Like father, like daughter
Sentinel Contributing Writer
The other day I was buying graduation cards for my two nephews, and I passed by the Father’s Day card rack. I winced when I realized that it would be nearly the 20th time that I hadn’t had to buy a card for my father, who died much too young at 68 in September 1990.
Both he and my mother were born in 1922, in then-segregated, now thriving, Wilmington, NC. He graduated from Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, where, in addition to pledging A Phi A, he sang in the men’s choir. I never got to ask him where his love for a remarkable diversity of music came from, but for someone from the segregated South, he loved all kinds of music. So do I.
He served in the Army in the late ’40s and early ’50s and used his GI bill to take graduate English classes at UCLA, where his readings included the poetry of 18th century English poet William Blake, who wrote “Infant Joy,” the inspiration for my name:
William B”I have no name:
I am but two days old.”
What shall I call thee?
“I happy am,
Joy is my name.”
Sweet joy befall thee!
Sweet joy but two days old,
Sweet joy I call thee:
Thou dost smile,
I sing the while,
Sweet joy befall thee!
I was always extremely proud of the fact that both my parents had college degrees from historically black colleges and universities (his from Shaw University in Raleigh, NC, and hers from what was then Fayetteville Teachers College); that they’d known each other so long (since first grade) that their signatures were indistinguishable; and that, even though they were mostly opposites-he was friendly, outgoing and gregarious; she was quiet and reserved-and their marriage wasn’t perfect, they’d been married 40 years by the time he passed.
They had something lacking in today’s marriages: stick-to-itiveness. When people ask me why I’ve never married, I don’t tell them that I want a man just like dear old daddy, but that I’d never met a man that I could have stayed married to no matter what.
After the service, he worked at the post office while attending Cal State LA to get his teachers credentials. He taught english and math on what was then the “East side” at Horace Mann Junior High School, after which he “integrated” the Westside when he was assigned to Palms as the first Black counselor.
His was a simple life, filled with counseling and teaching by day and constantly improving his bridge-playing skills as a life master at his around-the-way buddies in the Crenshaw area at night.
Though I’ve been an English teacher like he, and I play a little bridge, most importantly his love of the diversity of music defines me, my sister and my brother. We grew up with the albums of everybody from Harry Belafonte, The HiLo’s and Wes Montgomery to classical and religious music. There were many but one musical memory stands out: Once, while gardening in the back yard with headphones, I saw him dancing and singing to “Mornin”-and when he came into the house, he declared, “I defy you to listen to Al Jarreau and not dance.” That was Daddy, always moving to and moved by music.
He’s the one who turned me on to Take 6, which remains my all-time favorite group, and Dianne Reeves, who became a friend of our family and sang his favorite song by her, “My Funny Valentine,” at his funeral.
It’s because of Daddy that I’m now a writer and an appreciator of all arts and entertainment.
So, to those of you who still have your dads, I say, Please take the time to celebrate the dad in you.