I Will Be Your Father Figure

by
Me on my first day. With my dad, Robert E. King. And My great-grandmother Mozell Crawford.

Me on my first birthday. With my dad, Robert E. King. And My great-grandmother Mozell Crawford.

When I was starting my first day of school, my dad kneeled down to my level for a pep talk. I had a lump in my throat. I was clutching my chocolate brown satchel tightly. It was a new school. A new grade. And I would be the youngest in the class. We both peeked into the classroom. Everyone was so tall. It could’ve been a lecture on quantum physics as far as I was concerned.

“You’ll be fine,” my dad said.

I nodded. I got up on tip-top to peer inside the glass door once more and my stomach did a flip flop.

“Just remember what I told you about your antennae. They’re right here,” he said, pointing to the top of my head, right where my tight ponytails were fastened.

“You see something that don’t seem right, your antennae will let you know. Now you can’t see ’em. But they’re in there. And they’ll never steer you wrong. Do your best.”

And with that, I was off. 1979. First grade. Columbian Elementary. My dad’s words rang in my head for years.

It’s the single most important bit of advice I’ve received from Robert E. King. And throughout my life, there have been many times when my invisible antennae were gesturing wildly: that dude ain’t no good. this magazine is not worth the trouble. this apartment is too good to be true. this chick is trying to play you out.

I haven’t always listened, of course. But I know it’s there. And I’m grateful my dad broke it down in a way a four year old could understand.

A tribute to dads. Near and far. For their love, understanding and wisdom.

y dad raised me more like a peer, an approach that in retrospect has its pros and cons, but nevertheless has kept us close to this day, and that he has always fed our relationship with inside jokes he responds to with his big cackling laugh. My dad shaped my identity in a lot of ways: the life-defining realization that nerdy and cool are not mutually exclusive, the tacit understanding of the value of holding one's cards close to the chest. He showed me how to be a real listener, cataloguer, and fan of music and obscure knowledge; he can still recite the starting lineup of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, and he'll spontaneously sing you a piece of any pop song ever written that might in some way correspond to what you're talking about or doing at the moment, from "Teenager in Love" to "Walking in the Rain" to "Superfreak" to "Hot Child in the City." He is an adroit and frequent user of profanity; he was always the "cool dad" who'd take in my hoodlum friends in high school when they needed a place to crash, but was clearly proud, if a little baffled, that his kid had turned out to be an overachiever. To that end, he argued valiantly in my defense when New York State said I couldn't graduate despite being second in my class because I'd skipped gym class too often, and he won. I love my dad for his ability to essentially to run over adversity of all kinds with his sort of baffling natural likability.   He possesses many virtues to a fault: independent (won't ask for help), generous with money (he's always being taken by amateur cons passing for friends with convincing sob stories), a holder-down of the fort so stalwart he can't stomach change, and a loyal friend to those lucky enough to know him, whether they deserve his friendship or not. My dad doesn't ask anything of me and never has, which has taught me to intuit what it is people need, and what he needs. Which is all the more important since muscular dystrophy put him in a wheelchair in 1994, stripping away any last veil of "normal" he might have been holding up. I love my dad for his response to this fate--essentially a 15 year barrage of self-effacing, uninhibited, rated-R comedy. He takes the concept of the normal paternal role-model--and the "normal" everything else for that matter--turns it sideways, shakes it up, and laughs at it, and for that, I love my dad.

Dylan Siegler's dad: "My dad raised me more like a peer, an approach that in retrospect has its pros and cons, but nevertheless has kept us close to this day, and that he has always fed our relationship with inside jokes he responds to with his big cackling laugh. My dad shaped my identity in a lot of ways: the life-defining realization that nerdy and cool are not mutually exclusive, the tacit understanding of the value of holding one's cards close to the chest. He showed me how to be a real listener, cataloguer, and fan of music and obscure knowledge; he can still recite the starting lineup of the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies, and he'll spontaneously sing you a piece of any pop song ever written that might in some way correspond to what you're talking about or doing at the moment, from "Teenager in Love" to "Walking in the Rain" to "Superfreak" to "Hot Child in the City." He is an adroit and frequent user of profanity; he was always the "cool dad" who'd take in my hoodlum friends in high school when they needed a place to crash, but was clearly proud, if a little baffled, that his kid had turned out to be an overachiever. To that end, he argued valiantly in my defense when New York State said I couldn't graduate despite being second in my class because I'd skipped gym class too often, and he won. I love my dad for his ability to essentially to run over adversity of all kinds with his sort of baffling natural likability. He possesses many virtues to a fault: independent (won't ask for help), generous with money (he's always being taken by amateur cons passing for friends with convincing sob stories), a holder-down of the fort so stalwart he can't stomach change, and a loyal friend to those lucky enough to know him, whether they deserve his friendship or not. My dad doesn't ask anything of me and never has, which has taught me to intuit what it is people need, and what he needs. Which is all the more important since muscular dystrophy put him in a wheelchair in 1994, stripping away any last veil of "normal" he might have been holding up. I love my dad for his response to this fate--essentially a 15 year barrage of self-effacing, uninhibited, rated-R comedy. He takes the concept of the normal paternal role-model--and the "normal" everything else for that matter--turns it sideways, shakes it up, and laughs at it, and for that, I love my dad.

