Today would be my Father, 93rd birthday.
100% Daddy’s girl right here.
I remember my father who never met my son, as he died in 1980, and my son wasn’t born until 1991, but I recall an exceptional man, who was never hit as a child, and taught me so much; including, I feel, groundwork of limited fork, the way he treated me, and refused to express love through any bullying techniques such as found in so many Christian patriarchal religions; my father never made differences in toys according to gender… I was also encouraged to speak, to both have and share my opinions. He died 36 years ago, the year before I graduated from Oberlin College, something he would have loved to experience, me graduating from an institution not afraid to enroll women, African-Americans, and Native Americans, and that’s really why I wanted my degree to be from Oberlin, a college that would have accepted me regardless.
He never knew the me I became, but he did know me as a writer, something I started to do when I was seven… He was right there when so much happened….
He asked my mother not to hit me, and she wanted to, according to biblical rules, that if the rod is spared, then the child is spoiled… My father wouldn’t allow me to believe anything like that! He told me that no decent, no authentic father would even conceive of a place called hell, and even if he somehow conceived it, he would never send anyone there… This made more sense to me than biblical rules with such adherence to patriarchal stances, written by men, and subjugating women –I wish my father had lived to hear me say such things, to watch me practice such things, to see me champion these things he always felt were just!
If such punishment is a shared experience that unifies blacks, then I guess that I am not black at all since spankings and beatings were not part of my life. I understand intellectually, what spankings are; my mother’s sister who lived with us for many years, would often send her son, my cousin Lawrence:
out to get his own switch. I observed this, but never took part; I was never sent to select my own instrument of brutality.
I drove my father to the hospital on the day he died…. He chain-smoked Pall Malls (there used to be commercaisl, such as):
and eventually, he was quite ill the last couple of years of his life, and I’d driven him to the hospital quite a few times to have fluid removed from his lungs, but he always managed to come home alive… except, of course, the last time…. I’ve felt guilty about that for many, many years… but am so thankful that he created my name for me, “Thylias” –he told me when I was seven that there had never been a presence like mine in the world, so I needed a name that also hadn’t been part of the world –just what a daughter, what any child, what any person should be told! –I would go to church with my mother, and be told that I was going to hell; but as soon as I got home from church, my father, born in the south would take me for very long walks, sometimes for several miles, and allow me to linger and interact with whatever I wanted to, and I returned home from these walks with a new golden book of knowledge and built an alternative bible, these books were also ‘truth“: Energy and Power, Automobiles, Geology, Meteorology, Mathematics, etc… For toys, I had dolls, and I loved them, but I also had space ships, boats, trucks, and my home was filled with music… (Sometimes, my father sang)
My father didn’t have my name picked out for me; he had to meet me first, and then decided, after he met me, what my name should be, a name tailored to the person he saw. Was it the way I reminded him of something? Could he already see some of himself in me? Did he realize then what was always true, that I was more like him than like my mother?
In one of her increasingly rare lucid moments, my mother told me that I am high class and she is low class, and for that reason she and I are unable to communicate. We are too different. My hair came from my father and his people. I am told that my mother, so ashamed of her color, called “the little black one” and ostracized by her family, wanted to lighten up the family, and that my father was considered a catch with his pale skin and mostly straight dark hair; I got the hair, but not the color.
Among other things, on those walks I so frequently take, walking to love and to a man I hope will be in my life for many, many years (this man I love [maybe too much, but maybe not nearly enough –he is that special, and somehow proving just how special he really is, as each moment passes]), but this man is also a drinker, and I sometimes imagine how the two of them, about the same color, could sit at my mother’s dining room table and drink together –sure wish that they could someday meet, but as I walk now, I am also reviving what I did with my father from the time I could walk, those walks with him…. He and I would walk to the bakery and purchase freshly baked loaves of “Wonder” bread. How I loved that name for the promise of “Wonders”, the promises of miracles. We once walked to a bridge and stood there and watched a refinery fire, and the smell of that fire blocked the heavenly aromas of “Wonder” bread baking; I would imagine that Jesus had loaves of “Wonder” bread to go with the fish he served in the feeding of the five thousand.
My father would have loved me at Oberlin! –this tiny woman, under five feet tall, multiracial, grauating first in the class and Phi Beta Kappa; still oly 98 pounds, with completely natural waist-length buttkissing hair, and as naturally shapely as all-get-out, I cannot show you, but —I do not lie— if you ever see this 62-year-old woman in a bikini (no need for liposuction or for any surgical reshaping, certainly not of my face, or anywhere else; no breast impants, I don’t need them; no weave, no wig, no extensions –not only booty, beautifully shaped, but also enough brains to graduate first in the class –there are not that many total packages like me; and I have the legacy that makes all of me inevitable:
nothing is going to dilute or diminsh my joy this mornin’!
some of the wonders of Oberlin College:
And now some photos of this wonderful man, a father I knew until I was 26, a man my son never knew, being born so many years after my father’s death, a man who also did not hit in order to express love… A man unafraid to marry outside his race in the south! –how did this family manage that? –I am so pleased to have as my heritage such bravery, such decisions to insist on a form of justice, and compassion for all! –to insist on love –my real heritage: I will always insist on love. No matter what.
Love first; all else is secondary.
My paternal grandfather, a man I never know, was not black at all, Native American, Caucasian, and Indian. Apparently, many of them perished from Huntington’s Disease, a most nasty and always fatal, requiring inheritance of only one gene (no successful gene modification of that, as there was in the film Jurassic World), but I’ve been quite lucky, and missed that fatal inheritance from this wonderful man, my father part Native American, African American, Indian, and Caucasian in the south when races, as humans classify them, were not supposed to mix yet always, (let’s be reasonable), did. Real love could hardly care about color, or I would not even exist.
Here’s to my father who did not care about such petty things as color of skin.
And here’s to more rising of mixed race people!
Something Claudia Rankine explores in her “Whiteness, INC” that was part of the Ellipsis show at the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis, MO, as in:
(Please look, please love, and please think)
I’ve got love on my mind!
and “Unforgettable” –always: