Today is Father’s Day, and I would like to send my best wishes to all those fathers out there, especially those who are doing it right. And also, I would like to pay special tribute to two men who are giants in my eyes.
Granddaddy Love Child
In the late 60’s and early 70’s, my father was a small station DJ in the Memphis area who went by the moniker The Love Child. He genuinely loved what he was doing and could see himself doing nothing else. But being a small station DJ doesn’t pay an awful lot, and marriage and a child forced him to change his priorities, and he had to give it up.
I guess he was pretty accepting of it all. Six more children followed, and he settled into a life of being just the average guy trying to care for his family.
As I grew up, he was a good father, but sometime during my teen years a schism developed between us. He stated at the time that I was just smelling myself, whatever that means, and that one day I would come around. Despite my rebellion, he did not give up. He kept preaching and teaching until I decided to leave home to find my own way at the age of seventeen.
Flash forward many years later. About two or three years ago this May, my brother called and informed me that our father was gravely ill and not expected to live the weekend.
Now, over the years since I had left home, we had enjoyed an amicable relationship. We called each other every now and then, and I stopped by to visit him when I was in town. But there was always this thing between us, this wall of some kind.
But suddenly, all that mattered was for me to get home to see my father. While my attitude toward him had been one of indifference all those years, suddenly all that mattered was that he lived. I caught the very first flight I could get.
When I arrived, he was in the intensive care unit. As I walked into the room, I noted the many tubes and machines which seemed to be keeping him alive. He caught sight of me as I stood inthe doorway.
He greeted me first with skepticism—“You’re here?”.
And then with joy and enthusiasm—“You’re here!”.
I got home and visited him in the hospital on Thursday. By Monday he was up and talking and had been moved to a private room. The doctor later pulled me aside and said that my presence had a lot to do with his speedy, almost miraculous recovery. And before I finally left, he hugged me from his hospital bed, and for the first time in my life, he told me he loved me, and he was proud of the man I had become.
For a moment we simply held each other without saying anything. I then told him I loved him and placed a kiss on his forehead.
Now, he has taken to the role of grandfather. In fact, he has turned into somewhat of a new-aged parenting guru. When he is around, he won’t let you so much as raise your voice at one of his grandchildren. He insists that instead of fussing and yelling, we gently speak to them and explain our expectations. He certainly did not think this way when I was growing up.
But anyway, my kids adore him. They believe him to be absolutely wonderful and can do no wrong. They have even begun to refer to him as Granddaddy Love Child and listen with glee as he launches into his “DJ voice” to demonstrate how he used to do it back in the day. Finally, he now gets to live out his DJ ambitions, albeit to a much smaller but more appreciative audience.
I left home when I was seventeen in part to prove just what a man I was. But what I have learned since then is that every man still craves the comfort of being somebody’s child.
For seventeen years of my self-imposed exile from my home, my father-in-law, known by all as Big Apple, has provided that comfort. And you know you got to be fly to have a nickname like Big Apple. For seventeen years, he has been my surrogate father and resident hero.
I love to listen to the stories of his exploits back in the day. He is that proverbial self-made man who pulled himself up by his bootstraps. Who did whatever he had to do, whatever he needed to do, to care for and defend his family.
When I think about him, I recall that line from one of my favorite Etheridge Knight poems: “He had been our Destroyer, the doer of things/We dreamed of doing but could not bring ourselves to do.”
And that is just how I see him, that superhuman being that can do those things others can only dream of doing.
Recently, I stood next to him at a family function. I was surprised when I realized that we were about the same height. All this time I have known him, in my mind I had imagined him to be a much bigger man. I had imagined him to be practically a giant. I stepped away quickly for fear that I might also find him to be a mere mortal and not the superhuman I also imagine him to be.
I only hope that in the future, I too can be someone’s superhero.
Granddaddy Love Child and Big Apple, I wish you a happy Father’s Day with all the love and respect I can muster.