Sunday, June 20, 2010
Sunday Mornings: Reflections on the Sacredness of Fatherhood
Sunday mornings growing up were some great days for me, primarily because I used to love the preparation for church. It was truly a ritual. For example, I remember vividly watching my father in the mirror shaving and eagerly awaiting my own portion of shaving cream that he would place on my small face. He also handed me my own razor (that still had the cap on it). Once I was ready, we began to shave. I mimicked his every razor stroke and face contortion.
Of course, I did not have anything to shave off (and wouldn't until I was almost thirty), but it was simply the fact that my father was doing it that made it something that I needed to do as well. After shaving, it was time to go check out our suits and then pick out ties...he tied a windsor knot and I had my clip-on ready. For years I wondered why my father didn't just get a clip-on like me...it was so much easier I thought, but again, there was something magical about watching him tie his knot. The final preparation was putting on our shoes (that we shined to perfection Saturday night before bed). After we were dressed there was that last look in the mirror and the big smile on my fathers face, then his usual "Okay let's go!"
I am thankful to have such memories and the importance of them is not lost on me at all. As I get older those memories mean more and more. I cherish them. Living in a society that seems to want to daily reaffirm the notion that African American fatherlessness is some deep seated socio-cultural pathology, I recall Sunday mornings.
Someone asked me this weekend, "Vernon what are you going to get your father for Father's Day?" My response was "Nothing." They looked shocked and dismayed, so I qualified my statement by saying that "everyday is 'Father's Day' for me." I know that did not choose my father and ever since his illness almost claimed his life in 2005, our bond has been stronger. Each moment is a gift, and I am blessed.
The relationship between my father and I is likely the single most important human interaction in my short life. That is no disrespect to the influence of my dear mother, for she has also played an integral part in my maturation, but the father/son dynamic is just a different exchange.
Growing up in the church as I did, the scripture found in Proverbs 22:6 was something that was heard frequently, "train a child up the way he should go and when he is old, he will not depart from it,"(NKJV). That scripture was not simply an indoctrination of parents, but also children. Well, it was more akin to a contract in my view, it was certainly no brain washing. We were ever cognizant of the symbiotic relationship within our families. Children were a direct reflection of parents and vice versa. So, there was always this sense of accountability that permeated the relationship with my father.
He has never asked anything of his family that he would not ask of himself. One of my lasting memories is of an exchange between my father and a friend of his. I grew up on a ranch of sorts and my father worked the hell out of me (the funny thing is that now I love working outside with him). I was outside cleaning the stables one day, moving one wheel barrel of horse manure after another, sweating in the summer heat and humidity of St. Louis, Missouri. I overheard the friend tell my father, "Vernon that boy of yours is doing a good job. He's still in school. He ain't never been locked up--and no babies running around. You did good by him." I thought about what he said and I agreed in a more self actualizing way akin more to arrogance, and thought to myself, "Yeah, I am a good son!"
My father's words took all the self-congratulatory wind out of my sails. "I've done okay by my son," he dryly responded, "but I won't know how I did by him until I see his children. If his children do well, then so did I." Hearing this, I was floored. In that one moment, the gravity of what fatherhood really was weighed on me like I was mythical Atlas. More than ever, I knew just how my future was tied to my father's. Being a father was a lot more serious than I had envisioned. It was not simply playing catch, nor helping with homework, learning how to ride a bike, or giving advice about relationships with women, or dealing with the politics of school/work/society, it was in fact all those things and much more.
Today, when I go home I see my father care for my paternal grandfather, Pastor John Mitchell, Sr., (who I call "Papa"), who is suffering from dementia. The three of us sit and talk, or try to. My grandfather is slowly starting to forget certain things, but I sit and marvel at the fact that we can sit--three generations of men in my family. I think about my friends who do not have the familial situation I have, and again I'm thankful. This is none of my doing, and I've done nothing to deserve the love I have been given.
During visits with my grandfather, my father cuts Papa's hair. When I see my father cutting my grandfather's hair I remember my grandfather saying to me once, "Son, always remember, 'once a man twice a child, time brings about a change,'" explaining how we as human beings go through life strong once and in the winter of our years we are more dependent on others, just as a child is.
I recall Sunday mornings. I remember the ritual.
I can only hope and pray that when the time comes, I can be at least half the father my father is to me.