happy father’s day, chief

in honor of father’s day i must dedicate this post to my dad. this guy has the biggest heart of anyone you’d ever met. he will give anyone the shirt off his back, buy them a meal, then ask them, do you know Christ? and proceed to share the gospel with them. i’ve seen him do this many times, heard him talk about witnessing, and watched him live his life as a bible believing christian to the best of his ability.

he taught me the importance of paying bills on time, of caring for an automobile, of avoiding the “pigeon drop”, and making sure no one ever brings me a drink unopened. beginning in primary school, each year as i passed from one grade to the next he would ask me in that i-already-know-the-answer way, so you’re going to college, right? and i would always answer in the affirmative. when i earned my degree in marketing he was beyond proud. to a man who finished only a couple of years in community college yet cared for his family by working for the same company for over 4 decades, he knew the value of education and he instilled that in me.

never at a loss for words, the man could talk to a rock, a tree, a park bench and make it laugh in response. he is congenial and warm, encouraging and welcoming to anyone who crosses his path. in the early 70s he moved us to the suburbs, an all white neighborhood save two other families. one neighbor was a lawyer with two kids and a housewife, another was a building contractor (he renovated their home) married with two kids and a housewife, across the street was an elderly couple, the husband chain-smoked, golfed (landing balls in our backyard), and watered his lawn in the evenings. another neighbor was from new zealand, and on the other corner was an asian family with three kids and they owned a restaurant. my parents both worked, my dad drove an old dodge truck with the floor stick shift and my mom drove a toyota corolla wagon (in the early years).

i can still see my dad out front cutting the grass, planting petunias and marigolds, and trimming the arborvitea in the backyard. his yard was the prettiest on the block (if i may boast). it mattered not that he was a black man, a blue collar worker, with 5 kids and a wife who worked. he was a good neighbor, friendly to everyone. after he had a lengthy chat with a random person, i would ask him, dad, who’s that?  and he’d give me their history, oh that’s dave, he lives around the corner. in watching him interact with people i learned to never let what i drive, where i work, or where i live define me. that possessions do not make the person, their character does.

aware that we were the minority in the neighborhood, he taught me that i am as good as anyone on the block, in my classroom, or that i meet in the street. he never allowed me to think i was less than, or to second guess my abilities. he assured me i could compete with anyone and win. he was and always will be my greatest champion.

in a world marked by competition, where corporate pundits tout the importance of a “champion” and a “mentor” i realize that i found both in my dad. he didn’t worry over small things, who got the better shift, who was promoted, who posted racist cartoons in the breakroom. he learned his job and did it well such that when he retired, his colleagues (many of whom he described as racist) showed up to his retirement party and honored his 44 years of service. my dad has never shielded me from the truths of racism and prejudice and when i experienced both from educators and later from colleagues and managers i was well prepared. the sting is still there, but the words from my hero ring in my ears daily, “you have a right to be here.” and for that i say, thank you dad, and happy father’s day.

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