Let’s be honest, Father’s Day does not get as much shine and love as Mother’s Day, for a host of reasons. One of those reasons being America’s distorted views of Black fatherhood, manhood, and its utter disdain for Black fathers. In the past, this enabled me to seek false refuge in the lack of fanfare surrounding Father’s Day. I sought sanctuary in numbness because I needed to believe Father’s Day was just another day. But that was an exercise in futility because Father’s Day could never be just another day for me.
I had a wonderful father who loved me strong. And although he passed away twenty-one years ago and my life has never been the same, every day—without fail—his voice, his hazel eyes, and his gap-toothed smile framed by his caramel face traipse through my mind. Occasionally he even visits me in my dreams.
When I reflect on my childhood, I often recall my father’s epic house parties. He threw one every weekend. The soundtrack of my childhood included soukous, highlife, and dancehall music. Mtume, Rick James, Jimmy Cliff, and Bob Marley blared out of my father’s JBL speakers in the background while he enjoyed the libation in his hand and his adiaha (eldest daughter) nestled between his legs. I cherish these memories deep within my soul, as they were some of the last that I have of my father while he was able-bodied.
On Father’s Day 1988, my father experienced a traumatic health event that left him legally blind with long-term and short-term memory loss. In an instant, my mom became a single parent and sole breadwinner, and I became a parentified child. I helped my mom raise my two younger sisters, run the household, and joined her in thinking through crucial decisions for our family.
By the grace of God, he regained his long-term and most of his short-term memory. However, he did not recover his eyesight, which meant that my father could not work or take me and my sisters out for daddy-daughter dates to the park, movies, and football games like the other kids. His disability took hold in my formative years, forcing me to reimagine what fatherhood and manhood truly meant. For his part, blindness necessitated creative parenting.
Several months prior to losing his eyesight, my father had obtained his master’s in Public Administration. He had a passion for politics and wanted to work for the government in some capacity. So, he found creative ways to exercise his political knowledge, like teaching his daughters the way America works. To this day, he is the most brilliant man I have ever known. He knew every domestic and international current event and the historical context behind each. He was the best armchair political analyst I knew, and I was always fascinated by his insight.
I was six years old, and my father could not see me. Or maybe it was me who could not see him. For many years, I was blind to the ways that my father had molded me. Blind to the ways that he modeled what it meant to be a husband. Blind to the ways that he instilled in me a love for God, church, politics, music, knowledge, reading, friends, and family.
For twenty-one years since his death, I’ve been trying to piece together the ways I am like my father, and I gain more clarity with each successive year. I can clearly see that he “spit me out.” Not only do I look like him, but I inherited my father’s gregarious nature, inquisitiveness, and even his style of dress. Recently, my mother told me that my father was a writer, too!
Even my engagement with the world is informed by his own. He taught me never to shrink back from the world but to press in and engage. He taught me never to settle for simple answers to complex questions and, in turn, not to shirk difficult questions. He nurtured my opinionated nature, always reminding me to make sure it’s informed. From him, I learned to take strong principled stances on issues and to substantiate my positions based on reason and facts.
He loved his Africanness and his Blackness and taught me to love them both because, as far as he was concerned, the two are one. Above all else, he loved Jesus Christ and the church.
From my father, I learned the harsh reality that time is fleeting, and life is but a vapor. So I’ve grown accustomed to holding everything—except Jesus—loosely. I miss my father dearly. I’ll never get used to his absence because my love for him endures. Unbeknownst to me, I was an apprentice of my father for nineteen brief, beautiful years, and he left me many precious gifts—intellectual, spiritual, and social gifts. He was a great father to me, and every day I reflect on him with fondness, tender love, sometimes tears, but always a smile.
How do you feel about Father’s Day, and what feelings does the day stir up for you?Leave a Comment