“My tattoo says home.”

The following is a personal essay written by Kyle J Smith, Executive Director of Determination, Incorporated, on September 12, 2020. Scroll to the bottom for photos and follow Michael Mosley on Instagram at @mo_ink816.

My sister and I got tattoos together this week. Hers are glyphs that stand for power, transcend, and create your own reality.

My tattoo says home. It’s in my biological father’s handwriting. I found a Mother’s Day card he wrote to my grandma before he passed away. My dad’s name was Mark, and when Morgan & I were too young to remember, he took his own life.

I never met the guy, but his spirit lives on in my sister’s caring heart, in my brother’s hard working & talented hands, and in my voice as I make dumb jokes and tell others stories that give them just enough hope to make it through the day.

I took a photo with me to Midtown tattoos for our session. It’s my mom leaning on my dad’s shoulder in my grandparents’ dining room. I often look at this photo and think to my dad, “Ya’big dummy. You had that beautiful lady on your side, and you let her go? What’s wrong with you, man.” The answer is – something was wrong. I have no way of knowing exactly what, and that’s okay.

The fact is – there’s something at least a little wrong with all of us. My mom doesn’t like when Morgan and I say that we’re all a little sick, or a little crazy. It’s what you do with that wrong, that hurt, that matters. My dad made a fatal decision, one that too many people make each day.

If you are thinking about making that decision right now… don’t. I’m sorry you’re hurting. You’re not alone. We all hurt. Let’s work on that hurt, together.

Text a friend & let them know that today sucks. Find something to laugh about. Or call the suicide prevention hotline: 800-273-8255.

My favorite thing about the tattoo is how my dad wrote the o in home. It’s open just a bit. The circle is broken.

My dad broke the circle when he took his own life. Thankfully, my family was strong and with time, unbroken. And God blessed us with just enough grace each day to make it through to the next one.

At Lauren and I’s wedding this summer (Dad! I got married! To the most beautiful, sweetest women I have ever met), our families brought pictures of loved ones passed and placed them in a hutch my grandpa made. We circled around the hutch, held hands, and I said a short pray, “Lord, I don’t know why you made the best things the hardest things. But you gave us each other, and that’s enough. Amen.”

My dad decided to go home early. I miss him every damn day. Someday, I’ll return home to heaven to be with him. But in the meantime, I’m gonna try to make this earthly home a little more like our eternal one, where all that’s left is goodness, truth, and beauty.

God gave me Lauren so that I have an easy reason to stick around, to be right here, right now. The rest of life isn’t as easy, and that’s probably why it’s worth it.

I’ll never bring my dad home, but that hurt is what inspired me to start Determination, Incorporated. At one of our entrepreneurship workshops in a prison in Kansas City, I met Michael Mosley, my tattoo artist.

Michael has been home for over a year now. When we met in prison, he told me he wanted to be a tattoo artist. He showed me some sketches he’d been working on, one of them was Nipsey Hussle. That sketch has over 100 likes on Instagram now. Check it out @mo_ink816.

On his page, you’ll also find a photo of Michael with his two kids that was taken while he was in prison in Cameron, MO.

Michael is home with Mia and Jayden now. He gets to hug them when they’re sad, watch Chiefs games together and pig out on junk food, and show them why their #BlackLivesMatter through his love and his art.

I’m going to get many more tattoos from Michael. You should, too. I think the next one will be three circles, playing together on my thigh. Me, my sister, and my brother. Broken and unbroken. Stronger for our pain and more joyful for our loss.

Because by losing, you learn to give. Through hurting, you understand love. And after crying, you get to laugh.

As we were leaving the tattoo shop, the lady taking our photo asked us to take our masks down so that she could see our beautiful faces. We took off our masks, even though it may have killed us.

It didn’t. It won’t. Some things are worth living for. Many things are worth dying for. But not today.

Today, we have each other, and that’s enough.

… … …

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Determination, Incorporated is a 501C3 nonprofit in KCMO empowering formerly incarcerated people to seize employment and entrepreneurial opportunities in home building, home improvement, and affordable housing. To learn more, contact us here.

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