I have not been able to say Happy Father’s Day to my dad because he passed away and went to heaven more than 30 years ago. So I dedicate this column to him and to all men who lovingly have this role.
My dad whose name I bear was born in Jamaica, a tiny island in the West Indies. As I reflect on growing up in Winston-Salem, N.C., which I will say more about later, my dad was definitely my parent. He was my parent and not my friend. I am sure that many men my age can say the same thing about their fathers.
I always thought that he was larger than life as I loved him and feared him both at the same time. When I got out of hand, my mom would always say, “Jimmy, I am going to let your father know when he gets home.” Of course, this is after she gave me one of her patented spankings. Well, when my dad came home, he would admonish me verbally. While my father was a dentist, I believe he also had a degree in psychology as he made me feel so bad about my inappropriate behavior.
My dad ended up in Winston-Salem because a Jamaican dentist colleague told him about the city. My dad’s friend lived in High Point, a short drive from Winston-Salem. High Point is arguably the furniture capital of America. When they got together, Jamaica was the central topic of conversation. He always seemed happy when he talked about his homeland. Even after I was born, my dad was the only Jamaican in the city. That is almost unbelievable, but that is the way it was.
Later, he sponsored his nephew, also from Jamaica, so Wilfred became the second Jamaican in the city. There were many men besides my cousin Wilfred who came around the house seeking fatherly advice or help in some way. As I grew older, I began to hear stories about how he had assisted some of these men. Because my mom was American, I am not sure that I ever had a real Southern accent. I will say that you had to have a keen ear to understand my dad. Sometimes I was an interpreter when friends were at my house. There were also some words said a bit differently. For example, the word “three” was pronounced “tree.”
He was a serious man who gave me many life lessons. He always told me that America was a land of opportunity. I didn’t fully understand what he meant until our family went to Jamaica during my early teens. There are tourist spots like Ocho Rios and Montego Bay and there are smaller less popular places like Mandeville and Spanish Town. After sleeping on beds made of straw and going outside and picking mangos and grapefruits for breakfast, I understood more clearly what he meant.
He also taught me how to save money. He was a money manager long before Charles Schwab. Being a dentist in a private practice made him watch every dime. Sometimes I have to laugh at myself because I, too, watch every dime. His basic philosophy was always live below your means and save for a rainy day.
After my mom passed away, it was just my dad and me. During the winter, we would have cocoa made with milk and dip French bread in it. I am not sure where he got that combination, but it was sure good. And, during the summers, we would sit on the stoop or on the side porch. He was never too busy for me. My father was a great story teller as he would talk about Jamaica and about some of his summer jobs. I was always mesmerized.
We would also watch the Friday night fights on television sponsored by Gillette Blue Blades. Does that company still sponsor boxing events? He gave me a lot of lectures telling me how important it was to get a good education. To be honest, I always knew I would attend college. I just didn’t know what college I would attend.
My mom was much more emotional than my dad. I rarely saw him upset. He was uncommonly patient. I have tried to emulate him over time. I hope that I am getting better at it; however, there are some who might disagree.
My dad earned the respect of people. I can’t imagine the challenges that he faced being from another country. I believe before he passed away that we became friends even though he continued to give me advice. The difference was that he also asked my opinion on matters. I never had to look for a role model or for a hero because my dad was both. He was the most caring and generous man that I have ever known in my entire life.
There are many men who have similar stories about their dads. This is just one. So for all young dads out there my advice is that you spend quality time with your child or children. Have them grow up loving you and, when you are gone, missing you.
I miss my dad.