Written by Stephanie Renee on February 28, 2016
Feisty. And fairly irreverent, except when he was trying to play nice around his church folks. That’s the Daddy I love to remember.
On Feb 28, if he was still here among the living, my father would have turned 95. Seems like an impossible number to calculate in my head for the image of the man burned indelibly in my brain. I still remember the braids and the dashikis of the 1970s, the Jheri Curls of the 80s, the doting grandpa and jokester with my college roomies of the 90s. The frail dude towards the end wasn’t him or how he’d want to linger around in my memories. He was too Caribbean, too vain, too talented for that.
More impossible for me to reconcile is that Daddy outlived my mother by almost exactly 30 years, despite being nearly 22 years her senior. Perhaps that’s yet another reason why his aura shone so brightly. He seemed determined to stick around long enough to make sure his baby girl would be OK. That I could earn a living, tell the wrong guys to get to steppin’ and have the emotional fortitude to choose how and when I enter. There were stretches when we didn’t talk nearly as much as I may have preferred (mostly because of his 4th and final wife), but I knew he was only a phone call, train ride or short drive away. And when he got lucky on the slots or hit the number, I also knew that a mischievous voice would soon be ringing my line, telling me to head to Western Union and get myself something fun. He was wonderfully predictable and generous that way.
Of course, we didn’t always see eye-to-eye. Too many generations in-between and life experiences separated his world and mine. And he had a particularly sharp tongue during emotional maelstroms, when a more nurturing phrase or hand was needed. But when proper protocol or verbal cues failed us, music would always span the breach. Either sung in harmonic duet or the prompt for a quick shimmy together, music was our grand equalizer. Both underachievers at mastering an instrument that could aid in our own accompaniment, it’s fitting that a cappella arrangements were where we could find communion. The strength or delicacy of a well-placed note. The song selection of a particularly-accomplished artist. And the way that exceptional choirs, lifting their voice in joyous song, would bring us one step closer to the angels.
It’s been five years without getting slipped a $20 on my way back to Philly, “for gas money.” Without those sometimes-too-rare phone calls ending with the Kojak-esque “Who loves ya, baby?” or “Love ya madly!” And as embarrassing as it sometimes seemed, I miss like hell the verbal challenges or physical threats he’d issue to the guys I dated. Guys who were often assessed as being a little too corporate and pretty, or not street enough for his tastes. Not a presence that would necessarily keep me fed or safe and loved for the long haul. Hope you know somehow that I heard you, Daddy. No more scrubs. No deadbeats. No one who won’t look at me with the same mix of concern and wonder that you did. Or make me laugh down to my core. Or sing from my heart.
Love and miss you madly, you handsome devil you. Hope that heavenly choir is swingin’ and celebratin’ you, raucously.