“A person is never dead so long as their name is still called in the village.” – African Proverb
Today my dad would’ve turned 80. I got an early text from my mom that read: “Happy 80th Heavenly Birthday to my loving husband.” I took my pillowcase off of the pillow and covered my eyes, letting the tears go directly into the fabric. And I laid there in the bed mediating somberly. But this is not really a sad story.
It is, however, a sobering, necessary reminder that time waits for no one and yet my dad’s passing can still be like a fresh wound to me on any given moment. It has been a long time since he passed and a lot have things are different. What has not changed is the energy that he left behind. I feel as if my dad’s spirit courses through like the blood in my veins.
Men like my father and that generation are a rare commodity in this present day. Admittedly, nearly anything car related – for example – I feel like a fool. There are other manly things where I come up short too, like putting together a dresser from Amazon. My dad – a natural carpenter – would just make it, sand if, varnish it and put it in the house himself. People all over the East Coast have things my dad made – bubble gum machines, mail boxes, flower holders, wood statues and other things. A lot was straight up stolen, but that’s another story. I do not have many of those things.
I had him as a great father and still do.
And that is what I cherish so much these days. I have strength, resilience, loyalty, principles and a sense of family. That came from my pops. My dad was stern, but also loving. So, people knew that they could count on him, but also knew not to cross him. As a teacher, he was so beloved that he still has a tree in his honor at his old school in Delaware. I remember exactly two things about his funeral: My aunt insisting I keep my head up as he laid in a casket and one of my dad’s students crying uncontrollably.
Even though I have never formally taught students, I have dealt with kids and young people throughout my tenure, as a college student and as a professional. I love young people and the potential that they wield. They have an endless number of paradigm-shifting options and opportunities, even when there appear to be none. Like Hip-Hop, they can create where there is nothing. This is why I stay focused on the Generation Future, flaws and all. They truly need us like they need good, quality and vested Black male teachers.
Recently, One Village Alliance’s Raising Kings took roughly 30 kids hiking through a rigorous park in Delaware. This is an organization I’ve worked with for 10 years and assumed a far more prominent position this year. The excursion was lead by Brother Iz Balleto and included a number of good men that volunteered to climb up boulders and traverse down a small mountain. This important community work is supported by good folks like the Roberto Clemente Baseball League and the Delaware Humanities. And kids learn valuable life skills, often disguised as fun and adventure.
Several kids said the hike was “life changing” and that they learned a lot about themselves as well.
Hiking is like life. We need somebody to guide us, like Brother Iz. We need somebody to reach back and encourage the kids that needed a bit more time in their climb like I did for one kid. Another brother named Lakim, who came down from New York City, talked to the kids and extracted lessons from the boys. Ken Swain, a great father and one of my frat brothers, came with the jokes so that we were never too overwhelmed by the tasks ahead. And others were the silent, steely types that looked over protectively, warning of the danger that lurked all over. We made it over boundaries, avoided snakes and poisonous weeds alike. When one kid had some trouble, I yelled “Keep Going!” We gotta keep going.
My dad keeps me going.
Fatherhood is not linear.
The way my father parented is not exactly the way I parent, even though I employ his core principles and tactics. For one, I have a daughter, something my father never had to contend with. But, it is more than that. The kids today – in my opinion – require a deeper emotional connection and you have to be in tune with their life style. My dad was cool as hell, but he didn’t have to worry about the internet. These days you have to be a big brother, friend, entertainment center and therapist rolled into one as a great, Black father. “The World,” as the church calls it, is always luring our kids into dark corners in an attempt to usurp our teaching and sway our young people to their ways.
My dad didn’t have to talk at me too much. I do talk. I pour into my daughter and every kid I can. If you don’t pour into them, YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, SnapChat, The Streets, scammers, porn, The Burbs, rappers, Hollywood, and more absolutely will. In my dad’s day, a father could “be” and we saw it.
I see my dad in me, more and more. I don’t mean facial features or body type. I have those also – more and more – as well. But, unlike the past, I really see him in me. That sturdiness as a man, a fierce protector and also the willingness to pave a road where there was none. I am that father. My dad walks with me every day. I share an affinity with all the fathers from that day that came up knowing that tremendous sacrifice comes with the job.
My uncle Jackie. My dad’s best friend, Alphonso Seabrook Sr. My business partner Grouchy Greg’s Dad, Big Curt. Ken’s father. My other homie Chris’s father. Jamies’s father. Jerry’s father. Chandra’s father. Our neighbor and friend Rev. Harris. None of them were, perfect, but they all did what they had to do. My cousin Maurice hates that I call him “The OG,” he he should know by now that is a compliment. He was born the same year as my dad.
Here’s the thing: My cousin Maurice is more like a father to me now. We talked for hours as the days crested into Father’s Day and Juneteenth. Even now, at this age, I need guidance and wise counsel. Just to talk. It takes a village to make a father.
Today, I celebrate my dad. I celebrate fathers today. And I celebrate Juneteenth. I celebrate my daughter who gave me new life at a time when I was terrorized by depression. I celebrate the hope that comes in the form of the kids we’re raising into kings. The next wave of fathers, mentors, step dads, leaders and community pillars.
I salute each and every amazing King that got us here.
And, as I write this, I figure it’s ok to just let the tears go. That too is fatherhood.
Happy Birthday, Dad.