Tribute to My Brother on Father’s Day

When he was young, my big brother was incorrigible. He did all sorts of things, so much so that my father and mother couldn’t handle him.  Because they worked, they were unable to supervise him as they wished. He was a wild colt, doing whatever he wanted. He bullied us younger siblings, played hooky from school, stayed in the street long after he was supposed to be at home. Seeing my parents’ plight, our favorite aunt stepped in and took him to stay with her.  Not having children of her own, she allowed him to do whatever he chose at her home.  While we were not allowed to touch her walls for fear of leaving fingerprints, he could climb all over the furniture without once touching the floor. In her eyes, he could do no wrong; She spoiled him.
Whenever he’d return home to our small apartment, we children trembled in fear.  My sister, younger brother and I would plan how to get even for the mean things he’d do to us.  One example, he would sit in front of our small TV, and open an umbrella so we kids could not see the screen. Once he closed my younger brother in the sleeper couch as a joke; our parents did not think it was funny. Even school couldn’t tame him.  When he was still a teenager, he dropped out and joined the Air Force. He fought in the Korean War and was stationed in Japan where he wanted to stay. By the time he returned home, he was a man. Service had leavened him.
When my father was alive, our home was the center to which not only his wife and children, but also his sisters, brother, cousins and in-laws gathered to sort out their problems. Daddy was the patriarch; our home, a refuge. After his death, Big brother inherited that mantle. Though married with a family of his own, he was called upon to help other family members. We all knew we could depend on him. He opened his home to us whenever we visited or needed a place to stay, and, like Daddy, he gave wise counsel.
As an adult, I began to see my brother in a different light. Beneath the surface of this strong, quiet man was a connoisseur who sought beauty in objects he found in outlet stores, and antique shops along downtown Manhattan and in plant nurseries. He constructed a fantastic garden in his backyard filling it with beautiful and rare plants of all colors and sizes.  He loved music, especially blues, and poetry. When he was young, he loved to draw. His love of art expanded while he was in Japan.  Not just a loving husband and father, he was a leader. He became a 33rd degree Mason.  From the obstinate young man who terrorized his siblings, my brother grew into a man I greatly respected and admired. I will always remember him for his kindness, generosity, and patience.  Thanks, Sis. for your help.

Homage to My Father

My father was a strong man. Born and raised in the South during the dark days of segregation; nonetheless, he survived with a strong set of principles and values. The oldest boy of fourteen children, though three of his sisters were older, they all looked to him for advice and guidance; Grandpa was a tyrant and womanizer. To his sisters and brother, our aunts and uncle, Daddy was the bedrock, the patriarch on whom they could depend. Whenever they had problems, they would call on him. If they needed a place to stay, our home was always open. If they needed money, advice, or help in any way, my father was there. Despite the fact that he barely finished third grade, Daddy had wisdom that he imparted to his family and his children in an attempt to prepare us for life.

He gave us children maxims to live by; tools to guide us through all phases of our lives. He counseled my sister, brothers and me about life. He told my sister, “Don’t promise anything to anyone unless you mean it. You wouldn’t offer a blind man sight.” and “Be true to your word.” “Never say, “yes sir,” “no sir,” or “yes ma’am,” “no ma’am,” to anyone. Though he worked for a family as their chauffeur, he refused to let his children do the same. We were to get a good education. In those days, a high school diploma was the goal. I was a tomboy always trying to keep up with my brother and his friends. When I turned twelve, the same boys I’d played with for years, began to notice me. One gave me a bracelet. My father promptly made me give it back. “Don’t take presents from boys. They will expect something in return,” he counseled me.

My father wore the mask Paul Laurence Dunbar spoke about in his poem, “We Wear the Mask (1913). At work he was a servant who drove his employer and his family around, part chauffeur, part butler, and part babysitter. He was always on call. At home, he was our wise daddy who knew everything and could do anything. A loving husband, every Friday he would bring my mother a pair of nylon stockings. On his days off, which were few, he would take my mother dancing. Whatever free time he had, he spent with us.

Though he died over forty years ago, his influence permeates my life. My brothers took after him. After he died at age forty-one, my brothers tried to fill his shoes. My oldest brother came closest. He became the one we turned to for advice. As in the home of my youth, my brother’s home was always open. If we had problems, we could call on him to give us advice and to help us out. On Father’s Day I thought about my father and my brothers and the men they were – faithful, loving, kind, caring, compassionate, and most of all strong. My wish is that all fathers strive to prepare their children for life armed with these traits and more.