Today is a day of reflection and remembrance of one of the most important people in my life. Too often these days, the images one sees aren’t those of strong African American men in the role of successful, loving family men. For me, what’s closer to the truth is that such men are here. They’ve always been here, but they haven’t been getting the attention they richly deserve. I know. I was blessed to have one such man as my father.
I still have this photo on a wall in my home, me as a toddler and him barely 21. Yes, he was a teen father, one who was married to my mother for 60 years before he passed away six years ago. He’d be 86 now, and I can picture him, seeing this website and reading my work, looking into my eyes and saying, “You done good.”
Dad was a career military man (we called him The General), and he touched many lives during his career. He was a noncommissioned officer in the Air Force, yet he commanded the respect of generals. I can imagine the challenges of being the lone African American officer on the base. I’m proud of him for, among other things, teaching himself to program computers and using that knowledge to successfully implement the computer system the base now uses.
The romantic in me loves the story of his courtship of Ma. With him being 18 and on active duty, he had a leave and went to Duluth. Through my uncle (Ma’s brother), they met. Theirs wasn’t a typical courtship. It was all through letters, even Dad’s proposal to Ma two months into it. Nine months after they met, they were married. Of course, that was the way back in 1951–you married young and had a houseful of kids.
As I mentioned in my previous post, Dad loved to read, contradicting a stereotype that African Americans don’t read. I always knew where I stood with him; when he set expectations, he only said them once and that was it. But yes, we both read voraciously, and as an adult he and I could get into some lengthy philosophical discussions. Not that we’d always agree; it took him a little time to accept the fact he had a gay son. Ultimately, we shared a mutual respect and an abiding love.
I must admit, I inherited his offbeat sense of humor. Growing up watching action and superhero movies, when the villain falls off a skyscraper to his/her death, Dad would quip, “It isn’t the fall that kills them.” Me? It’s easy to find me reading a Hallmark Shoebox (it has to be Shoebox) greeting card and laughing myself silly.
At the end of the day, he was there, actively involved, setting the standard of what a strong African American father/role model represents, plus a loving grandfather to my son. I recently had a conversation with one of my cousins about the amazing accomplishments of our fathers and uncles, with much less than we had. With the African/African American tradition being an oral tradition, Dad encouraged me to be a storyteller. Natalie Cole’s album cover says it all: “Unforgettable–With Love.” Thanks, Dad.