My father died five years ago today.
There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think about him, more than once. I am the person I am — for better or worse — because of who he was. And who he raised me to be.
These are the things my father taught me:
How to make my bed (with military corners); how to evenly spread peanut butter (with a spoon, not a knife); and how to do math in my head (before our phones could do everything for us).
Also, how to parallel park (use your instincts as much as your eyes), how to kill a BIG water bug (move quickly and without fear), and how to navigate the New York City subway system without a map (use your instincts as much as your eyes — and move quickly and without fear).
My father gave me my lifelong love of sports, cityscapes, and newspapers.
There were other DaddyJim lessons, as I got older:
Don’t smoke: it will kill you.
Don’t have sex under my roof: I will kill you.
I miss my father, most of all, in inclement weather, when the lessons he left me present themselves, in a seemingly endless loop:
Never stand at the edge of the sidewalk in the rain; the cars plowing down the street will send a tsunami of dirty water your way, drenching you from heat to toe.
Put a hat on your head when it’s cold outside. You won’t care about the afro on your head, if pneumonia gets into your lungs.
When you take off your winter gear, stuff your hat and mittens into your coat sleeves. That way you won’t lose them because you will know exactly where they are at all times.
Never carry an umbrella on a windy day. The wind will wreak havoc with your it. Just turn up your collar, grin and bear it.
My father’s lessons about the rain and winter were about much more than the weather. His admonitions about smoking and sex were about more than his fears for my safety.
His lessons were about his Love for his Black daughter in a mostly white world.
He taught me to respect myself in a world that too often doesn’t respect women. He taught me to believe in myself in a country that has for too long not believed in the full promise of black children. He taught me to be strong and to stand tall.
My father was a talented artist, a veteran and an activist for the civil rights and liberties that all Americans are guaranteed in our founding documents. He was a fiercely intelligent man in a country that still did not believe in the full promise of his contributions to its democracy. And he was a feminist who believed completely in the contributions I would make, in time.
When I was little and perched on my father’s shoulders, I could see clear to a future that was full of possibility. Now that he is gone, I imagine myself sitting on his shoulders still — still reaching for what is possible. But I never reach for an umbrella on a windy day.