As the sun sets on this Father’s Day and I’ve spent 900 or so miles away from mine, I’ve decided to pay homage from afar. So I’ve poured myself a cold one and filled a playlist with all the things I know he’d play for me were we sitting together outside in the yard, beneath a tree awaiting the stars in a nighttime sky. It’d start with this–his all-time favorite which has become mine:
And then it’d include a whole mess of B.B. King, Bobby Womack, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Albert King, a little Etta James, some Sam Cooke (with a few Soul Stirrers cuts for good measure), Jr. Walker, Johnnie Taylor and Otis Redding.
When people tell me I have an old soul, I always think back to these artists, these songs and all the time I spent with my daddy, his influence quietly and deftly sweeping over and all around me. It was always an adventure with us two. Whether he was telling me made-up bedtime stories about our rascally imaginary dog, Old Willie, teaching me how to drive (started at age 6!), swapping sketches, soothing my sensitive, all-the-time crying, trying in vain to teach me how to properly fold and read the Sunday paper or watching me cut Granny’s grass just off HWY 123, we had us some times.
Was it all rosy? Nope. Conventional? Hell naw. But he was always what he promised he would be: around. Present. I’ve never been without his support in all its forms, and it tickles me something serious that he’ll still give me $20, you know, “to buy something just for yourself.” He still knows a 2 pc. chicken and biscuit will set me right.
It’s so funny now to discover continually how much like him I am. As much as I’m becoming my mother, I am also so much of him too. Now I find myself talking to myself when I’m doing routine tasks. I cook just like him. It gets a tad messy with salt and flour sprinkles strewn everywhere long after the food has been eaten. We’re culinary improvisationalists. A little bit of this, some I wonder what would happen if I added a touch of that and just stirrin’ it up real good and lettin’ it simmer for a bit, and voila–deliciousness that we couldn’t repeat if we tried.
I find myself taking things apart just to see how they go back together, and I can’t rest until I’ve totally worked out a mystery television episode or book. I can sit in the bathroom for hours doing absolutely nothing, completely content, but usually reading. Animal humor–that damn goat howling on those Sprint commercials for instance–can send me into uncontrollable fits of laughter–for, like, days. I can mimic people after just a few observations, which is something I watched my daddy do for hours on end when I’d follow him around on weekends. From facial expressions, intonations and inflections, gestures and postures, the entire rhythm of mirroring someone else becomes like second nature to me sometimes. It’s an absolutely wondrous skill to have when you’re telling stories.
The older I get the more I understand his temperament. He is patient and extraordinarily generous and trusting. Despite so many hard and sad and spiteful things that have happened to him, he still operates from a place of believing in the good of all people. I’ve seen him give far more than the shirt off his back for all sorts of folk, even when my salty tail knew little good would come of it (that level of people discernment I get from my mama). It makes for a long, slow burning fuse, this way of greeting, receiving and treating people. I’ve certainly seen that fuse tested to its limits and I’ve seen it blow.
He has this expression that he used to say when I was younger, when he was in his Schlitz Malt Liquor tea: Three pigs in a bucket and a bad motherfuckit. He’d say it after a long, hot, hard day’s work finishing cement, or after an argument with my mama or some losing lottery numbers. He’d dole it out as advice when I’d complain about something less than stellar that had happened to me at school. The other day I took myself to my yoga mat in frustration, and I searched my mind for all those Deepak mantras, but this was the one thing that kept repeating itself and after two minutes of trying to pray it away, I decided to roll with it. At first it felt a touch out of place, but by the 10th minute or so, it started to make sense. Everybody’s got their something, we say, and I realized that in this expression there is a release, a que sera sera with just the right amounts of nonsense and nonchalance that make my daddy the person he is.
His sayings are seemingly endless but there are two I remember rolling my eyes to so often that I often feared they’d get stuck. Never hurry, never worry. This used to annoy the shit outta me because he’d say it when I was obsessing about an upcoming test or tryout. I’m sorry, sir, but running a 7:30 minute mile in mid August in the South warrants a hurry and a worry. And unlike it was for him, the voracious reader with the easily calculating mind, earning straight a’s wasn’t effortless for me. I worried a lot. Definitely more than I hurried. Certainly more than I hurried, which for every one of you readers reading this, I’m sure you’re incredibly aware of my lack of hurriedness. You can blame Pete Reese for my perpetual tardiness. I was only doing as I was told :)
Keep your eyes and ears open and your mouth shut. Y’all know I’m a chatty somebody once I get rolling. I love telling stories, but for all my talking I’ve been doing way more watchin’ and listenin’. This is mainly due to the fact that as a child I was mostly seen and never allowed to be heard (except for on Easter Sunday), but it’s also because I’m an introvert and people are fascinating creatures when you watch what they’ll reveal to you. As I continue along the career path, this particular piece of advice has become indispensable to me. I spent so many years pressuring myself to go into meetings with the firm intent of opening my mouth to assert things, to lean all the way in and make my presence known. And yet that’s inherently not me and every time I’ve led with that intent I’ve only frustrated myself further. My true power and resilience has come from listening and observing and then slidin’ and glidin’ into the spaces where my skills and abilities can really fully serve.
It’s a humbling thing to grow up and realize that your parents were almost always right. It’s an even greater thing to be able to tell them so and thank them for it. I call my daddy all the time because I can. Because there were 10 years when I couldn’t and 10 before that when I didn’t think I needed to. It’s a blessing and a wonder that he’s still here–he could rival a cat with his survival tactics, lol–and I am so, so grateful. Cheers to what I hope will be quite a few more. There are still many a high-howlin’, head shakin’, whoa shit nah adventures for us to have just yet.