Ugh, it makes me sick.” I mean she was like that. But the thing that she said it must have been hard.
Brother Coates: I thought she was talking about sex. That’s how far away I was from it. I said, “No, it wasn’t hard. You just have to… allot your time and things…” I thought that’s what she was talking because that’s how brothers tend to listen to sisters, you know. It took me about 3 days and I was going over her conversation and she said, “It must have been hard, it must have been hard,” that was rolling in my brain.
It occurred to me what she was talking about. She was talking about the pain. She was talking about the pain that went on. It occurred to me that it was hard, that my life in multiple relationships is hard that I had never satisfied anyone, that I never satisfied myself. Don’t get this like I’m against multiple relationships.
Frank: I understand.
Brother Coates: I am absolutely in favor of multiple relationships and I believe people should have that choice. Looking at my life, the way I had lived it, it did not work, okay? And it didn’t work for me—so I was at the end of the road. I said, “Okay. That didn’t work.” I did not have and I don’t think in this country there are enough—atleast in the black community—enough support, there are enough institutions, there’s enough guidance available at this time to make that work on a mass scale. Should it be there? I think people should have those options because I think families come all different stripes, all different ways and all of this pretence about one ma-one woman. That doesn’t work. We all know [unclear]…
Frank: Right. There are a bunch of things that don’t work. It’s not just multiple relationships.
Brother Coates: That’s right, that’s right.
Brother Coates: So if we were honest about it, those don’t work either. But that was my decision, that was a personal decision for me looking backwards. When I say I don’t recommend, I’m not saying—
Frank: You don’t recommend not doing it.
Brother Coates: That’s right. I don’t recommend people take my decision as script or something like that. It’s like—who knows? I got a few more years left in me… But it’s not a commitment where as when I was young it’s a commitment, but you know, I came out of the Panther Party. No it wasn’t a commitment, it was a political understanding in coming out of the Panther Party.
The whole idea of one man owning a woman, one woman owning a man, nah… That was an anti-family structure.
Brother Coates: To be in. And so, coming into an African-centered community, that was necessary either. So it’s been an evolution for me but it’s a personal decision that fits me at this time. I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life. I make my wife happy, she engages me, we’re very, very happy like this. But other folks can find different ways.
Frank: On a… To interject a little bit of a personal story with Brother Coates, I went to him years ago. I was looking to… My company was doing some things in Baltimore and I was looking for a way to set up shop in Baltimore. He got on a phone and called the sister and he said, “Hey, honey. I got someone here who needs some help in… this is… what do you think?” and lo and behold, he’s talking in a very loving manner. I go and meet the sister and this is his former wife, so he handed me right off to her. She was able to in somewhat profit from our relationship, from relationship she and I created and it was a seamless hand off from him to her in what appeared to be a very loving relationship, a very good relationship.
So I have witnessed the evolution of whatever it is you guys created from your marriage, from your children, and I’ve also seen him—and I talked to my dad and he says that him like you, they just love their wives. I mean, it’s just—just giddy.
Nancy: Nice. Nice, nice.
Frank: So watch these men who are now pushing 70, who were hardcore and even hardcore with women…
Frank: That’s not bad. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing.
Nancy: Not abusive, just serious.
Frank: Yes, just hardcore in terms of philosophy and that sort of thing… hard edges to watch them be…
Frank: Right, right… it rubs off on me. It really does because that’s the previous generation. It’s going to rub off on you.
Brother Coates: And just to be clear, that was Ta-Nehisi’s mother, okay? And that would have been Sister Waters, someone who I still love… someone, just to add perspective [unclear. When I got ready to be married, I told my now-wife that I would have to—that was after me, was to ask Charles permission to marry.
Brother Coates: Charles and I didn’t have a relationship, we hadn’t had a relationship, any type of intimate relationship and probably 8 or 9 years by that time.
Frank: And she has since remarried also?
Brother Coates: She has since remarried in which she didn’t ask me permission but I actually told her the brother to marry.
Brother Coates: It was like, “No Charlie, that’s the one.”
Brother Coates: I asked HIM into our family, okay? I asked him into our family.
Frank: God, that’s beautiful!
Nancy: Awesome. Yeah, yeah.
Kibwe: That’s a beautiful circle.
Brother Coates: So it was very important that… she’s my friend. It would be unbalanced for me to enter into a marriage and be happy in that marriage, and she’d be on the outside would not be happy.