Ryan Fischer-Harbage with his son Evan.

Ryan Fischer-Harbage with his son Evan."I love my dad. Although now that I am raising my own son, I understand mydad's parenting decisions less and less. Still, I accept that while ourideas of parenting are different it doesn't mean that my parenting is betterthan his (despite my temptation to think so). My dad valued financialprovisions over physical presence. I'm the inverse, though I do see that Imust earn a living to provide for my son. My dad taught me the value ofhard work and showed me through his example that I can make my own way. I'mgrateful for that.

My father has always put family first. Always.

Mike Schreiber with his dad, Len: "my dad came with me to help me move into my dorm room freshman year of college. i remember we were standing in the stairwell taking a breather, and this incredibly beautiful female student came walking down the steps. all i could do was stare at her, but my dad smiled and said "hi". to my astonishment, the beautiful woman smiled and said "hi" back and continued down the steps. my dad turned to me and said, "just smile and say hello", the worst someone can do is ignore you... but why would they? sometimes the most simple advice is the most profound. my dad grew up in the brownsville section of brooklyn, fighting every day of his life. he worked really hard to make sure that my brother and i wouldn't have to. for that, i shall be forever grateful. he's a great man."

I love my Daddy...I would not have become the fierce ball of craziness I am without HIM! He taught me how to fight and pray! love you Dad!

Karen Sims' dad with his granddaughter Ahry: "I love my Daddy...I would not have become the fierce ball of craziness I am without HIM! He taught me how to pray and to fight!

I love my daddy too!!! I always tell people how he reminds me of Cliff Huxtable. He tells all these pointless stories that your supposed to get some life lesson out of -- but they sound so crazy youre just like "...huh?"  Thats my dad! The man with the crazy stories and the silly jokes but always knows how to keep me laughing. He definitely taught me the meaning of a quiet storm because he sure is one :)

I love my daddy too!!! I always tell people how he reminds me of Cliff Huxtable. He tells all these pointless stories that your supposed to get some life lesson out of -- but they sound so crazy youre just like "...huh?" Thats my dad! The man with the crazy stories and the silly jokes but always knows how to keep me laughing. He definitely taught me the meaning of a quiet storm because he sure is one :)

Ava Duvernay's dad: My Pop is Murray Maye of Lowndes County, Alabama.  Here he is doing one of his favorite things - working in the yard.  He is one of eight brothers.  He came to Los Angeles in the late 70s, met my Mom, and married her and her three little girls.  He is a man of simple pleasures, but is anything but a simple man.  Pop is strong, kind and has taught me so much.  Last year, I jotted this down in my journal.  It sums up how I feel about him and why.  "Just off the phone with Pop. At one point, I ask how he is. He said I can't complain and if I did it wouldn't matter anyway. He said, Everyday I walk outside and see the sunshine and am thankful cause it doesn't have to be that way. Those are pretty much his exact words. Love him."  Happy Father's Day, Pop.

Ava Duvernay's dad: My Pop is Murray Maye of Lowndes County, Alabama. Here he is doing one of his favorite things - working in the yard. He is one of eight brothers. He came to Los Angeles in the late 70s, met my Mom, and married her and her three little girls. He is a man of simple pleasures, but is anything but a simple man. Pop is strong, kind and has taught me so much. Last year, I jotted this down in my journal. It sums up how I feel about him and why. "Just off the phone with Pop. At one point, I ask how he is. He said I can't complain and if I did it wouldn't matter anyway. He said, Everyday I walk outside and see the sunshine and am thankful cause it doesn't have to be that way. Those are pretty much his exact words. Love him." Happy Father's Day, Pop

Eunice Hart and her dad: ames Edward Hart passed away in 1994 but, has never actually left us. We talk about him regularly. In fact, my son said tonight he sounded like he was fun to be around and wished he was still here after we told him about another one of his -isms. He sacrificed a lot for us and we never even knew it. I was very sheltered and didn't realize there were others who grew up without fathers until I was in college. He did everything for us and as I got older, I realized we were enough for him.

