Over the years, my sisters and I wrapped an assortment of obligatory Father’s Day gifts: ties, socks, shaving kits, books, and coffee mugs. (Daddy always seemed to be harder to buy for than our Mother.) But the framed, fill-in-the-blank “World’s Greatest Dad” certificate that hung on his bedroom wall, must have been his favorite. It hung there for decades.
I have difficulty recounting most of the Father’s Days we spent together. Not because he wasn’t around, but because Father’s Day 1981 was a watershed moment. The Sunday fell on the day right before my birthday. My mother thought it would be cute to bake a cake, so that we could celebrate the two occasions together. Apparently, my father didn’t think so. He accused Mother of “really” baking the cake for me, and only claiming it was for both of us. After that day, I knew he would never be the “World’s Greatest Dad”.
But in 2005, there we were, gathered at our family church in Houston to celebrate Daddy as “Father of the Year.” He was all smiles as he stood center stage, holding an engraved plaque, surrounded by his wife, kids, grandchildren, sisters and extended family. A photographer snapped a picture. My father seemed pretty pleased, but later admitted that he received the award only after the church had nearly exhausted its list of dads. (He laughed about it; so did I.)
Daddy could make almost any story sound funny. Like the time he was visiting a (white) friend, when another (white) guest walked in, complaining that he’d tried moving from his neighborhood into another neighborhood, “But niggers is everywhere.” Or the time he rode the segregated train from college in Louisiana to Texas. Instead of going to the back of the train, he sat in the WHITES ONLY section, along side his buddy P., who could “pass.” (If you are imagining correctly, my father has brown skin, curly hair and brown eyes.) But that combination of charm, cockiness, and a football player’s frame gave Daddy the courage to remain in the south, long after others fled.
Not that I always appreciated his stories. Daddy admitted that he wasn’t prepared to get married or have a child at the age of 20. (Considering that I have an older sister, I doubt he was ready at 18 either.) But that’s who he was, a chronicler of life’s events for those who wanted to hear them, and those who did not.
It would take years before I could fully appreciate his skill for spinning a yarn. Friends would point out how funny Daddy was. I dismissed them, initially. But with the passing of time, I realized that I’d almost missed one of the best parts of my dad. He could take the most benign event and twist it into something wickedly funny or slightly inappropriate. He was an excellent storyteller.
It’s been almost five years since I’ve heard my father’s voice or any of his stories. He isn’t gone; nor is he completely with us. Yet I can still see him on Father’s Day, standing over a charcoal pit, smoking meat for the better part of the day. It’s the place where we talked, shared a beer, and swapped stories.
…stories that now belong to me.