My father ended his life at a time when I’d hope he’d reinvent it. He was just shy of his 43 birthday newly divorced and ready to leave harbored desires to leave his job to start a business of his own. He was a draftsman and a closet artist.
I was 22, with my own apartment in another city, opening a new chapter of my life as a freshly minted college grad. Daddy and I had turned a corner in our relationship. I had been resentful of him in my teens in simple terms because he didn’t spoil me in the ways that I thought fathers of daughters did or should. I famously complained that he’d sent me no more than $5.00 my first couple of years in college. I’d temporarily forgotten about years prior when I got everything I wrote on my Christmas wish list to him.
What I was really mad about was the lack of attention and sometimes acknowledgement I got. When he broke a color barrier becoming the first Black middle manager at Union Carbide, our local newspaper published a brief profile and his photo. He was in a second marriage to a woman who already had a son and gave him a daughter. The article stated that he had two children, counting only them, not me. I assumed the mistake was made by the reporter. But, when I called Daddy to congratulate him and stated as such. When my Dad’s stuttered response included the words, “they wouldn’t understand,” I smelled something funky and it wasn’t coming from the newsprint.
I couldn’t stop speaking to my father, but from that day on for a couple of years I didn’t call him by name nor title. If he wasn’t looking at me and I needed his attention, I’d tap him on the shoulder or something. He got the message, even though I never uttered a word. And, he felt terrible. He was a man of few spoken words himself. But, he was a letter writer. When our relationship reached critical points, he’d often write my mom a letter, as I grew older and left home, he wrote me. Communicating in written words was one thing we always shared. And, one of the greatest compliments he ever gave me was that I wrote letters well.
He regretted many things, including his flaws as a father to me. He and my mother were kids who succumbed to their passion for each other, not a grown couple who planned and prepared for my conception. When my mom got pregnant, he signed up for a stint in the Air Force, not marriage. My mom, at 16, was forced to drop out of school. But, lucky for her and me, she was the baby of a big family, headed by two loving parents, who took care of her even as they let her know on a regular basis that having a child out of wedlock was not what good girls did. My father’s parents showed me and my mother love as well. We had wealth of family love. And needed every bit of it when despair drained my father’s will to live.
In the 33 years since, I have grieved and healed. I think of my father daily, remembering the good times more often than not: going to the movies, to the Smokey Mountains, to grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner. I remember his beauty, his laughter, the joy he got from sports, especially golf and the way like to provoke political arguments with me his idealist, radical hippy daughter.
But, I have my moments also, particular when I heard about the passing of Shakir Stewart, Erica Kennedy, and particularly Chris Lighty, when I hurt again and cry. I never met either of these people but I was aware of—and even inspired by—their work and know people who were close to them. Every circumstance is as individual as the people involved. There are facts to consider about these three people that I don’t know and things about my father I don’t have the space and time to write. But, I hurt to think that people such as my father, who were so accomplished and had so much more to give, may have given up on themselves and us.