My father had a strong work ethic and I believe that he dedicated his life to his family and its well-being. There was a time where he had two jobs to make ends extended beyond the proverbial meet. In his day job, he worked in a hospital laboratory in Brooklyn. I didn’t know what his exact title was, although he wore a powder blue uniform under a white lab coat. He wore his uniform with pride, and for all I knew, he could have been the hospital’s Chief of Staff. As I got older, I understood that he was not a hospital professional but a lab technician; a blue collar professional. Although at the time, his position didn’t require any specialized degrees, certificates, or letters behind his last name to signify his authority or give credence to his personhood, he was an authority in my eyes.
When my sister and I would visit him at work, my father gave us a tour of the lab and the morgue. No, we didn’t see dead people, but the knowing of their presence was spooky and strangely exciting to our young minds. He introduced us to his coworkers. We appreciated that his peers were very kind to us and didn’t think twice about taking a few moments out of their day to talk to us and tell us funny stories about our father. They appeared to like and respect my father and had jovial demeanor when conversing with him. Afterward, he would take us to lunch at a pizzeria across the street where my sister and I would have a pepperoni slice and my father would have cheese and we all ate our own slice with an ice cold Coca-Cola.
Right before my sister and I boarded the bus to head back home, he would give us money. He wanted to make sure that we had what we needed. We were his pride and joy. We ended our visit with a hug and “see you later,” or “bye daddy” knowing that our terms of endearment would resume once he came home from work. When I reminisce about those days and the big smiles that we shared, I feel a resounding sense of joy. He was proud of the man he was, that he earned an honest living, and most importantly, he was proud of his family. I feel that through his relationship with us and all our conversations—serious and not so serious—he was trying to instill life lessons.
His love for us was extraordinary. We knew that he loved us dearly and that his job did not define him or the man that he was at his core. We never took him for granted but felt safe and secure in his presence and affection. I knew that he made sacrifices and wanted his girls to grow up to be happy and confident women who could take care of themselves, their families, and be a good friend to anyone in need. The happiness did not come from the money; rather it came from the fact that he was a steady influence in our lives and reinforced the value of integrity.
Showing up and being present in the lives of the people that matter most in your life is a trait that we are all capable of but ignore because we are self-focused. I won’t say self-centered because ‘center’ gives images of something fixed, and we’re not fixed, although sometimes emotionally distracted. That is not to say that my father was a selfless man, nor that he exhibited traits that showed him to be someone who didn’t take care of his emotional needs, relished his personal/spiritual rejuvenation, or forsook his occasional imbibing. Rather, he was someone who recognized the importance of letting us know that in spite of what or how he chose to celebrate his man-time—not “husband time” or “daddy time”—he remained connected by giving us his love and care consistently. Whether his love came in the form of financial support, emotional support, going out for long walks with our dog (and cleaning up behind him/feeding him/washing him), or bringing home glazed doughnuts, we knew that every action and mood was geared towards his family, and showing up attentively. There was no distraction when he was with us, he was present. He sowed the seeds of reliability, truth, and consistency, so whenever he wasn’t around, whether at work, play, or prayer, his aura was with me, guiding me to do what was right, even if it was uncomfortable.
If he were alive today, I know that regardless of his age and moving slower, he would love the same way and would impart the wisdom of a man who has dedicated his life to sharing who he was, honestly and earnestly. Was he perfect? No. But he was someone who recognized the importance of being the same man that he was with his family, as he was with his friends. Granted, today we have more distractions and methods for escapism than ever—social media, demanding work schedules, outside interests/hobbies—that are competing with the responsibilities to our family, and ourselves and oftentimes, to the detriment of/or shifting what we truly desire. However, knowing my father, he would not be fazed or impressed by the superficiality and the transitional ebb of viral videos, news, and other tantalizingly, shiny things that make our eyes twinkle. I am not perfect either, I have made my fair share of mistakes, but in my day to day connections, there is always something tugging at me, cajoling me to consider my actions and where I might backtrack or alter them going forward. My father taught me that adhering to principles, being grounded morally, having character, and showing up for those you love are what’s important, because people will remember how you made them feel and forget what you did for them. Life is precious and you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Photo credit: Pixabay