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Raising Fences: A Black Man's Love Story

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As a teenager raised in L.A.'s inner city without a father, Michael Datcher had already committed theft, learned the ways of the street, and developed a mortal fear of police. But Datcher had a dream about a very different kind of life-and a second chance to make good on a promise to himself.

Author Biography: Michael Datcher, a journalist and spoken-word poet, has written for Vibe, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and Buzz. A former Pacific News ...

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Waterville, ME 2003 Hard cover Large type / large print. New. Careful packing, quick posting, delivery confirmation. Email for a list of other Large Print titles in stock. Sewn ... binding. Paper over boards. 432 p. Audience: General/trade. Read more Show Less

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2003 Hardcover Large Print Edition New with no dust jacket 0786253584. 22 oz.; 440 pages; New HC no DJ unread/unmarked Gift Quality Large Print. This memoirist was determined ... all his life not to become an absentee dad like so many around him in his African-American community. This memoir explores his search for self in an environment with a dearth of role models and and an abundance of hopeless characters. Read more Show Less

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Overview

As a teenager raised in L.A.'s inner city without a father, Michael Datcher had already committed theft, learned the ways of the street, and developed a mortal fear of police. But Datcher had a dream about a very different kind of life-and a second chance to make good on a promise to himself.

Author Biography: Michael Datcher, a journalist and spoken-word poet, has written for Vibe, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, and Buzz. A former Pacific News Service correspondent, Datcher has contributed essays to a number of anthologies.

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Editorial Reviews

Essence
Datcher's memoir is heartbreaking and brutally honest.
Newark Star-Ledger
This young man's story...is an inspiration to all who dare to dream of a better life.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Much like Mark Matousek's acclaimed memoir, Sex Death Enlightenment, Datcher's debut confronts the psychosocial damage caused by fatherlessness. In this case, the paternal absence is compounded by abandonment by Datcher's mother. A former editor-in-chief at Image magazine, and now a successful poet and writer, the author spent part of his childhood in Long Beach, Calif., obsessed with the idea of becoming a husband and father, but determined not to become an absentee dad like many of the men in his African-American community. As a young boy, he idolized his adoptive mother, who acted as an emotional anchor for him during the turbulent years of his adolescence in the 1970s. (She had been handpicked to raise him by Datcher's biological mother, who had been raped at age 16.) Datcher's voice in this heartfelt confessional alternates between that of a truly bewildered young man desperately seeking a male role model and a hip, cocksure guy. Emotionally withdrawn and suffering from a stutter, Datcher seeks to find his way by running with a group of other lost souls, briefly stumbling into petty crime that leads to arrest and being terrorized by police. Later, he becomes romantically involved with a young Dominican woman, though complications soon develop that threaten to cast him into the role of absentee father that he has so long resisted. Deeply reflective, occasionally offbeat and tearful, Datcher's memoir combines attitude, honesty and romance in a way that should appeal to both men and women. This triumphant tale is a stunning tribute to perseverance, courage and the power of positive thinking. . Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Alternating between flashbacks and real-time experiences, Datcher, a poet and journalist (Los Angeles Times, Washington Post), describes his childhood in inner-city Los Angeles as an adoptee cherished by a strong single mother whom he later chose over a birth family that offered to take him back. His most compelling point is that his later social mobility and personal relationships were both motivated by and undermined by the lack of a father (his biological mother was raped). Sidetracks into promiscuity, lawbreaking, and a kind of religious cult lend a gritty authenticity to the narrative. Although emotionally powerful, explicit, and poetic, Datcher's first original work (he edited Tough Love: The Life and Death of Tupac Shakur) ultimately reads like a work in progress. Recommended for urban public libraries where it would complement the less introspective and more tragic story chronicled in Antwone Fisher's Finding Fish (LJ 1/01). Both books provide nonstereotypical coming-of-age and coming-into-success stories of young black men in late 20th-century America. Antoinette Brinkman, MLS, Evansville, IN Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
This honest, brisk, and ultimately very moving memoir offers a strong alternative to the stereotype of the "playa": the irresponsible young black man who preys on women and nonchalantly fathers children out of wedlock. "I've been obsessed with being a husband and father since I was seven years old," writes Datcher, a poet and journalist, now presumably in his 30s. "Quiet as it's kept, many young black men have the same obsession. Picket fence dreams. A played-out metaphor in the white community but one still secretly riding the bench in black neighborhoods nationwide." Datcher grew up in poor areas in southern California, where most of his friends were fatherless, like him. "We rarely talked about our missing fathers. Instead, we poured our passion into our skateboards, our marbles, and our mothers. Yet the unspoken sparkled from our eyes whenever any neighborhood men showed us attention." The son of a diligent, devoted mother who teaches him self-respect, Datcher becomes a rare success story, a good student and athlete who attends Berkeley and later UCLA before launching his career as a freelance journalist and community activist, and who is committed to the idea of eventually finding love, getting married, and having a family. Then a woman he's only casually involved with gets pregnant, and for a time it seems that Datcher has blown his own most fervent dream: He's going to have a child out of wedlock, just as his own (unknown) father did, just as he promised himself he'd never do. Will he rise to occasion and become responsible for his actions, or wallow in crushing self-pity? Throughout his self-portrait, Datcher is hard on himself for his mistakes and misjudgments. Buthe'salso suitably forgiving-both of himself for hurting people he cares about, and of others who do him wrong (such as his girlfriend, who turns out to have lied about his being her baby's father). And when it ultimately looks as if he's found the true love and commitment he's striven for, he approaches it with humility and hard-earned maturity as well as joyous expectation. A beautiful story of real-life redemption.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780786253586
  • Publisher: Gale Group
  • Publication date: 4/29/2003
  • Edition description: Large Print
  • Pages: 432
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.84 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Read an Excerpt



