More often than not, my dad would pick us up from school. Out of respect for the priest and nuns of my elementary school, he would wait in near silence in his milk chocolate Oldsmobile for the ending bells to ring, but as the school started to get smaller in the rear view mirror, he would crank up R&B, Soul, and Funk jams of the ’70s and ’80s for us to listen and sing to (loudly and probably off-key) as we chatted about the latest happenings at school.
Most of the time, we would take the side streets back to the house. The eight minute or so ride would be consumed with talk about how we perceived our academic and behavioral performances that day, what homework we had to do, and what tests were coming up. We would bounce up the steps to the house and hear my dad’s customary refrain, “Go take those school clothes off, and come back down to do your homework.”
As we sat at the kitchen table, with books sprawled in front of us, Dad would be warming up a can of Spaghetti-O’s or ravioli on the stove and washing out our uniforms for a day later that week. Soon, he would head back out to work after smoking a cigarette.
That’s it. Nothing really spectacular or horrifying. Nothing over-the-top or sensational.
Yesterday, I had the unfortunate opportunity to attend a funeral. The deceased was the son of a man and woman I respect and love very much. Their son was only 34 years old. As I sat there listening to speaker after speaker make remarks about this young man, I couldn’t help but think about my own children and the utter devastation I would feel if I lost them, especially at such a young age.
I know that I would question every step of my parenting, wanting to make sure that my baby knew without a doubt that the love I feel is unconditional and immeasurable. Knowing that I have made some missteps as a parent, I would hope that I had made up for the mistakes. I would pray that God saw the overall measure of my parenting as pleasing.
I felt so bad for the parents, having to say good-bye forever to their baby, to their son. My heart broke for them.
I sat in that funeral looking at the father who would no longer hold his son, and I thought about my dad. If I were to die today, would my dad really know how much I love, appreciate, and respect him? Would my dad be comforted knowing that I knew how much he worked and sacrificed for us? Would he be convinced that I understood that he did his absolute best job as a father to me?
Funerals are never fun, but they do remind the living to continue on with renewed interest and vigor in loving one another more fully. They help us remember to forgive and appreciate those most dear a little more than we have been. They encourage dialogue and thoughtfulness about our own behaviors and prompt us to seek out the good more fervently in others. They remind us to make every moment count, even the ones that we think no one cares about or even are conscious of.
I was nervous. And it didn’t help that it was a thousand degrees and I was wearing a wool and polyester uniform. My hands were dripping sweat, and I could literally hear my heart pounding. The officials had come back to let us know that our team was up next.
“Who’s the drill commander?”
“I am,” I said, stepping forward to hear the instructions. A look of surprise flashed in his eyes, and I knew what he was thinking: A GIRL!
There weren’t very many girls leading J.R.O.T.C. drill teams at the City-Wide Drill Competition, especially not very many black, gawky, nerdy girls.
“Line your team up over there and wait for my signal.”
I took my team to our designated starting point, did an about-face, and stood at parade rest waiting for the team on the floor to finish. I had a moment to look around, for there were still a few commands left for the preceding team.
There were a lot more people there than I had thought. I tried to inconspicuously wipe the gathering sweat off my hands as I prayed that the moisture I felt pooling on my scalp wouldn’t drip onto my face.
“I could call the commands if you can’t handle it.” That’s what my second-in-command, my J.R.O.T.C. rival but secret friend, said to me as we headed off the bus and into the gymnasium. Now, standing in the corner, seeing all those people and other teams, I wondered if I should let him.
But just when the heat and sweat of nervousness was about to knock me out, I saw him. His teeth were gleaming white with a proud smile so big that his eyes were nearly shut. He waved at me knowing that I could not wave back. I thought he had to work. At least, that’s what he told me. But there he was, sitting in the balcony with my Uncle James, smiling and no-doubt just as nervous as I was.
All of a sudden, I was confident and ready. The other team headed off the floor to a sea of applause, and I got the okay to begin whenever I was ready.
“My dad’s up there,” I whispered to my second-in-command.
“So what?” he disparagingly replied.
“So, I’m ready. Are you? I don’t need you making me look bad.”
Thanks, Dad, for smiling down at me that day and always telling me, even without words, that I could do anything I wanted to do!