This is a reprint of an original article from my June 12, 2011 column on MortarNBrique.
Years ago, my sister, my best friend and I were in the car with my parents, on our way to dinner on Mother’s Day. R&B favorite “I’ll Always Love My Mama” by The Intruders was playing on the radio. We thought of all the different songs dedicated to mothers, and when I asked what song was written for fathers, there was a brief pause and then the three of us said simultaneously, “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone,” chuckling at our answer. But in all seriousness, there is less of an effort to give Father’s Day the same attention as Mother’s Day. Perhaps it is the difference in the roles mothers and fathers play in the family, or maybe the absence of fathers in many households. I am not here to speculate on the state of fatherhood. I just want to spend a few moments honoring my father.
I do not take for granted the fact that my parents were in an almost 50-year marriage and that I was a Daddy’s girl to the bone! Edward Campbell was born in Harlem Hospital in NYC on December 13, 1933, but shortly afterward moved with his parents to their home in Richmond, Virginia, where he stayed until he graduated from high school and went into the US Air Force. He and my mother met when my maternal grandfather pastored the church Daddy and his family attended in Richmond. They ended up in New York City after Daddy was discharged from the service and when my mother came up North to attend nursing school. Here our family’s New York roots were planted.
My father worked for the US Postal Service for over 40 years. He was a faithful and active member of the church, serving at various times as a Steward, Trustee and Church Treasurer. He had a beautiful baritone voice, and could croon with the likes of Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Billy Eckstine. But most of all, my Daddy was my superhero, the smartest man I knew, my friend, and the first man who ever loved me. His death in 2006 was a blow I only recovered from because of God’s divine comfort and protection for the baby I was carrying in my womb – the baby who would have been his first grandchild, my son Izzy. Growing up, I felt sorry for Daddy because he had two daughters and no sons, so I was always hanging out with him, learning from him. Daddy taught me how to hang wall paneling – the summer he paneled the house I learned what a level, mitre box, studs, and 2x4s were. Daddy answered questions like a Google query – a quick answer at first, but with a lengthy background story to follow. A simple question often turned into a 1-hour Heathcliff Huxtable-type monologue!
Daddy taught me how to cook, although when he was throwing down in the kitchen, there was no time for idle chatter. You just sat and watched. During the holidays, he made smothered rabbit for Christmas breakfast, and his famous fruitcake and eggnog, both of which had enough kick to give you a contact high before anything made it past your lips! He was a master bowler and in a painful 3-hour lesson, he taught me how to bowl. To this day, I remember the stance, the approach, the follow-through, the poetry he exhibited on the lane. He took me driving and taught me one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned. The first day we went driving around the mall parking lot and I thought I was good – doing a slow 25 mph. He asked me what my hurry was. I couldn’t understand why he was being so hard on me. But he said, “Just give the car some gas, then take your foot off the pedal and coast. Take control of the car and steer WITHOUT the extra speed…you drive the CAR, don’t let it drive YOU.” I have applied that lesson in my life and am thankful to have had such a great father to teach me and to share.
I last saw my father during the Christmas holiday in 2005. The day before I was to leave Florida for home, he asked me to drive him to the hospital and then his doctors’ offices to deliver cookies to the staff. That’s the kind of guy Daddy was…he had a quiet way of doing for others. Well what should have been a 30-minute errand turned into an all-day adventure! He had me driving all over the state of Florida…to the Cadillac dealership for an oil change, to the grocery store for some pig feet he planned to cook for New Year’s, then to a new meat market some 1 ½ hours away! But during our excursion, we had such a wonderful conversation. In his later years, my father and I became like friends and realized that we shared so many things in common. I would often bring up something he had taught me years before, and he was amazed that I had remembered and absorbed his lessons. But what I remembered most about that day was the moment he said, out of nowhere, “You know, you have become a beautiful woman and I’m very proud of you.” All Daddy’s girls seek their father’s approval, and although I had felt his approval throughout the years, there was something special about what he said. It was then that I realized he had purposely stretched out our day to spend some extra time with me. Unfortunately the day tired him so that he was unable to drive with my mother and me to the airport the next day, and the last visual I have is of him sitting tiredly out in the living room, waiting to say goodbye. I did not know that this would be my last time seeing him and on March 24, 2006, he passed away. I did not get to say goodbye to him…
So on this Father’s Day, I salute the life and memory of my father. And let me say to all the fathers out there – HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!! You are loved and appreciated!