Five Mualimm-ak remembers the first time he saw his son Omar, and all the preparation he did for that moment.
"I went to classes. I had like 50 books, so that I could help deliver you," Five tells Omar. "I wanted to make sure I was the first person to touch you."
The night Omar was born, Five says he fell asleep in the hospital holding him.
"I think it was the most joyous time in my life," he says.
But Omar didn't know his dad had taken birthing classes. When Omar was 5, his father was incarcerated and started serving a sentence for weapons charges. By the time Five was released, Omar was a senior in high school. Nearly 12 years had gone by and the time apart affected each of them.
Omar says the hardest thing about Five being in prison was "losing a father." Without Five around there was no one to answer "guy questions."
"It affected a lot of areas of my life. I cried a lot," Omar says.
Omar, 23, asks if Five, 46, ever worried about him.
"Every minute of the day, man," Five says. "Throughout that dozen years in prison, I felt like I would die in there. But my biggest fear wasn't losing my life, it was losing my family. When I came home I felt like I did."
Five says his emotions were mixed when he saw Omar after his release.
"When I first saw you, you were so tall," Five says. "You were like, 'Hey, Dad.' You were like a grown man, and I just remember being so proud. You was this intelligent young man, but I felt, all that time I did in prison, I played no part in making you the success that you are. And I can't make up for half of your life that I missed. That was irreplaceable."
Since their reunion, the relationship between Five and Omar has changed as the two have gotten to know each other.
"It's getting better; that's the important thing," Omar says. "We can't beat ourselves up about the past, you know, it's happened, it's there. All we have is the moment."
Five agrees with his son saying, "I could care [less] what the world says or thinks. The real damage is what my son thinks."
And Omar cares what Five thinks.
"You're still my father despite the jail experience and I don't want you to think that I don't care," Omar says.
Despite the years-long gap in their relationship, they both care for each other and have learned lessons along the way.
"One thing that you can never get back is time," Five says. "I'm just grateful to move forward as two men getting to know each other now."
Audio produced for Morning Edition by Jud Esty-Kendall.
StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
Time now for StoryCorps, giving people the chance to sit down together and have a conversation they've never had before. Today, Five Mualimm-ak and his son Omar, who was 5 years old when his dad was first incarcerated. By the time Mr. Mualimm-ak finished serving his sentence for weapons charges in 2012 he'd been in prison for nearly a dozen years, many of those in solitary confinement. When he was released, his son Omar was a senior in high school. They recently came to StoryCorps to talk about their relationship for the first time.
OMAR MUALIMM-AK: Do you remember when you first saw me?
FIVE MUALIMM-AK: Yeah, head first. (Laughter) I went to classes. I had, like, 50 books so that I could help deliver you. I wanted to make sure I was the first person to touch you.
O. MUALIMM-AK: I didn't know you took birthing classes.
F. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah. The first night I fell asleep in the hospital holding you. I think it was the most joyous time in my life. What was the hardest thing for you about me being in prison?
O. MUALIMM-AK: Losing a father.
F. MUALIMM-AK: Nobody to answer guy questions.
O. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah. It affected a lot of areas of my life. I cried a lot. Did you worry about me?
F. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah, every minute of the day, man. Throughout that dozen years in prison I felt like I would die in there. But my biggest fear wasn't losing my life. It was losing my family. And when I came home I felt like I did. When I first saw you, you were so tall. You were like, hey, Dad. You were like a grown man. And I just remember being so proud. You was an intelligent young man. But I felt all that time I did in prison that I played no part in making you the success that you are. And I can't make up for half your life that I missed. That was irreplaceable. But how do you think our relationship has changed over time?
O. MUALIMM-AK: It's getting better. That's the important thing. We can't beat ourselves up about the past. You know, it's happened. It's there. All we have is the present moment.
F. MUALIMM-AK: Yeah. I could care what the world says or thinks. The real damage is what my son thinks.
O. MUALIMM-AK: I'm sorry, Dad.
F. MUALIMM-AK: You don't have to be sorry.
O. MUALIMM-AK: No, man, I don't like to see you crying, man. You're my father despite the jail experience, and I don't want you to think that I don't care.
F. MUALIMM-AK: I know you do. One thing you can never get back is time. And I'm just grateful to move forward as two men getting to know each other now.
KELLY: That's Five Mualimm-ak with his son Omar at StoryCorps. Five currently serves on New York Mayor Bill de Blasio's task force on behavioral health and the criminal justice system. He's an activist on criminal justice issues. Their interview is archived along with the rest of the StoryCorps collection at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.