This year’s Father’s Day was indeed a great day for me.
In addition to enjoying the love of my son, I reflected on the love I received as a child from my own Father.
My stepfather married my mother and her eight children because he loved her. He became my Father because he loved me.
I loved their relationship.
I watched my mother love my stepfather in a way that I always wanted a woman to love me.
My mother listened to him when he spoke, and gave him credit for knowing what he was talking about. Neither she nor I ever knew that it was possible that he didn’t. She cooked for him, too. Not because she thought a woman had to cook, but because she wanted her strong man to stay strong, and believed that he could do so with the assistance of some good cooking.
I remember the two of them holding each other and playing the games lovers do. I could tell by the way she looked at him that she would have given her entire world up just to be with him.
She needed him. And she was committed to him and remained so, even in light of the difficulty some of my older siblings had because he was not their Father.
She stood by him through sickness and health, and since there never was a richer, she held to him for poorer, which was the most consistent guest in our home. They worked hard, and loved hard, giving a great deal of love to each other and to the children, even though his love was rejected by some of her children.
I never rejected his love, because unlike my siblings, I never knew another Father, and because I saw that my mother loved him.
And he loved her, too.
No matter what he did at work or in the streets, my stepfather brought his check home every week to the woman he loved. And the time he spent with me fishing, hanging with his friends or just walking to the store and doing nothing was what he brought home to the son he loved.
I drew a great deal from the big Black truck driver who loved my mother, and I carry it with me still, trying to put the good, loving parts of him in front when dealing with females in relationships, while holding on to the harder, stronger parts of him when dealing with the hard parts of life.
My mother and I both depended on this man to define our existence–hers as a woman who needed a man and mine as a manchild, searching for examples of how to be me and develop into a man.
His frustration from a world that kept the darkest and strongest of men like him on the bottom would often find him at the bottom of a bottle in which he sought refuge.
But there was much more to Willie Edward Wise or “Bill” as we called him. The weekends I spent with him showed me much more. Everywhere Bill would go, I was close behind.
The fishing trips, with hours of silence were just as important in modeling manhood as were the Saturday nights in the corner tavern he snuck me into. At the tavern, I saw him interact with other men, and the other men interact with other women. I watched he and his friends play pool, drink, curse and posture at each other the way men do when they get together. I sat silently, taking mental notes for the man I wanted to be when I grew older.
Yes, Bill was a real man. And even though he could have been a ladies’ man, he chose to be my mother’s man. I have vivid memories of him loving my mother and her loving him.
Each and every morning, he got up to go to work at a Chinese laundry. And even though she would be leaving later in the morning to go to work herself, my mother was up with him, preparing his breakfast.
I was up as well, soaking up the nuances of their relationship.
When he left to go to work, we would both kiss him goodbye, my mother on the lips and I on the cheek. Since none of my siblings were awake, I would often imagine I was an only child and that we were as wealthy as any of the white families I saw on television.
Their relationship mirrored some of them.
Once when I came home from school, my mother was disoriented from a stroke and had to be hospitalized. Her husband and I visited her in the hospital, and I saw the tears stream uncontrollably from his eyes at the sight of the woman he loved in sickness.
And in health, I can vaguely recall the love games they played when I finally stopped sleeping in their bed. Despite all of the problems poverty can bring into a relationship, they truly loved each other, and I believed that they would grow old together the way couples in love are supposed to do.
I believed that after a failed marriage and an unrequited relationship with my biological Father, that my mother had found a man she could give her true love to and receive love in return.
But life can be cruel and before I turned eighteen, a cancer had ripped through his powerful frame and reduced him bit by bit into pieces of the man he once was, and mercifully, finally relieved him of his obligation to exist as a fraction and not a whole.
When we put that man in the ground, part of each of us died.
Bill had always been there for me, but I lost him before I was a grown man. My uncles and older brothers helped to fill in the void left behind by a man who took on a job he didn’t have to.
Out of all the things I learned from him, the most valuable lesson was that a Father is more than biology. A Father is a commitment to being there and devoting time and attention.
I give these things to my son in order that I may also give him the kind of Father I had in my own life.
Bill was my stepfather, but more, he was my Daddy.
The memories of my time with him are now his Father’s Day gift to me as I travel on my own journey into Fatherhood.
Darryl James is an award-winning author of the powerful new anthology “Notes From The Edge.” He released his first mini-movie, “Crack,” and will soon release his first full-length documentary. View previous installments of this column at www.bridgecolumn.proboards36.com. Reach James at firstname.lastname@example.org.