Today we honor my father.
As I focus this Blog on being a Black parent, being a Black father, it would be problematic if I did not recognize the human that is my template of example. And that is my father, who turned 67 years of age today.
Born in Walnut Mississippi in 1949, this dude has been nothing more than a god like character in my life. This gentleman and his 10 brothers and sisters grew up in the cotton fields of the South and migrated to the Midwest in the late 1950s. The reason I never fell prey in the belief of any black stereotype has everything to do with this guy who picked cotton up until age 11; became the first black person to play basketball in the all white city all-star high school game; organized the first Black rights march in the city where he attended college; brought everyone from Adam Clayton Powell to Dick Gregory and Jesse Jackson to his university; started the first Black Student Union at his university; ordered and coordinated the first black literature and scholarship for his university’s library and at the same time was invited to tryout with the Chicago Bulls when there was only about 14 teams in the NBA (he had serious skills); coached high school basketball; a teacher, both in a high school and university setting; watched him take on a Masters and Ph.D. in the 1980s while working a top position in our city’s school district; passed up a superintendent position in a neighboring state my senior year of high school so I could finish out my promising basketball career, but in retrospect I think he should of took the job because my new coach didn’t come through on his promise; my dad got me and my brother Ruby Dee’s autograph back in the early eighties when they were on a panel together; introduced my older brother to the entire Harlem Globetrotters (1978) and got their autographs; he helped manage real estate for two NFL players in our state, one of them was his cousin; he let my older brother use his kitchen as a barbershop for our NFL team’s Black players who couldn’t find anyone black to cut their hair (my brother made some serious cash too); took us to NFL games and special exclusive NFL dinners and took us to see everyone from Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Dr. J, Larry Bird to Michael Jordan, Shaq, Penny Hardaway, Kobe, etc, etc, and every time I have spoken with NBA Champion and legend “Down Town Freddie Brown, he always tells me how great a player my dad was. These are just the things off the top my head, I’m sure if I spoke to my older brother he would say I missed a lot. Oh, my dad doesn’t drink alcohol, doesn’t curse, never raised his voice at me, my brothers or my mom, and always claims he loved my mom since elementary school. They started dating in high school (went to the same high school) and they married after they graduated. Oh, he started a college scholarship program at their high school and they have an alumni basketball game every year to raise money for it.
That’s my dad, an extremely cool dude. 6 foot 4, slim build, dark beautiful skin, manners of a butler, his social skills would remind you of being with Malcolm X, Barack Obama, James Brown (my father can dance), Richard Pryor (cracks jokes as he breaks many of poker games), Cliff Huxtable (not Bill, Cliff) and a pulitzer winner or roads scholar. But my dad is truly from the cotton fields because if you ever met him you would never know his career, education or accomplishments. He never talks money and never talks down, only up to all people. And the entire neighborhood was welcome in his home and at his cookouts, and yes he is a grill master. If you met my dad, you might come away thinking he is still on the cotton fields because he is truly a humble brother with an out this world type spirit.
In the academic world we use this term called “positionality,” it just refers to your lived experience and how that experience positions and influences your identity, perspective and beliefs. For example, I was at a public library with my son and he played checkers with some other Black kids as I looked for my material; after I checked out a couple of books I went over to my son and said, “hey buddy; you ready, sir,” and a little Black girl sitting next to him asked me, “Do you always speak to him like that?” I knew exactly what she meant— speaking to a Black child like they matter or have a choice don’t happen in this city, because most Black kids here are spoken to like criminals or problems. The main reason she even asked me that question had to deal with the fact I spoke to her when I entered the library and said, “hey my young friend, how is your day going?” But my “positionality” is the true answer to her question, that is, my dad spoke to me the same way you see me speaking to you and my son.
I do not take that for granted, my father was both mentally and physically present. From kindergarten to graduate school I could go to my dad with any question, about anything and he could turn the toughest situation into something as simple as turning on a light switch. He could deal with the heads of any institution and the neighborhood bully as easy as taking me out for ice cream, and he didn’t just deal with the situation, he resolved it. And some situations we faced were not resolvable by just a matter of aptitude and confidence, but rather a matter of having an enduring spirit of love, selflessness, understanding and a whole lot of stamina.
In 1993, my dad and me found my ten-year-old brother face down on the concrete with his bicycle tangled around his legs, I was 19 years of age. This was the beginning of my younger brother dealing with seizures, and his seizures would eventually change his gross and fine motor skills and even bring about brain surgery. His seizures can be so challenging it’s like starting life over everyday or hour he has one. After my mom passed in 1999, my dad would eventually retire to be fulltime with my brother, and even though in his sixties you can still find my dad crawling under a public bathroom stall to rescue my brother who has gone into a seizure after locking the door (my heart drops anytime I say that), my dad has still managed to give my brother an unbelievable quality of life, traveling the country and even helping him become a home owner. When I say this dude is amazing, amazing does not do his works, or my younger brother’s, justice.
The only thing I have ever witness hurting my dad’s spirits is the second moment of life without my mom. I don’t need a paragraph to sum this up, in simple language–I’ve never seen anyone love like my parents loved one another. So life was going to be difficult in the months after for whoever was left behind. But even under those circumstances he still lives a life of love, a life of action and the example of Black cool that would freeze my computer for even attempting to write about it.
So today is my dad’s 67th birthday and somewhere in our world he is existing, so when you walk the planet make sure when you see someone, be ready to greet them with a smile and a kind gesture, because it might be my dad and that is the kind of welcoming he most certainly deserves.
Love & Harmony
Too much music to list, just know the Blues was in heavy rotation. Koko Taylor would play as my dad set up his grill and started seasoning, Mavis Staples is a part of our movie night, and driving home from any event rest assure Frankie Beverly and Maze became one with my musical DNA.