Books, Black history, and being at home: #beacooldad with Troy Hamm
By Elizabeth Lepro
Troy Hamm’s career as an energy trader has taken his family to New Orleans, London, and Singapore. But setting down roots in Houston meant giving his partner the opportunity to invest in her vision.
The pair co-own the bookstore, Kindred Stories, a Third Ward locale that carries works and artisan goods by Black authors and creators.
“I’m kind of supporting cast,” Hamm said. “She held down the home front and to see her transition into bringing this dream to reality – a dream that had been brewing for four or five years – I felt really proud.”
The Third Ward is rich in Black history and culture but underserved in other ways – that includes literary resources, Hamm said.
We caught up with Hamm to talk about the Houston legends he’s commemorating for Black History Month and CoolxHistory; sharing household responsibilities; and the books he’s into right now.
You’ve said your family is your passion. What have you learned about parenting now that you’re taking on more responsibility in the household?
I’ve learned that it’s a hard-ass job! It’s a hard job if you want to do it well. There’s no definitive criteria as to what is a good job because there’s no final result. So creating a mental model of my own in concert with my wife – what does good parenting look like to us?
I think it’s become clear that good parenting looks to us like raising responsible adults who take accountability for their actions and their decisions and feel comfortable seeking out help and being self aware. That’s what informs our parenting style right now. That’s been a more recent shift, as our kids get older and I get more involved.
I think you really represent something integral to CoolxDad’s mission when you talk about parenting as a partnership. Can you tell us more about why that resonates with you?
Yeah. I think those outdated narratives prevent fathers from really connecting with their kids and families at large. I see my children as people with whom I want to develop deep lasting friendships well into their adulthood. So the whole emotionally unavailable, workaholic dad narrative doesn’t fit that. Plus it’s well documented that couples who share home responsibilities have better relationships and sex lives, and that’s always the goal.
Hard to make a transition from that sentence to this, but we’re going to do it: Tell us about your kids.
My daughter, Elle, 14, is super extroverted and really thrives in social settings. She’s super family-oriented, super friend-oriented. School is sort of a social playground for her first and foremost.
She’s a teenage girl so I think there are a lot of things that teenage girls navigate as they come of age and so watching her navigate some of them has taught me more about her.
My son, Ethan, 11, is different. He’s not an introvert but he’s not quite so extroverted. I almost need to use reverse psychology with him, whereas with her if you give her the space to talk she’ll just blab away. Ethan really wants you to respect his need for privacy. He likes to read; he’s sort of a perfectionist and he wants all his grades to be perfect.
"I see my children as people with whom I want to develop deep lasting friendships well into their adulthood. So the whole emotionally unavailable, workaholic dad narrative doesn’t fit that."
Kobe is writing the intro of CoolxDad Monthly newsletter around what Black History Month means to a 3-year-old. So he's kind of exploring the idea of talking to his young kids about race for the first time. Your kids are older, so do you have any thoughts or advice on that?
I don’t really have a method to my madness on talking to kids about race. I figure race is an American socio-economic construct and America will teach them all they need to know about it. My job is to teach them to love themselves and their people because America certainly won’t do that.
You and your family have lived together in various cities throughout the world – NOLA, London, Singapore, Houston – what, to you makes, a place feel like home? And do you have any advice for people who are relocating somewhere unfamiliar?
Community. The more authentic connections you have the more at home you feel.
My advice: Don’t be shy about seeking out community. There are transplants in every place, so there’s automatically a group of people without established connections who are looking to create new ties. For guys especially, I think we just need to be intentional and verbal about seeking out those connections. Joining various interest groups, community service orgs, church, sports leagues – that all goes a long way.
Can you talk more about that in the context of Kindred Stories?
Third ward is a vibrant and culturally significant Black community in Houston, but it’s underserved in the sense that there’s a dearth of investment in amenities there. It’s also what we’d consider a book desert, which is to say it suffers from a lack of literary resources. So it was always very important for Kindred Stories book store to be geographically located there, to try and address those issues and to be in close proximity to the community members we are primarily here to serve. That was especially key to Terri’s original vision for the business.
Has there been a moment for you where you feel like Kindred Stories was really fulfilling its mission of creating a space for Black readers and writers?
One moment that stands out was over holidays when we hosted story time and pictures with Black Santa at the store. It was a beautiful moment because the store was filled to the brim with families and the little kids were digging into the books and soaking it all up. The store even brought the story time to a neighboring daycare for homeless children, and it was the first time they hosted an event like that.
You said you’re a student of literature and the arts. Who are some artists and authors who inspire you?
Authors: Toni Morrison, James Baldwin, Andre Aciman, Camus
Artists: John Biggers, Simone Leigh, John Scott, Monet
Toni Morrison was the first author I read as an adolescent that had a profound impact on me. The way she manipulates language into rhythmic verse to describe and express the thoughts, emotions, and livelihoods of black people in America – it’s literary gold.
She was the first author I’d read that wanted to explore the mucky underbelly of Black life in America, especially in rural settings. That always intrigued me – the whole ‘telling it like it is’ approach rather than glazing over things to make it palatable to white onlookers. Zora Neal Hurston is certainly a pioneer in that but I just discovered Mother Toni first.
'The Book of Night Women' by Marlon James
'The Second Mountain' by David Brooks
CoolxHistory is CoolxDad's yearly exploration of under-covered Black historical figures; it often features Houston-specific legends. We talked about Kindred Stories' role in Third Ward – since settling in have you learned more about its history and important people from the area? Anyone you want to shout out?
I think one of the greatest gifts Houston has to give the world is its art culture. There are so many notable and under-sung art figures, both dead and alive, that have left their marks on Houston. I’m thinking about John Biggers who taught at TSU and also paved the way for black artists to enter the canon of MFAH (Museum of Fine Arts Houston), among others.