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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Remembering My Father

On December 21, 2017 my father passed away. He was 81 years old.

While my mother and my father had their issues, I thank God she always allowed him an opportunity to be a part of my life and that of my brother and sisters. While he lived in Manhattan and my mother lived in The Bronx, my father used to visit my house every Thursday or Friday to come see us.

On some Fridays afterschool he’d take me to the barber shop. We’d get in his candy apple red 1976 Buick Limited and he’d drive us all the way to Tommie’s Barber shop Fredrick Douglass Boulevard. It was there that he taught me the first lesson in being fiscally responsible. After giving me my first allowance at six, I had to pay the barber for getting my haircut. I hated having to give up that five dollars, but now I understand the lesson he was trying to teach me in that trip to the barber shop. That things cost money and I had to pay for them.  

Sometimes after we went to the barbershop, he’d take me and my sister to McDonald’s on 145th and Broadway. And sometimes after we ate there we’d go to a parking lot near the Hudson River where my sister and me would play while he waxed his car.

Thanks to my father working two jobs we always had money for school clothes, Christmas presents and Easter suits. We always had an allowance and could go out and buy all the toys, comic books, junk food and pizza slices afterschool. Stuff most kids took for granted, but they were the things that defined a child’s life.   

The greatest gift my father gave me that defined my life was the Brother word processor he bought me on my 18th Birthday from The Wiz. With that word processor I started my writing career. At the time I had a choice between a camcorder and the Word Processor, but with me returning to writing after a two-year absence, I thought I’d use it to write stories. I used that word processor to write all my term papers in college and to write my first two books The Changing Soul and the first Isis. I still have that word processor to this day and now that he’s gone I’ll never get rid of it.

My father was always in my life. We talked on the phone every week after he visited and in addition to those weekly visits he was at every graduation from kindergarten to my College graduation in 1994. He didn’t have much of an education himself, but he made sure we got ones so we could have the skills to work and take care of ourselves.

As I got older instead of him coming to us, I went to see him. Throughout my twenties I’d always go to visit him. And while I struggled to find employment he tried to help me. He helped me get my first job at Food Emporium in 1996 and helped me even after I quit in 1997. One of the proudest moments I had with my father was when we went to 125th Street to celebrate Father’s day with him in 2000. I was working at Americorps* VISTA at STRIVE and I finally had money to celebrate it with him. Instead of asking for an expensive gift, he just asked that I pay for breakfast. I didn’t realize how he was looking out for me by not asking for much, but he valued my time more than how much money I spent.

I didn’t appreciate all my father had done for me until I was 34 years old. I remember Father’s Day 2008 when my sister and me went to visit him downtown where he lived. It was after we took him to McDonald’s and I came home that I realized what he had done for us. It was that year that I stopped believing many of the negative things my mother had told me about him and started seeing him for the man he truly was.

After a fight with my mother a year ago I finally got a chance to thank my father for all he had done for me. I was angry at my mother at the time, but it was then I began to see what he put up with dealing with her in order to have a relationship with us. How he quietly kept his issues with her to himself so that we could grow up to become healthy children. It was after that fight with my mother that I finally understood his side of the story. He was happy to finally hear how grateful I was to him for all his help and support through the years, and was happy to hear that I finally saw the man he truly was.

I’m glad I was finally able to thank my father for all he did for me. Because I didn’t know how little time he had on this earth. I’m thinking that fight with my mother I had a year ago was God’s way of allowing us to have that final moment to talk to each other before his mental condition deteriorated.

I only have two regrets about my relationship with my father. The first is that I didn’t have a job when he passed away. He worried about me being out of work the last nine years and he constantly asked me about it. I wanted to get that job or have that best-selling book so he wouldn’t have to worry about my financial situation. So that he could see that I could go out here and take care of myself. That I could be a man just like he was. I always wanted him to see me working and being capable of doing things on my own, and he never got to see me have stable employment like he had.

The second regret I have is that I wasn’t as close to my father as I could have been. In between the stories my mother told me about him and him constantly criticizing me about my weight I always put distance between myself and him. I hated doing that, but I felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders in between him, the teachers and the kids at school constantly finding something wrong with me. I wish we could have gotten closer in all the time we spent together, but things never really worked out. When I was 30 he said I had the ability to be a bigger success than my brother or my sister who both have master’s degrees. I’d always wished he’d said that to me when I was younger, but I guess he never got the chance to thanks to the strained relationship with my mother. Because I believe if he had said it to me at 8 or 10 it could’ve redefined our relationship and changed everything in my life.

Over the years I’ve paid homage to my father in much of my writing. Simon James in The Cassandra Cookbook/A Recipe For Success is named after him, and John Haynes’ middle name is Simon to pay homage to his name being my middle name. In some ways Osiris, Smitty, Donald Desmond, Jack Anderson, and Jason Crowley and many of the fatherly characters in my stories get many of their leadership and authoritative traits from him.

And maybe in some ways E’steem and Isis’ daddy issues come from my relationship with him. Both Isis and E’steem finally got to resolve their issues with Osiris in the first Isis and Isis: Amari’s Revenge and I thank God I was able to resolve most of my issues with my father before he passed away last year.

When I found out my father had Dementia a year ago I dedicated The Legendary Mad Matilda to him. It wasn’t the book I wanted to dedicate to him, but it was the one I was working on at the time I found out about his illness. I wish I had a more appropriate book to dedicate him, but the story of a mother passing her knowledge onto her daughter might have been the best one to dedicate to him. Because that’s what fathers do: Pass their knowledge onto their sons before they leave this earth.

I didn’t realize the impact my father had on me until a year ago. Many Black women will sit there and minimize and badmouth the things that Black fathers do for their children But I thank God my father was in my life. Because I wouldn’t be the man I am today if it wasn’t for him being there. 

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