Phillip Walker leads a rich life, and makes sure to enjoy every minute of it. On the one hand, he is outgoing, energetic, and extroverted. He lives a fast-paced lifestyle, exercising constantly in any way he can, socializing and teasing his colleagues during the day, and bringing life to whatever party he decides to attend at night. On the other hand, he is deeply reflective. Certain subjects, like family, education, religion, or politics, will make him slow his environment down, as he calmly debates his philosophies. He is constantly reevaluating and renewing his perspective on life.
Phillip was born in New Orleans and raised in Georgia. His mother passed away five years ago, and his father is currently unemployed.
“He did construction for maybe twenty years, and then when he stopped that he started working at Wal-Mart, because he’s always been kind of mechanic-ish person. He did that for thirteen years, and then stopped working.”
“How long has he been unemployed?”
“I guess almost three years. Four years maybe. Shoot, I don’t know, long time it seems like. He did something at work. He’s always told different stories: he got in trouble, he got laid off. At first he was getting unemployment insurance, but then I don’t know exactly why he didn’t get it, if he wasn’t doing the proper protocol. You have to be pursuing a job, and I’d have to assume that he wasn’t doing that. I know, to some extent, he wouldn’t take a urine test or failed it, but it had something to do with that. I had someone tell me who worked with him.”
“So he doesn’t have any income coming in right now?”
“No, he does not, to my knowledge. We don’t talk too often, but I know he doesn’t have a job.”
Phillip has two older brothers, and two younger sisters. His oldest brother is seven years older than him, and was from his father’s previous marriage. Phillip keeps in contact with him, as well as his two children. “They’re really good kids, seem to be well-behaved, especially the oldest boy. Real respectful, and caters to his sister and his mom.” His second brother is twenty-eight years old, and is often incarcerated. “He’s been in and out of jail for the last twelve to thirteen years, he’s just kind of built a habit around it. Most of the time, not really big crimes like murder, molestation, or anything like that, just shoplifting, possession of drugs, theft. Seems to be addicted to that lifestyle.”
His younger sister is twenty-one years old. She dropped out of college and is living with her boyfriend. He’s disappointed that she didn’t continue her education, but he thinks she’s happy, which is what is important to him. His youngest sister is fifteen. “She currently lives with a family of a friend hers, which at first I wasn’t crazy about, but my dad’s not able to take care of her, because he’s not financially, emotionally, physically quite up to par. At first I hated it, but I think God’s shown me that it’s a lot better of a situation than I first gave credit for. Family seems to be really stable, it has guidelines, procedures they follow, mother seems to be invested in all the kids. It’s a lot of stability, so I like it. It’s definitely been a blessing.”
Phillip is closest with his sisters. “We’re not as close now as we used to be when I was there. With our family being so severed, we don’t have a common place to go to for family things. I pretty much played like a parent to both of them, but mostly the youngest ones. I’ve never really gotten to be the big brother to them. Even now I still feel like it’s…they still need a father figure, and the father’s not there, so I feel close to them, but like a love, a kind of connection, not as far as a brother would be close to their siblings. They wouldn’t call me and want to talk about sex, or things like that, they would call me like a dad, and be like ‘What college should I go to?’ or ‘Could you help me, could I borrow this?’ Stuff like that is more the way they see me, and it’s kind of the way I see them. I like it and I hate it. I would like to be the brother that comes home at Christmas and buys them a Playstation, but all my life I’ve been the brother that’s had to evaluate what they need, and try to give them what they want. I’ve got a little bit of anger towards my father because of that, because I want to be a brother, I don’t want to be a dad. That’s the way I perceive it.”
I ask him how his mother died.
“She had cirrhosis of the liver. Hepatitis C. She wasn’t a drug user or alcoholic or anything like that, because that’s what most people relate it to. She worked in the medical profession, in a doctor’s office doing secretary stuff, cleaning, basic stuff. She stuck herself a few times, and that’s the only thing they can log it back where she could have gotten Hepatitis C. She was never tested for it, so it just kind of damaged her slowly. Once it started to show signs, she was pretty damaged. She did things to help it. Her death was still kind of sudden. We kind of knew it might come sooner than it should, but we definitely didn’t expect it to come that soon. This April was five years.”
“How has the family dealt with that?”
