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.
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