Frank: Yes, yes.
Brother Coates: So the thing to do was to ask her permission and she loves my wife. She always has loved my wife. And I love her husband, I mean, you know… Again, I asked him into our family and I’m so glad he’s a wonderful, wonderful grandfather to our grandchildren. He’s a wonderful brother to me and just to add another note, he’s also a bookseller.
Nancy: What a collaboration…
Frank: Come on into the family! We need a bookseller [unclear]. We got the publishing… We got the writer, we got the publisher. We need a book—
Kibwe: That was divine sense…
Nancy: Common sense and divine sense.
Frank: You have another son with Sister Waters. Mentally, you have children… and one of the things the book touches on is how you were able to welcome all of your children into the home that you shared with Sister Waters. And it’s clear that she was—that was important to her, that she and you be parents, that you all co-parent all of the children that you had from previous relationships in that household. Is that–?
Brother Coates: Yeah, no that’s correct and to be clear again… In my most recent marriage, I acquired two more children, okay? So I mean, it was even larger, okay? Two more young men who have helped cross the line into man and they’re beautiful men. But here’s the thing… there are four mothers to my birth children. We get together frequently. We get together for weeding, we get together for funerals, we get together for everything. There’s no stuff there. Largely, it’s no stuff because there was a lot of integrity throughout in the relationships. There wasn’t stuff before. No relationship I ever got into was things hidden… and it was like the woman doing something to another woman.
Brother Coates: I take responsibility for whatever it was and it was always going to be a conversation. You always have the options.
Brother Coates: That if this doesn’t work, and folks did do that. There’s this opportunity for honesty and this is why I was—distinguishing and trying to get away from… polygamy and much, much, more towards polygamy where there is an opportunity for—
Frank: For everybody.
Brother Coates: And people have an opportunity to respond in their way. But honestly—
Frank: Yes, yes. I get it. You weren’t painted as the father on the Crosby show. We’re talking about before the legal troubles and all that stuff… How did it feel to experience Ta-Nehisi’s digestion of you on paper, even if it’s—as a 5 year old, 10… How did that feel?
Brother Coates: He’s a tremendous writer and I felt that he captured his father and still feel he captures his father very well even when—like I read things that people talk about abuse and things like that. he and I talked about it sometime, sometimes I’m disturbed about him and sometimes, he actually expresses regret. But—
Frank: Of what?
Brother Coates: Regret for writing about that part of his development.
Brother Coates: And I have to tell him everything that he ever wrote, everything I’ve ever seen him write about me and coming and coming, I think he captured it perfectly. It’s how some people walk away from.
Brother Coates: You walked away from it with the love and all that stuff because you have a context for it.
Brother Coates: Someone else has no context for it, sees it a different way. But that’s not his writing. It’s not his writing. His writing captures I think the whole situation and the whole—his upbringing, I think perfectly. I think he’s just so spot on.
Frank: One of the characters in the book is your son, Bill.
Brother Coates: Yes.
Frank: He’s Ta-Nehisi’s elder brother.
Brother Coates: That’s correct.
Frank: And he was more of—what some would consider—a knucklehead and I guess harder in terms of his presentation to the world than Ta-Nehisi.
Brother Coates: Yeah.
Frank: What were your thoughts about Bill being a gun totem young man, if you even knew?
Brother Coates: I did not know, at that time I would’ve killed him at that time. I mean, literally, literally… I’d have gone to jail for that one.
Brother Coates: That’s the thing again. You were there—you don’t’ know.
Nancy: Did you confront him once you learned—?
Brother Coates: Oh no, no, no… He was a grown man…
Frank: Too far long. [Unclear].
Brother Coates: And literally—I mean, he’s my business partner.
Nancy: Got it.
Brother Coates: But there’s not… You can’t have a conversation that happened 25 years ago.
Brother Coates: Knowing that he was a young boy coming along and he was doing what young boys did.
Frank: And knowing—
Brother Coates: And knowing that’s not who he is.
Frank: Exactly. Know who he is now.
Brother Coates: So it’s not something—we never had a conversation. There’s no point.
Brother Coates: I don’t even know what I would say. It’s two different time spaces like now, it’s something that happened in the past then it would’ve been something that was happening then.
Brother Coates: And so it would have been a violation, it would have been an impediment to get him across the line. He’s over the line now.
Nancy: Okay, okay.
