Thursday, January 05, 2006

Preach It Papa

Today is my Dad's birthday. This will mark his 76th year.

My Dad has mellowed out considerably over the years. He's like a whole different person from the man I remembered growing up.

I still remember the times when he used to whip Tasha and I. I remember how he threw me out of the car because I forgot to say 'Good Morning' to him. He put the fear of God in my sisters and I. I remember being the first to learn how to drive and having to learn via my Dad. It was like boot camp from hell...*LOL*. It was only after I got my license that my sisters sought me to teach them.

I know these days there's obviously a lot of controversy over how kids should be disciplined. Many folks are against whipping. There are valid reasons for not encouraging whipping.

But I have to say that my Dad putting the fear of God in me kept me from doing a lot of crazy things. It made me the semi-normal (Heh...cause I have issues.) person I am today. I'm not in jail. I have my own house. I pay my own light bill. I get my own toilet paper. I've never been in jail (Though I came close once. I'll have to share that story another time.) You get the drill.

When my Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the early 90s, it was my first time seeing my Dad's vulnerable side. He feared that he wouldn't survive. Since beating it, he's had a new outlook on life. He still gets angry from time to time but it's not as frequent.

So Hemingway over the holidays my Dad was talking about some of his experiences growing up in the Caribbean and comparing it to the experiences in the United States. Our conversation started innocent enough as we were cleaning up some excess junk in the house. (I guess that's where I get my hoarding tendencies from...*LOL*.) He lamented in particular about a sofa in the den that was full of clothes. He cracked about not remembering the sofa's color since it's been covered with clothes for over ten years.

He blamed my Mom for all the clutter issues currently going on. He then recalled times growing up with his two brothers in a single family household. How they had practically nothing and could pretty much leave their door unlocked at night. Crime was practically nonexistant. He said if someone wanted to come in the house to use the potty or get a meal, they would come in, do what they had to do, and leave. It was a 'what's yours is mine and what's mine is yours' type of existence.

He mentioned that the island had three families with a radio. If there was some major news, the residents would all crowd around one of those residences to listen to the news. Envy over those with the radios was practically nonexistant.

He contrasted it to life in the U.S. How you can't have nice things without worrying about somebody trying to steal it from you. Sad but true. It'll be a cold day in hell before I sleep with my house unlocked, even though I live in a relatively safe block.

A poignant example he shared was how he inadvertently mentioned how nice a radio that 'we owned' was. It was basically shared by everyone in the plant. The actual owner of the radio went off going 'What do you mean we own?' And then clarified who really owned it.

Conversation then led to some of the hardships my Dad faced when first entering the U.S. I do remember how he said that the only English word he knew was 'coffee'.

He took residence in the quad apartment building that our family currently owns today. It was owned by his older cousin's (my sisters and me...thanks Marlon... affectionately called her Grandma) father, who was known as Uncle.

Uncle was quite the miser. He was one of those folks who'd buy two-ply toilet paper and split a roll into two one-ply rolls. He was very possessive over his items. My Dad recalled how he wanted to borrow an encyclopedia volume from him for some research. His Uncle had the encyclopedias locked in a drawer and had to open the drawer for my Dad to get the volume. Then Uncle wouldn't let my Dad take the volume to even read in his room. He stood there while my Dad did what he needed to and only left once he knew his volume was safely locked back in place.

My Dad then decided to get a job so that he could get his own set of encyclopedias. The job at the paint factory paid 90 cents an hour (Wow) but it was enough for him to get his volumes and to get his first car, which wound up being a lemon unfortunately.

The room my Dad lived in was originally a shack until he fixed up the room. He put up new wallpaper, varnished the floor, and purchased simple furniture, including a stereo with a record player that still works over 40 years later. He mentioned how soon as he finished fixing up his room, Uncle wound up giving his room to another tenant after said tenant decided he liked the room. So then my Dad was moved to another room in the house that he had to fix up over again.

He then mentioned how lazy his co-workers were and how they'd cut corners instead of doing the job right. Stuff like not filling the paint containers properly and mixing the paint wrong and wasting a whole batch. (That's actually pretty common these days.)

He then moved on to the politics involved in getting jobs and how his older brother lucked out on a job because the higher ups wanted to meet a quota of having one minority working in the firm. He also said how earlier in life, his mother declined an offer to turn tricks for a customer to get some money. But she managed to get her own money owning a small business. He also complained once that he hated his Mom's cooking...*LOL*. I guess she was a career woman first.

Then there was the time he was waiting for a bus and some man shared with him his story of how he was wanted by the police for a murder he did somewhere south. Needless to say, my Dad avoided him as much as he could.

When my Dad was telling his tales, he then jumped into the subject of how folks don't listen much to what you say. How folks will ask you the same questions over and over. I admit to being guilty of this at times.

The art of listening is something that I'm working on. It was also what prompted me to listen more closely to my Dad's ramblings. Heaven forbid I don't listen to my own Dad.

There's a lot of wisdom in what he shares. I'm so grateful to have him still in my life.

For his birthday, I bought him the movies Crash and Sin City. I look forward to having a conversation with him about Crash soon. Happy Birthday Dad!



Blogger nosthegametoo said...

Happy Birthday to Papa. And Man, can I relate. My father has seriously mellowed out since I've gotten older. It's made us closer. He was more of a father growing up. Now, he's a father and a friend/mentor. It's made it a whole lot easier to talk.

12:21 AM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger Essequibo said...

Best Birthday wishes to your father!'s so special to have that time with your special. Particularly just to sit and talk/listen.

It sounds like there is a lot that you could take from him - there's always something new to learn from your folks for those of us who are lucky to have them around - that's wassup.

12:49 AM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger NeenaLove said...

wow!!! children of immigrants rarely get to see that soft side of our parents. my mother is a citizen of Samoa... (lil island group in the south pacific)...and she associates the struggles of poverty in her childhood with happiness.

BTW: i have NEVER owned a house key to my parents home ANDDDDD... they still don't ever lock their home.

3:57 AM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger Virginia Slim said...

Happy Birthday to your father! You're absolutely right about people not listening. It's a lost art. So many people get caught up in explaining their point that they don't often listen to what another person is say. But sounds like your father dropped some real knowledge on you, and kudos to you for getting it all down so you won't forget. Peace to you...

7:46 AM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger Cash S. said...

I hope your dad has a wonderful B-Day!

That almost brought a tear to my eye. I love sitting with my father or riding in the car with him, and listen to his stories of when he was younger.

8:51 AM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger *Madosi said...

wow man, happy bday to your dad.

cherish it because we all don't have the ability or desire to have the same kind of relationship that you have with your father with our own, myself included!

hott post man!

9:47 AM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger Mr. Death said...

Well written and really sweet.
At least everything worked out, I'm glad you've gotten closer to your father: those are the kinds of relationships you need to hold close, because you need someone like that to be there for you in times of crises.
Happy Birthday E's dad

1:58 PM, January 06, 2006  
Blogger Rose said...

Happy Birthday to your dad. I saw that Crash movie last night and it was great. I do believe in discipline a child. My father was great at this but at one whooping that was it for me. I was not going to do anything to get in trouble again.

12:06 AM, January 07, 2006  
Blogger M-Dubb said...

"My sisters and me."

(This has been a public service announcement from your friendly journalist.)

Good entry, tho.

9:48 AM, January 07, 2006  

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