Eunice Hart and her dad: "James Edward Hart passed away in 1994 but, has never actually left us. We talk about him regularly. In fact, my son said tonight he sounded like he was fun to be around and wished he was still here after we told him about another one of his -isms. He sacrificed a lot for us and we never even knew it. I was very sheltered and didn't realize there were others who grew up without fathers until I was in college. He did everything for us and as I got older, I realized we were enough for him."

”]When dad told my cuzin Jordin that his kindergarden picture didn't look like a person at all, he was crushed and never drew a picture again. But when he told me i was.... also crushed but- i became a better artist in the end. So you see what i'm trying to say is... something meaning full.... like dad's will never hurt you, and when you think they are- they're really just helping you out. -happy fathers day dad!  LUV TG [i know... that was deep- maybe you should allow me a to get aqtwiiter account to show me you love me as much as i love you *WINK*WINK*]Dear readers:

Tell me about your dad. Did you spend time with him on Father’s Day? Do you wish you could have? Are you sorry you did? Are you a father yourself? Doing things differently? Are you married to a man who is a great dad?

I’d love to hear from you!

Daddy, TG and TH. Father's Day 2009

Daddy, Tog and TH. Father's Day 2009

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12 Responses to “I Will Be Your Father Figure”

  1. Caila K Says:

    “sometimes, when you think they are hurting your feelings, they are really just helping you out.”

    Werd. My father doesn’t mince words, but he always has my best interest (and my back) in mind. Happy Father’s Day to all the fathers of the world!

  2. Katura Says:

    Another great piece Aliya.

    I spent Father’s Day with my dad. Dinner and gifts at my house; listened to him do an interview about the importance of Black literature, then post-interview, discussed with Dad the next steps for Just Us Books (promotions, conferences, our “Getting Boys to Read” efforts.)

    Today was a great representation of what’s important to him (and us): family, fellowship, and his work (better yet mission) to celebrate Black history and culture through writing.

  3. Lashonda Silver Says:

    That was a really heart touching piece. Growing up my dad worked in the school I attended. When I was scared to be in class on my first day, my dad was called to my class and made me feel better about being in a new place. My dad passed in 1997 and during his funeral I heard from so many people how great of a person my dad was, how he helped them at some point or another, how deeply he would be missed and I realized what a positive impact he had on others as well. I often think about the fact that my father never saw his children get married, or that he did not get to watch his grandchildren grow up. The time I spent with my dad was special and the memories that were made are the things I hold near to my heart.

  4. TG Says:

    hey that last pix was TOG i was hoping you werent gonna make that mistake- im gonna be 13 soon, and thats not good for my reputation my sister is not to be mistaken for me….
    tho those were cute pictures!

    lol…….=]

  5. TG Says:

    sorry bout your loss lashawnda…i was born in 1997, and my dad was there- to bad yours couln’t be
    a moment of silence

  6. TG Says:

    thanks for quoting me Caila-

    hey did you know my name in Latin class is Caela…dont get any ideas,
    I will always be TG
    * and did you mean to say word or weird?
    *cause with out knowing i dont know wether to be hurt or touched

  7. Aliya S. King Says:

    @TG: Yes honey, I made a mistake. But as you can see, I corrected it! TH pointed it out to me. And um. I think Caila meant “word.” not weird.

  8. Casandra Aminzia Says:

    These all are unique and great! Dads are special people and help shape the men and women we are today, regardless if they were always there or absent. Sometimes you do not realize the lessons one has taught until they are no longer here to teach them! Embrace the chance to learn a lesson!

  9. AVADVA Says:

    thanks, aliya :)

  10. Yolonda Says:

    Another great piece!!! Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads out there

  11. Maya from Jersey Says:

    My dad passed away in 2006. For all intents and purposes, he met the definition of “absentee father” but in my book, he was definitely a presence in my life. It wasn’t until he died that I realized he strategically placed himself in my life at seemingly random times, but when he showed up, he was undeniably there. My dad was openly gay, which I knew from the age of 10, he lived in New York, was an admitted alcoholic, off and on cocaine, and eventually contracted the AIDS virus. He was also the first black to receive a Ph.D. from U-Mich, and was very much into the civil rights activities going on in Newark NJ in the 1970’s. I think other people would have been ashamed of a dad like mine. Instead, I am a better person because of who he was, the life he lived, the lifestyle he chose. He and many of the people he chose to associate with were some of the real-ist people I have ever met, and had the biggest hearts. With his PhD he spent his sober days making a difference in people’s lives, many of whom were addicts like he was. I hope I contribute half of what he did to the world.

  12. Katura Says:

    Aliya, I’m loving TG’s comments. She definitely has a voice.

    Wait. Duh. I can speak directly to you.

    @TG: You have a great writing voice. I’d definitely like to hear more from you.

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