Brother Coates: So looking back on it, it’s like being in two different spaces.
Kibwe: Also, along with that when you look back on it, you know and he knew that it was something that was not permitted.
Brother Coates: That’s right.
Kibwe: And that’s why he kept it undercover. So it has a reward that you know, he knew he was wrong. Thank god he through it.
Frank: If you could go back or in just looking back, anything you would change? And that’s such a wide—anything about anything that you would change.
Brother Coates: I don’t know… and this is one of the things that I tell… I still tell my children because they have children. Like, you… I mean in my life there are probably things to change, sure. Maybe I would not do this, maybe I would spend more time with my mother who is departed… maybe I would have sought my father out who after we were 9, I didn’t see him anymore. But knew generally where he was—maybe I would’ve done that… I don’t know. But in terms of children, I have like a firm policy on that.
Frank: Other than they got to get out at 18?
Brother Coates: Yeah, that’s it. They got to go at 18. So I have a firm policy on that. That really is like you got to—just in the moment, do the best you can do and really make a decision in that moment that you’re doing the best that you can do so that you don’t have things years later that you look back only to say, “I wish I had done it this way.”
See, if you’re doing the best you can do in that moment, then there’s nothing else you can do. You can always look back and say “Well it could have been done differently…” But in that moment, you really have invested your time, your energy, your thought, and you tried to do the very best that you could do, there’s no regrets. Like in terms of my kids, I have kids to talk about how they didn’t get name brand, tennis shoes, and how the shoes they got feel apart and stuff like that…
Frank: And these are conversations you guys are having—
Nancy: Years later…
Brother Coates: I have kids that talk about how they didn’t get cars when they were 16 and other people got cars… No regrets.
Frank: Right, beautiful.
Brother Coates: No regrets.
Frank: Any… This is real quick, any advice to husbands?
Brother Coates: Same advice to wives… like honesty. Like really, really, really bringing that as a living dynamic into our lives. Honesty.
Frank: Any advice to young males?
Brother Coates: Honesty, honesty.
Brother Coates: Honesty, honesty.
Frank: Others… of young male?
Brother Coates: Honesty, honesty. I mean really, it’s like such—some people call it integrity. Like everything rests on that foundation… like just be honest to kids. When Ta-Nehisi talks about later, he grew up in a hard house with love. That’s honesty. Sometimes, like when I’m going to tell you, I’m trying to tell you the best I can tell you. It may not come out right, it may out sound right, but as honest as I can make it and it’s really the intent is so that we have a foundation going on forward.
Frank: And what would you expect me to do? Say nothing? Even though I’m not—even if the idea or the concept isn’t fully articulated, you want me to say nothing? No, I got to give you what I got right now.
Brother Coates: Honesty and integrity.
Frank: Yeah. We’ve been talking with father, husband and founder of Black Classic Press, a company devoted to publishing obscure—
Brother Coates: And grandfather.
Frank: And grandfather. Ah, excuse me.
Nancy: Watch yourself.
Frank: A company devoted to publishing obscure and significant works by and about people of African descent. He’s also the founder of BCP Digital Printing which produces books and documents using digital print technology. He’s also the patriarch in the memoir by Ta-Nehisi Coates, “The Beautiful Struggle.” He’s Paul Coates. So Brother Coates, last time please tell our listeners what you’re up to and how they can find you and your publications and your printing services.
Brother Coates: Yeah, at the hard of what I am up to, is always building a legacy that serves, the highest goal that I have, building a legacy that serves our community that serves who are coming. We work in Baltimore under the name Black Classic Press and people can find us at www.BlackClassicBooks.com or www.BCPDigitalPrinting.com.
Frank: Along today’s journey, we’ve discussed fatherhood, the Black Panthers—I can really create a list here—honesty and integrity, publishing, printing, grandfatherhood, polygamy, multiple relationships. Woah, okay. I hope you’ve learned as much as I’ve had talking with Paul Coates about all of the aforementioned.
As always, it’s my wish for you to walk away from this conversation with a heaping helping of useful information that I hope you create a relation that’s as loving and accepting as possible.
Let us know what you think of today’s show at facebook.com/relationshipflove, on Twitter at @mrfranklove or at franklove.com. If you’re listening via Blog Talk Radio, make sure you like us there and if via iTunes, make sure you subscribe so that you can receive each week’s show.
This is Frank love.
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