Chuck D Writes About His Dad, His “Superhero”


I used to write a lot. I’ve been telling myself it’s time to write again. But now here I am, writing because it’s necessary, because I have a reason at an unfortunate time in my life. This piece is about my Father, my Dad.
My Superman.

My Father is my hero; my Dad is my Superhero. He raised many boys and young men into confident, caring human beings. He shaped me for 55 years on Earth. When I felt lost and a bit off-track, he had some God-given ability to untwist me and put me back into focus.

He was never afraid of dying. He would simply say that everyone goes to the same door of wherever that is. He would say, “well, either you’re gonna go first or me, unless we’re going to be in the same accident which we can make prayer to avoid.” Anyway, he would add, “no parent should face burying their child. So there you have it, son, and FYI you are not that far behind me in age” (he was 22 years older than I am), “so take care of yourself too.”
My father called me and my brother, “son.” He respected religion and God’s practices over them, yet he observed a simple practicality and philosophy for the everyday man and woman. He wanted everyone to have an equal chance.

My Dad was as stand up a man as I ever seen. He championed young fathers, saying that they deserve more credit in today’s society. He stood up for women, wives, and mothers just as strongly. Nearly everyone thinks their parent is amazing; I told my father many times he is my Superhero with a heart. The detailed moments I had have with this man are endless…all the way up to the fantastic night he, my brother, I, my two nephews, and a few friends sat over at his house watching Super Bowl 50.
My Dad was rooting for Cam Newton because his uncle was my Dad’s friend, and Cam is from nearby College Park, Georgia. We were loud – but not overboard – our team has always been the Jets, my brother’s team, the Vikings. We were in my Dad’s den, where four years ago we were all screaming at each other when the Saints got it (my brother has a big voice too: trust me, it was high volume down there). I tweeted several times about my Dad during SB50, saying he wasn’t for all them commercials and the halftime concert. Tweeting the fact if people think I have a powerful voice, it is nothing compared to my Dad’s voice… for real.

As I child, I heard my Dad’s voice thunder off walls. It was reminiscent of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and so many other famous orators, but my Dad represented a strong family man. I remember as a teen, knowing when he stepped out the front door to call me, my brother, and/or my sister to get inside, no matter how far you were, you couldn’t say you didn’t hear him yell. Because everyone else did. In fact, if my father yelled hard at me, it felt like half my face would melt back.

The “Dad things” my father did, he did so well. And we bragged about him like the gift that he was. In the seventies, we had quite a few rough financial times as a Black family, but he and Mom covered them so well we didn’t notice. The James Evans-John Amos father on Good Times didn’t come close to the very real thing. There are thousands of moments I have to remember. Sometimes we tested our father, and he came back correcting. But I never heard the man curse until I was grown, he kept that side away from us, his kids.

Where other families figured it would cost too much to travel, my father once found a way to take us on vacation. He bought a car that had no reverse, and he drove us to Canada. My parents figured it out with minimum funds
My Dad drove a cab in dangerous 1970s NYC for a few years. I was a teenager and I couldn’t sleep until he came through the door around 3am. I got my first jobs with him at 17-18 years old, working shipping and receiving departments for fabric warehouses. I had 14-15 jobs from 1979-1986, culminating in driving furniture in a U-Haul across NYC, a job all of Public Enemy and The Bomb Squad guys did at one time or another before records.

My dad liked music a lot but he wasn’t into the music, he was a solid NY sports fanatic. Born in Harlem in 1938, Lorenzo Douglas Ridenhour (for which the D in my name comes from) was naturally a Brooklyn Jackie Robinson Dodger fan. My Dad was even scouted as a pitcher for the Chicago White Sox, but by then the Marines wouldn’t let him try out. For him, it became the Mets, the Knicks, the Jets, and the Rangers, that was it and understood. We cried sport. I got loud that way.

The music, the cultural side of me comes from my Mom, who also didn’t drive until she was in her forties, which meant my Dad drove all of us everywhere. Eventually he even acted as transportation and stage manager for the Roosevelt Community Theatre.

My Dad always knew my artistic side, but was surprised by the music thing. He prided himself as a Black Man; he demanded and gave Respect without effort. He went fearlessly into places where the average head of a family would question. Regardless of whatever I chose to do, my Father knew he’d raised a man in me, who found a way and a means to bark back at the same hypocrisy he saw every day in so many different forms. So my Dad didn’t come to the award shows, very few concerts, and couldn’t tell you the names of my albums and songs. In fact we didn’t talk about much music at all – ever. I’m not sure if he noticed the recent LeBron James-Terrordome spot I had, a commercial playing in the middle of all his games…perhaps he did.

But HE IS the lyrics.
My brother E says he was THE epitome of 100. I agree,
My dad was a very solid 100 straight up. No bullsht.

He drove everywhere like a road metronome, and even when I was fortunate enough to help with flights to a few countries, he and my step-Mom drove that turf too. My father met all people as equals was very stand up and gave everybody a chance to come right. In 1979 we drove a Buick 225 across the country to San Francisco and back. We blew a water pump on I-80 at midnight in Lincoln, Nebraska. A town mechanic fixed it because of a conversation my dad had with a state trooper. Dad said people are people but the system tricks ’em. We repeated half that drive in 2012 in a truck. I picked him up in Dallas and we talked and drove all the way into Georgia.

Alas. The details of the times with my father are endless to remember and perhaps they will attack my mind like black blizzard flakes, and I will find a patch of road to weep at the wheel. In recent years with my Dad in retirement, I made it my obligation to get to Atlanta once a month no matter what. He’d pick me up, take me to the crib and to my car. And after the trip was done, he’d drop me off back at the airport after we did breakfast. I recently ordered the same NBA game package that I’d initially gotten for him 3 years ago, all so we could call each other on a play.

Recently, there was something calling in me. After I spoke at UPenn on 2.6.16 I went to sit all day in my Dad’s den to watch Super Bowl 50. It was the grandest of times. After the game I offered to take my nephew and long-time PE founding member and SIW, James Norman, to their respective homes. Before we left, my Dad told us how in 1956, while he was in Marine Camp Lejeune, the nearby restaurant told him they wouldn’t serve Negroes. He laughed, remembering when Dick Gregory, recalling a similar experience, retorted that he didn’t eat Negroes either. My Dad also talked about how much he dug President Obama and never dug all the criticism about him. My Dad proceeded to tell some other jokes he’d heard on one of Dick Gregory’s 1960s albums. We laughed so much. I kissed my Dad on both sides of his face, rubbed his back, and said I loved him much and he told me the same. I was out the door.

My Dad passed away alone at home the next afternoon, while I was taking my mom to lunch with my sister and brother-in-law. My Superhero….real father …real man and more…I never had no need for any cartoon-, sports-, singer-, avatar-, or film-figure. I had the real thing.

In these millennial times, my Dad saluted fathers. Especially young black fathers where he said the props were not enough and society cast a bad one-sided light against them. He would continuously praise me as the best father he knew; I always shook my head and told him I was a chip off the block of the greatest. He’d pour it on me: “Fathers matter.” Yes, Black fathers matter more than ever.

I’m missing his voice bellowing my name through my house. Missing our get-together breakfast-to-the-airport ritual. It’s a painful absence that can never be overstated…

Peace, resPEct, Love… Forever

Your son and family,

This op-ed piece was originally published on