“I wouldn’t say we don’t talk about it, we talk about it when it’s relevant, or it comes up. But it’s hard. She was definitely the rock, she was the safety net that caught everything. She lived a hard life to make sure she kept her family together, which I’m sure she thought was best, but probably wasn’t, long-term, the best thing for her health or any of our own. But I think she took pride in that. She stayed married, and she stayed committed, and she just hoped that things would get better. I feel bad for my younger sisters because they lost their mother when they were ten and sixteen. That I don’t wish upon no one. I’m glad, I was lucky to get twenty-one years. I remember her very fondly, and I know they have vague memories of things, which bothers me a lot, because she was such an impact in my life. I have a lot of sympathy for them, and I used to shelter them from things, but now I realize it’s best to let them cope.”
I ask him if everyone in his family has recovered from that.
“No. Definitely not. I think because our family was already so broken, and now is even shattered, that it’s almost unrecoverable. Emotionally, I’ve dealt with it, there’s no anger towards God, not even towards my dad so much, I just wish he would have allowed my mother to live a happier life. You’re always going to long for it, I mean I would give any amount of money, if I could spend one minute with anybody on this earth it would always be her.”
I ask him about his father’s relationship with his mother.
“He was very abusive, physically and emotionally. Any type of abuse you could think of he pretty much did. I don’t know when it first started, if it started before she had kids, but he used to just beat the hell out of her and would be, verbally, just completely degrading. When me and my brother got old enough to defend our mother, we would physically defend her, by all means necessary. If we had to hit our dad, or pick up something, we were quick to do it, we didn’t really care. I mean we probably cared, you never want to hit your father, but when he’s drunk and belligerent and hitting your mother, when you’re old enough to realize that you can defend her. We would sometimes get our ass whipped by him, because we were young enough to defend her but not old enough to hold up a fight. When we got old enough to really defend her, I was like eighteen, even seventeen, where my dad’s not much bigger than me, I’m a little taller than him and little bulkier, that I could literally whip his ass. He didn’t step over that threshold, but then he would get verbally abusive, so my mom got to the point where she would get physically abusive. I mean I have the same thing she has in her, when I’m pushed to the threshold of that, I want to get physical, which I don’t like, but I know that about me. When the anger gets so much, I want to hurt somebody. I want to physically get the aggression out. She has the same thing in her.”
I ask him if there are any memories of either of his parents that stand out for him.
“I can remember being, I don’t even remember how old I was, and sitting on the roof of a car. My dad was drunk one night, I’m sure he was drunk. If I had to guess, I would say I was third or fourth grade. He asked me, on the car, he said ‘Do you want your mom to leave me? Do you want us to get divorced?’ I can’t remember how he asked it. I remember saying with just the biggest thrill, and I think even then I thought ‘He’s asking me and he’ll do it.’ I don’t know. I remember saying ‘Yes! Yes, I would love you and mom to separate! I would love for you to be gone!’ You know, I’m sure I’ll still love my dad to some extent, but I wanted him gone. I remember that snippet of that.
“All in all, I know my mother knows that she was my life. I remember the day I graduated college with my bachelors, I’m the first person in our family, both sides, any generation to ever have a college degree, which to me is huge. Because something in me has always hungered for education. I love it. I love education. I love learning. I’ve never felt smart, so I felt that at least if I have that sheet of paper it shows that dammit I may not remember it all, but I busted my ass to get it. So I remember the day I graduated was one of the happiest days of my life, but was also one of the worst, because the day I graduated was the day I knew I would be financially stable to have a job that paid adequate enough. Coming from a family whose annual income was probably no more than thirty thousand a year collectively, we didn’t really have, Christmas was okay, but really tax time was the best because we knew we would get tons of money back, from two parents making nothing and four kids. Graduation day was just depressing, because that was the day I could tell her ‘You don’t have to live with him anymore. It’s done, this whole hell that you’ve lived for twenty something years is over. You’re moving down with me, I’m gonna get a job down here, making thirty, forty thousand dollars a year, there’s no reason we can’t live off of that. You can get a job if you want, you don’t have to get a job, I don’t give a damn, I’m tired of seeing you live like that. You know, the girls can come down, more than likely they would, they want to follow their mother, and we’ll just start a life down here.’ And I didn’t get to do that. She died a year and a half before I got my bachelors. That honestly was the main goal. So I remember that day.
“The good thing is that God’s given me the mental capacity to take the negative and convert it to positive. So I’m very blessed. I don’t think my older brothers, as men, were able to do that. And then to take the positive things and just amplify them. If I was a bad parent, I feel like I would be disrespecting my mother, and that I’ll never do. My mother no longer lives, and she lives through her kids, and I will let her name carry some power through me. One of the main reasons I want to be State Superintendent, or work with our future President on education reform, is because when somebody says ‘What has driven you to want to do that?’ I can always give credit to my mother and God.”