The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers reveals the love between fathers and sons during ‘Fathers & Figures’

Arts / Article

Above: Hostess and director Satori Shakoor, guiding the night with her trademark enthusiasm, grace and humor. Photos by Rosie Sharp.

For Father’s Day weekend, The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers in Detroit presented “Fathers & Figures” on June 17–an evening of storytelling in honor of dads, presented by fathers and sons. The show is part of an ongoing series funded by Knight Foundation, which takes place monthly at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History.

This set of “true stories told live,” under the direction of organizer Satori Shakoor, was particularly poignant, given the absence of recognition for father-son relationships. One aspect of toxic masculinity dictates that males do not openly acknowledge feelings of kinship or love for one another; simply to hear five men talking candidly about their relationships with their fathers and/or sons was something of an outstanding event. Additionally, the evening’s tales helped to explode a damaging stereotype about men of color: that they are not good fathers, or not present for their children. Though the stories of the evening touched on moments of struggle and strife–because Secret Society presents life issues, and life can be tough–they also highlighted the power of the bonds between father and son, and the emotional aspiration of every man to make his father proud.

Ron Ford talked about how it wasn’t until his father passed away, that he was forced to become a man and fully grow into the space made by his absence. Minister Loren Harper combined storytelling with gospel singing, to punctuate the journey he made through the ravages of addiction and back, over the course of years, into his aging father’s graces. Metalsmith Carlos Nielbock took us on a sprawling tale of his personal history, which included two fathers–the father who adopted and raised him in Germany, and the biological father and former WWII G.I., whom he came to the U.S. in search of and found in Detroit, along with his ultimate destiny. Nielbock is a Detroit original, and has an astonishing craft installation tucked away in the unassuming fringes of the Eastern Market district, where he continues to practice his art.

Ron Ford addresses the crowd.

One of the most touching stories of the night was that of Dr. Ethriam Brammer, who told a tale of fatherly love and cross-racial adoption that spans three generations. He began with his own childhood in El Centro, Calif., and chronicled his upbringing and deep adoration for his father, who set a strong example with his tireless work ethic and unflinching devotion to his family–even the part of his family that refused to accept his marriage to Mexican woman and adoption of her three sons, including Brammer. Brammer’s credentials, which include an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. from Wayne State University, show clearly in his storytelling, which masterfully incorporated key moments from his upbringing that later informed his own role as father to an adopted white son who, ironically, looked very much like his own father. Brammer’s heartfelt connection to his story and his family was evident in his storytelling, and this was reinforced as his son and daughter came rocketing down the auditorium steps to give him hugs as he came offstage. Brammer has a keen interest in promoting child literacy, especially among the Latino community, and during intermission he could be found signing copies of his two bilingual children’s books.

It was also a musical evening, with a special tribute to Prince by singer Donny Bond, who transformed the crowd with his rendition of “Do Me, Baby.” Overall, it was a strong line-up from The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers, with the premium, as always, on real stories by real people. Next month’s show is slated for July 15, and will mark the final event before summer break, with the schedule picking up again in September. The theme is “Big Sexy” (Shakoor joked, “People are like, ‘What does that mean?’ and I’m like, ‘You know what that means.’”), so grab your main squeeze and prepare for a spicy time. If you, or someone you know, have a sexy story to share, you can get in touch with Shakoor and pitch your story. Make it a good one!

The Secret Society of Twisted Storytellers has regular events at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History (315 Warren Ave., Detroit). The next event, “Big Sexy,” will take place on July 15 at 8 p.m. You can purchase tickets in advance or at the door.