But yesterday my thoughts were about other fathers. I thought of George Floyd’s daughter, what a terrible loss she will have for all of her life. No more happy Father’s Days. And this morning I woke to words in my e-mail from a friend who lost his dad to a heart attack yesterday. He wrote, “My dad is so much a part of who I am.” I know that when my dad died in 1970, if I hadn’t been so angry about my terrible loss, I would have said the same.
I have written much about Mom; it took years for me to understand that she was at the core of my life, the person I have become. Yet it was Daddy who had center stage for me when I was young.
I watch the TV coverage of the protests and looting, and I see so many angry young people, an anger that I try to understand. I am more significantly struck by the black men who are interviewed on the street, men who have become angry. Not born with anger, but who have learned it from the injustices they feel daily. I think many of them are fathers.
One of the things I have learned since Mom’s passing is that friends of my age enjoy sharing memories of their mothers. I, however, have not opened the door to thoughts of Dad. Moms get so much credit: We wear so many hats; we are great at multi-tasking; just how did Mom do it all—work and cook and take care of the kids and house?
Today I am thinking of dads.
This week I have looked at those black men on the screen and seen their burden. In a time of pandemic and unemployment, in an era of continued racism and injustice, they are prevented from doing all that they need to do. My own dad felt this burden, I believe. He was expected at a very young age to make a living for babies he probably wasn’t ready for. He was expected to be the disciplinarian and the stern one. In those times he was expected to be the man and handle everything without showing a sign of weakness. I believe it was too much for him.
I wish I could write a happy story now, but it isn’t in me. Yet I’m a positive, glass-half-full person. I believe fathers today are better at their job. They know how to share their feelings and how to share the financial burden of raising a family. Yet much is wrong. From our comfortable chairs, safe at home, we have to keep the images of black fathers in our minds and hearts. I remember the anger I felt fifty years ago. Fortunately, I didn’t hold onto it. I think, however, that I understand a little bit of what the protestors are feeling: An anger at not being understood, at not being given a full life of opportunity and justice, an anger at the death of another father.
I sit at the sidelines as most of us do, wondering what to do. I saw a black man at the lake the other day, which is not a daily sight here in the mountains. I wanted to say, “Welcome. I’m so glad for you to be here in this beautiful place.” I stopped myself; it would have been crazy to run up to him and give him a hug. All I could do was smile and say “Hi.” It felt so lame, so insufficient. All of us in our communities need to do more; our country needs to do more and become better through real change.
What doors can I open to ease the pain of these fathers and their children? I may never know. But I can vote. And I can read to better understand what it means to be black in America. I can write. I can advocate for change in my conversations with friends and with those who still don’t see beyond the surface of the TV images. God help us all as many in our country seek to lead us to change.