I always wanted to write a tribute to my Dad. I knew I would at some point. Like most tributes it would be after he had passed away and his life would be big parts of my memory. He died at ninety-six. He had no debilitating illness, or disease. He couldn’t hear primarily because he refused to wear his hearing aid. He stopped enjoying life. He outlived everyone around him but his three offspring. He lost his wife 21 years ago after they had been married 49 years.
I am a part of his legacy and proud to be so.
He grew up in Elmore County, Alabama with his eleven brothers and sisters. Wetumpka, Alabama was the town that
served as the city center. Yeah, it was rural.
He told me tales of him and his brother Acon as teens plowing behind a mule from sun up to sundown for fifty cents a day. On the Fourth of July he told me they would get a watermelon and go down to the creek. Put the watermelon in the cold water and swim until exhausted, then eat the melon for their fourth of July celebration. He and his brother built themselves a bicycle from old worn pieces of different bikes. They would ride into town, and go to the movies, of course, sitting in the upstairs colored section. He liked school but because they were share croppers he would be pulled from school to work the fields.
At eighteen, he joined the Army. Afterward, he, his brothers and sisters migrated to Birmingham pursuing the city’s
good paying jobs in the steel plants. They would live with their older sister until they found jobs and moved out. Daddy and Acon married sisters. Daddy started work at Acipco Pipe and Foundry. He was there for the next thirty-five years. I don’t recall him ever missing a day. “You don’t work. They don’t pay you,” he planted into my brain.
When I turned nine years old, he and my Mom moved us to Rosalind Heights, a small community of new homes built for working class blacks near the Birmingham Airport. “The Heights” as we who lived there called it was a great place to grow up. My friends from the Heights are still my friends. The men from that era got into their work cars every morning and headed to their respective jobs to make their mortgage and feed their families.
The wives and mothers made our lives complete. They made our houses, homes, full of love and discipline, and hope for the future.
My parents and the community sent me off into the world of integration. I was the representative. Everyday, my sisters and I caught two city buses to get to our Catholic School across
My mom had gone to a Catholic school and church, her dad had helped to build. We were raised to know that being different was not a bad thing. We didn’t have to be like everyone else. We didn’t have what many others had but it was okay. Our parents were investing in our future. Daddy took on a part time job to pay our tuition.
At fourteen, my life in many material ways surpassed my dad’s. I was doing things he had never thought possible in his world. Yet, he was never jealous, envious, or tried to hold me back. As I entered worlds that were far different than the one he lived in, he took his hands off the wheel of my life and trusted that I had absorbed the lessons he had taught me regarding manhood, responsibility, and legacy. When I stumbled he didn’t do the “I told you so,” but rather he and my mom a formidable team would nudge me back on track, wanting me to have the best life I could have. They never stood in the way of my decisions, quitting my job in management at BellSouth to pursue my own business and act and write part time. It was not the safest route to a fulfilling life, but here I am and it’s a helluve ride thanks to them.
My favorite story of my Dad is “the snow story.” I’d reached adulthood, working at South Central Bell. There was a fierce snowstorm in Birmingham. Shut things down. Nearly impossible for people to get to work unless you worked an essential job to keeping the city running. I called my Mom and talked to her. I asked to speak to my Dad. Mom, replied, “He’s gone to work.” “Gone to work?” I asked. Their driveway was on an incline. Impossible to back out of with the snow and ice. “He left here at three this morning walking,” she responded. That evening in the afternoon paper, there was a photo of a man walking down a snowy railroad track in North Birmingham, walking toward Acipco. “You don’t work they don’t pay you.”
My Dad would tell me as recent as a few years ago that he regretted not having money to give me. He often felt he could have done more when my high school and college teammates would show up with new clothes and cars. I always responded, “You taught me how to be a good man. For that I am grateful.”
Daddy taught all of us, my brother n laws, nephews, grandchildren and my friends “how to be a good man.” He taught my sisters and the women in the family what to expect from a good man.”
“Doc” Everybody in our family on both my Mom’s side and Daddy’s side called him Doc. No one we know living
knows why. It fit him.
As he told me on a couple of occasions, “Everybody I know is gone,” he said. He was lonely. At 96, Doc decided he
was tired and needed to rest alongside our mom, Catherine, the love of his life.
“We’re all just passing through,” he once told me. “We’re on our way to somewhere else.”