Chapter One

in the beginning


When I pull the letter from the mailbox, my heart starts jackhammering. I return to my second-floor Leimert Park apartment, leaping two white stairs per stride. Sit down at the heavy wooden desk. Tight-fist the letter opener butcher knife-style to steady my trembling hand:


STATE OF ILLINOIS
CERTIFICATE OF LIVE BIRTH


    There I am in Box 3, "Child's Name: Michael Gerald Cole." I've never seen Cole attached to Michael Gerald before. I stare like it's the first time. "Single" is marked in Box 5A, not "twin," "triplet," or "quad." Years of thinking maybe I was a separated-at-birth twin ends there at Box 5A. Born at 5:49 P.M. The box below: "Mother's Full Maiden Name: Mariam Cole. Age: 17." So young, I0think. Just a girl. Pregnant at sixteen. But this really isn't about her, it's about Box 7: "Father's Full Name: Legally Withheld." I'm not really sure what I'm expecting to see. I'm hoping for some hint. Some clue. Eye color. Hair color. Height. Initials. Anything. Box 9: "His Age: Unknown." Box 10: "His Birthplace:" blank. Box 11A: "His Usual Occupation:" blank. Box 11 B: "Kind of Business or Industry:" blank.

    The blanks blur together on the page. I don't know who my father is. Don't know one thing about him. This truth seeps through the spaces between my rib cage, straitjackets my lungs. I am not going to cry this time. I slide out the top drawer of my black metal file cabinet. Under "Medical," I file the birth certificate, his punk ass, and all theblank spaces in my life. I slam the cabinet shut.


Chapter Two

the spinners


I've been obsessed with being a husband and father since I was seven years old. Quiet as it's kept, many young black men have the same obsession. Picket-fence dreams. A played-out metaphor in the white community but one still secretly riding the bench in black neighborhoods nationwide.

    When the picket-fence motif was in vogue, only a few of us could get in the game. The swelling ranks of those who couldn't (the Perpetual Second Team) were forced to the sidelines, scowling—and pretending we didn't even want to play.

    The bastard children of these Second Teamers stalk the same sidelines. We rarely sit on the bench. Too restless. We can't figure out if we want to beg to play or raise a stiff middle finger. Sometimes we do both. But usually we strike a cool pose. Hide Huxtable-family dreams in the corner: Can't let someone catch us hoping that hard.

    We know few people believe in us. We struggle to believe in ourselves. So we pose. We have gotten good. We can pose and cry at the same time—no one sees. We can pose and cry out for help—no one hears. We are the urban ventriloquists.


* * *


Of the thirty families that lived in our east-side Long Beach, California, apartment building during the mid-seventies, I never saw a father living in a household. I never even saw one visit.

    There were lots of boys in the neighborhood: Ricky, Dante, Pig Pen, Curt Rock. We rarely talked about our missing fathers. Instead, we poured our passion into our skateboards, our marbles, and our mothers. Yet the unspoken sparkled from our eyes whenever any neighborhood men showed us attention. Once in their gaze, we worked to outperform one another, trying our best to keep the manlight from straying.

    "Watch this! I can do a back flip off the curb.... Heh, betchu a quarter I can make a shot from the free-throw line."

    It's likely one of these men laid the seed that sprouted into a back-flipper before them. Neighborhood rumors have a way of falling off grown-up kitchen tables and splattering on ghetto playgrounds.

    We flipped, pop-locked, and did the Robot for them, but we were knowing: Men weren't to be trusted. Even when our mothers didn't speak these words, their tired lives whispered the message.

    I knew many of these men had kids. Where were they? Why were they watching me spin instead of their own children ? No, these men were not to be trusted. How could I accept their advice when their personal lives screamed, "I'm lost toooo"? There was too much fatherhood failure around. The disease seemed to be contagious given the epidemic in our neighborhood. These men could watch me spin, but I couldn't let them get close enough to breathe on me.

    The ghetto irony: Many of my generation's young spinners have become the twenty- and thirty-something men who can't be trusted. Making children who will grow up to hate them.

    Circumstance, suspect choices, and fear have ways of disfiguring urban hopes with surgical precision. A four-ounce bottle of baby formula becomes much heavier than a forty-ounce bottle of malt liquor. Having five women becomes easier than having one.

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Reading Group Guide

DISCUSSIONQUES:Question: Of the thirty families who were Michael Datcher's neighbors in a Long Beach, California, apartment building in the mid-seventies, Datcher writes, "I never saw a father living in a household. I never even saw one visit." Disappointed at having been abandoned by their fathers, Datcher and his friends fell into a macho sort of posturing to protect them from their hurt feelings. Discuss the many manifestations of this in the neighborhood and in Datcher himself. How does Datcher link this "epidemic of fatherhood failure" to the lack of hope that arises in the inner city?

Question: The ghost of the father he never knew haunts the author throughout these pages. Datcher writes about his longing for marriage, fatherhood, and a stable family, but his actions are not always consistent with these goals. Why do you think it is so difficult for him to become the responsible man that he wants to be?

Question: Discuss the way in which Datcher's first brush with the law forms his feelings toward police officers. To what extent do you think that our prejudices are formed in response to other people's biases? Do you feel it is a cycle that is doomed to continue?

Question: Discuss the role of community in Datcher's life. What are some of the communities to which he belongs during his childhood and adulthood? Are their influences positive or negative? How does each contribute to his sense of identity?

Question: Why do you think Datcher became so intensely involved with the Church of Christ? What did the Church give him that had been lacking in his life? What conflicts did Datcher's Church membership create? Did you come to see the Church as a cult or a religion? Did the Church of Christ serve a constructive or destructive purpose in Datcher's development as a man?

Question: In an argument with Datcher over whether or not to get an abortion, Camille says, "You tryin so hard to get me down to the clinic so you can protect your little dream. Well, I have dreams, too." Did you take sides in this argument and, if so, did your feelings change when Nicole's paternity was revealed? Why do you think Camille lied to Datcher about her baby's paternity? Do you think that anything positive resulted from her lie?

Q>Datcher's friendships with other men play an important role in his life. In Raising Fences, he describes a number of close male friendships he has had at different times in his life. Name a few of Datcher's closest male friends and discuss the lessons he learned from each of them, both positive and negative. How has following their examples made Datcher "a better human being," as he claims on page 234? At the World Stage Writer's Workshop, the male participants have rare moments of catharsis and talk openly about their lives. Do you think that a group like this would benefit men you know? Why or why not?

Question: Datcher describes coordinating the World Stage Writer's Workshop as his "chance to turn some of the hurt into art." Discuss the role poetry plays in Datcher's life and in the lives of the other men and women who participate in the Workshop. What does poetry give them other than an outlet for difficult emotions? Why do you think Datcher decided to propose to Jenoyne with a poem, in front of their friends from the World Stage?

Question: Tyrone Tillman has overcome his disadvantaged background and is, at age twenty-seven, considered a "wunderkind" by Datcher and his friends. He is rich, smart, successful, and generous. He appears to have everything-and yet his accomplishments are shadowed by a violent and cruel side to his personality. How do you reconcile Tillman's anger with his generosity? What do you make of the following lines, from Datcher's poem about Tillman:
"this is where he is safest./ where beauty is in the black eye/of the beholder./ manhood is easy here."?

Question: At the end of Raising Fences, although Datcher refers wistfully to the father who will never come to show him how to be a man, there is a sense that he has "outgrown the dervish of want and need" through determination and desire. What kind of man has Datcher become by the end of the book? Will fatherlessness continue to define him? Or, in marrying the woman he loves, has he broken the cycle of abandonment he feared?
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 27 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 4, 2011

    High Recommended

    Great Read. Imagery was on point. Glad I came across this book. If you are a young adult who is looking for relatable work about managing love, college, and coming of age, this is highly recommended.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 15, 2007

    A great, enjoyable, real african novel

    I am a teenager who sees the downfall of a lot of people in our society. This book talked about fear, sex, love, friendship, and a person's battle with himself. If I tried to recommend this book to other black students I do not know if they would listen to me or not, but to all of the people who see this message, 'of any ethnic group', this book has many different life lessons that could change anyone's life. It puts the truth to the table. God bless everyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 26, 2004

    What happened?

