In Loving Memory of My Father
A few years ago, after the death of my mother, I invited my father to leave Oklahoma, our home state and to come and live with me in California. It was a very special and happy time for both of us to reunite. This time, we were living under the same roof not solely as father and son but as two grown, single men. It was great for me to learn more about my father and our history as a family. Because now, unlike when I was a kid growing up, I was very interested in learning about our family heritage.
Dad was so glad to be in Los Angeles – happily passing the torch to me, his only son. It was the right time to reflect and lick our wounds for the death of my mom was truly the toughest pain we ever had to face. Her death took its toll on all of us including my sister. Dad literally almost died in the hospital one month after her death and I became very depressed and made some very foolish and childlike decisions such as marrying a woman with two kids whom I had only known for 6 months. The marriage was a joke and was short lived but the scars lingered for many years. However, the best decision that I made was asking my dad to get well and come live with me in California.
As he laid there in a coma on dialysis with a breathing apparatus, I would speak to him at every permitted visitation. He would lay there unable to speak or breathe on his own and I would whisper softly in his ear…”Daddy, I need you to get up man and come live with me in California.” I would say, “Come on man…you got to get up and get ready and come go with me to California. We gotta go man. It’s time to go to California.” I would talk to him about the Los Angeles Lakers and Dodgers and Raiders…all of his favorite teams. I would tell him what the score was between The Lakers and Celtics just like old times at home when we would watch sports on television.
After a week or so of this consistent routine of speaking words of encouragement to him…to the surprise of the doctors and nurses, Daddy came back from the dead. His very first words to me were, “Man you gotta get me outta here… these people are trying to kill me.” Then he said something that proved beyond all doubt that he had heard me even while in a coma. He said, “I’m ready to come live with you in California. Get me the hell out of here before these people kill me.”
It was a miracle and most people in Oklahoma that came to visit him in the hospital were coming to pay their last respects to a man whom they thought had no chance of renegotiating his fate with death. The doctors all agreed that it was the most amazing and incredible miracle to witness his vitals reverse themselves and stabilize back to normal. His recovery goes in the unexplained file. Even some members in my own family thought they were seeing a ghost coming back from the dead as he awakened and spoke for the first time. The dialysis machine was removed and he was healed and 30 days later, after a brief rehab, had moved to California. I felt as if I was being given a second chance and I needed to savor every moment that I had left to spend with my father. I was certain that my father’s life had been spared for me to have one last chance to forgive him and to be forgiven. I was certain that this was going to be our last chance to deal with unresolved issues and I am very grateful that God gave us this last chance.
As a kid growing up, I took for granted so much of what my father was doing to help improve the lives of the people in our little community. I didn’t realize or appreciate the sacrifice, the racial struggle and the hard work that was involved with what he was doing not only for our family, but for our church and community. He made it look effortless. Now that he’s retired and with me living in California, we spent many many hours talking about everything…his work ethic and why he worked so much. It seemed as if he worked all the time and why he took so few vacations. There was so much to talk about. What I regret most is that I didn’t make the effort to record all of those wonderful hours and hours of conversations so that I could share with my twin boys someday and my future grandchildren the chance to know the man they would have called Grandpa. It would be invaluable today for them to hear his thoughts and his stories from his own voice.
We, like many families, are a proud people and we come from a long legacy of strong men and women who love family, country and value integrity, education, religion and God. I loved going back down memory lane and allowing my dad to have his moment in the sun to tell me his point of view, his politics and his philosophy of life. He often told me about the highs and lows – regrets and disappointments and even bad decisions that he would like to do over. One of those big regrets was when Daddy had an opportunity to buy a 100 acre ranch with lakes and ponds filled with fish and livestock. He took that one to the grave as a huge regret and disappointment.
But regardless…the times we spent were no longer about disappointments or even moments of happiness…it was now about making peace. And for three years, I was fortunate to have my father live with me and be a part of and a witness to this wonderful healing. In many ways I felt that God was preserving his life just so that I could make my peace and have more time to know him better before he would have to leave and take his final resting place. In those three years, we crammed in a lot of talking and a lot of living and my Dad thanked me almost daily for giving him the opportunity to get right with God and others. We ate out at all the fine restaurants in Los Angeles and we watched a lot of news and sports.
Dad was particularly interested in the OJ Simpson trial. I have often said that if that trial had continued for another three years, Daddy would have hung around and lived longer just to hear the final verdict. It was quite a soap opera and as much as he loved the masterful skill of Johnny Cochran and the various opposing attorneys at work, he often said, “I think OJ is guilty as hell.” The name “Dream Team” was a new concept in a court of law and my dad had lived long enough and had seen enough injustice to know the value of being able to afford the best legal representation in the world. When people cheered at the final verdict…”not guilty” – it wasn’t a cheer for OJ, it was for the legal brilliance and mastery that we had witnessed from Johnny Cochran and “The Dream Team.” In my father’s life time, someone who had lived through the Jim Crow era, witnessing this skillful, intelligent black attorney at work was not something he was accustomed to seeing nor felt he would ever see again. He was a Johnny Cochran fan from the very first opening statement and watched this trial faithfully like a soap opera junkie.
In addition to us having our daily talks, I convinced dad to meet once a week with a very special counselor, Mrs. Theresa Dowdell, Ph.D. (Like most men from his generation, Daddy didn’t believe in therapy but he believed in Miss Theresa and he affectionately referred to her as “his teacher”.) Every Tuesday evening at 6 o’clock Dad was faithful about showing up to meet with “his teacher” to discuss, revisit and chronicle his life. He looked forward to the homework assignments each week and it made a tremendous impact on the quality of the life he still had left to live. This one single act of daily forgiveness helped free him from his past mistakes and actions and was the key element in making peace with his past.
Daddy went through boxes and boxes of pictures, letters, certificates of appreciation and achievements and each article had a special memory and story that he would share. It was like his whole life could be accessed through this one old brown suitcase. He was constantly journaling and writing letters to people from his past to make amends. It didn’t matter if these people were dead or alive…he would put in the work and write the appropriate letter of forgiveness and then release it.
Note: I will always be grateful to Dr. Theresa Dowdell for all of her assistance in helping my father to make peace with his past and to get ready for his homecoming.
As the time grew nearer, a week or so before Daddy died…he told me that he was getting tired and was ready to go but this had been the most meaningful three years he could have ever spent. He told me that he talked more openly with Miss Theresa than he ever did with anyone in his life including my mother and he truly felt that he was at peace when it was time to die. My father died three days later, November 8th, 1996. He was 71 years old and I have never forgotten that day and his final words. As I prepared to go to work that morning…my father had a tremendous glow on his face. He looked better than he had in months. The odd thing was how my big German Shepard dog was acting. He was barking non stop that morning as if he saw something and wanted to come inside. He was literally crying to get inside and scratching on the door. I had never seen him act this way. I thought he was cold or something. But I ignore it and dismissed it. I then went into my father’s room for what would become our last visit. I told him I was leaving for work and would see him later. He simply said, ”Good-bye son, I love you and we’ll see you later.” That was not his usual way of saying good-bye, but I loved it. You see, men from his generation don’t say I love you very often. I can count on my hands the number of times he said the words, “I love you.”
So, for better or for worse, I now pass this tradition on to my boys and I make sure that every day they know how much I love them. It is a part of our family mantra…”Daddy loves you” because I don’t know the day or the hour when it will be my last opportunity to say the words. So, to my wonderful sons, Jacob and Joshua and my beautiful wife and best friend Lora, always remember – “you complete me and I thank you for sharing this journey with me. I love you.”