In second grade at King Elementary School in Urbana, Illinois, I remember my teacher asking each of the students who they looked up to. Many students named athletes, politicians and the like. The teacher came around to me and asked, “John, who would you like to be like when you grow up?”
He raised me without much more than meager means, hopes and dreams, and the gospel. This man gave me the power of determination and the belief of resiliency. He sewed a seed in me of no matter how hard life got it was never an excuse to quit.
My father loved me while pouring out his soul.
It is only because of him that I am able to read the narrative of my birth and the sacrifices he made in life. The holidays are here, and often times we are too angry to forgive those people in our lives who mean so much to us. We believe that they somehow wronged us.
In our tenacious agitation we make up a sensationalized story to justify our distance. Our lives begin to revolve around that lie. We make decisions based on that ugly, awful figment of our imagination. I was unable to grasp the bounty of his treasure; of him, just as my dad and blueprint of a black man in America.
I took for granted the smell of his cologne, playing catch, learning to cook, learning how to tie a necktie. If it were not for him, writing would not be my passion. I rebelled as young boys often do. I lashed out, cursed and denied him. I disappointed him in ways that only a stubborn child could. I was reckless in our relationship. I abandoned our friendship.
I completely turned away by not only disregarding education, but by being wrapped up in a nicely-knitted pity blanket. I was too preoccupied with the hurricane of adolescence to take shelter in the man who gave his life for mine. But I’m all grown up now — 36.
I have made the mistakes, traveled a rites of passage to my own manhood. I found my own success story to write. It taught me humility. This human condition is only a trial and error.
I have come into the knowledge that no one will ever get it right. Living long enough to realize your mistakes provides a perspective that is not critical or condescending, only accepting. Admitting your mistakes and doing the work it takes to correct them means that you finally find out that you still have so much more work to do. I’m not a perfect father, son, brother or uncle; and I fail daily, but I love the best I know how.
As you begin to accept your flaws, you also begin to accept a more real version of a story that was blown out of proportion, by others or in your own mind.
I don’t pretend to assume the offenses committed against you are any better or worse than mine. I just know that we all have sins, and grace doesn’t measure the weight before covering it. I could not understand then when he told me, “One day, you’ll get it.”
It was too ominous. I envisioned a black, cloaked figure 8-foot tall staring at me waiting to guide me through the tales of years, past, present and future. You have to seize these moments now. There will be a holiday, one day, when you wish you had said what needed to be said.
I finally get it. I still have time to “dance with my father.”
Dad, I get it.