    The first part of the story was really well put together. I was excited to learn about a man's take on abortion and how he deals with unwanted children, etc. Camille was interesting to read about from the male perspective. But then when she disappeared, the story went downhill. Characters (especially his friends) were introduced but had no depth. But then they did amazingly wild things and I was supposed to be shocked, but instead it was like watching it on the news. I didn't really know these characters towards the end, so to find out that they were doing these things was just like 'So what?' instead of 'He did that? Oh! I don't believe this!' Jenoyne was kinda thrown into the plot and I still don't really know who she was besides religious and having wavy hair and light skin. The first part was five stars, the last part was no stars...this book felt like a rush job.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 9, 2004

    A Must Read For All

    When I bought the book, I was not expecting such a powerful and well written narrative. The author's words are compelling, toughing, and well versed. M.D. is definitely an author to keep on your 'Wish List.'

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 21, 2004

    turning the world upside-down in all the right ways

    i really loved this book. mr.datcher shared some of the veiws i did and some of the same fears. i love the way it was written and the way things were expressed. he has lived one of my fantasies and i hope to be as lucky as he.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 19, 2004

    Highly recommended

    This book was a wonderful and insightful read. Insightful because many of the things that Mr. Datcher so honestly shared with us were things that I did not think man concerned themselves with. The wedding vows were beautiful....I would be very interested in reading more of his poetry.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2004

    I recommend this book for everyone that loves to read a good book!!!

    This is a very good book!! I enjoyed it to the very last page!! I'm a future famous poetry writer in the works. This was very much so an inspiration for me to continue doing something I love!! I'm very proud and happy that I got a chance to look in the mind of a black man.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 2, 2003

    Beautifully written

    I really enjoyed this book. It was hard for me to put it down. Very well written and a beautiful story.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 2, 2004

    For real tho!

    This was a good book for men to identify with. I saw some of myself in Michael Datcher, and I languished through his troubles while I reveled through his joy. It was a woman who recommended the book to me and I'm glad she did.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 14, 2003

    Insight into a man's heart

    I really enjoyed this book. I believe the things Michael went through are the same situations black men raised in the ghetto are actualy going through and feeling but don't share it. It opened my eyes and gave me a mind to be more open when men go through certain stages in their lives. I think black men should read this so they can learn not to be afraid to express themselves.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 21, 2003

    outstanding and understanding

    THIS BOOK IS WONDERFUL!THANKS FOR BEING SO HONEST!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 24, 2003

    Highly Recommended

    I have not been a person who enjoys reading alot, but once I started this book, I could not walk away. The weaving of Mr. Datcher's past to his present is captivating. Rarely do you see a man, a Black Man especially, so expressive in regards to love. He has captured my own desires to become more expressive in my relationships with others. I am greatly astonished in the hope he provides for those who have forgotten how to love. A must have for anyone struggling to find their way to themselves.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 6, 2003

    Inspiration and Understanding

    Raising Fences by Micheal Datcher is both interesting and informative for all. In addition, it is inspiration for any young black male going through a time of struggle. By discussing past problems with economic status, self-identity, fatherlessness, and relations with females Micheal Datcher vividly reaches out to anyone that has ever been in his position. Me being a teenage inner-city black male I was inspired, informed, and most of all motivated by Raising Fences.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 4, 2003

    Excellent Read

    The subtitle of this book is very appropriate. It is a Black Man's love story and I enjoyed every word. It was well crafted and honest. It really made me feel as though I was going along with him and understanding his feelings about situations that are common to a lot of us. I would recommend it to anyone.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 16, 2003

    Great Story!

    This was a excellent book! I could not put it down! I recommend this book to people ages 16 and older, for some sexual scenes.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 9, 2003

    PRG Reviews 'Raising Fences'

    Raising Fences by Michael Datcher is truly a black man's love story. A story of love found love lost betrayal and everything in between. Michael Datcher opens up to his readers in way that lets you know he is not holding back! From his feelings on being an adopted male, to his discovery of the opposite sex, he brilliantly places the reader in his life situations allowing you to see how his choices helped develop him into the successful man he is today. Lastly, just when you think you know him well, he expertly uses his poetry to give the reader an even deeper insight into his true self. Raising Fences is definitely a great read. One that leaves 'Pages¿ anxiously waiting for more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 27, 2002

    Excellent

    Well writting autobiographical novel. Would have special apeal to any Black man born and/or living in urban California.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 21, 2002

    well written book

    Great book!!! I enjoyed being inside the mind of a black man. He not only wrote from his heart, but also was able to explain why brothers often posture the way they do. read it and see for yourself. You will love it!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 28, 2002

    Excellent

    I could not put this book down once I started reading. Excellent!! Hightly Suggested!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2002

    A great read

    I loved this slice-of-life sort of memoir, loved the memories of his childhood, and loved the poems. The author is just a great writer... I would recommend it to anyone.

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