What I’m about to tell you is everything I know about my Father. The truth about my Dad, like all legends and ordinary men, lies somewhere between the image and the perception of who they are believed to be. The fact that these images and perceptions exist in the first place tells the most interesting and exciting things about a person. The type of things the truth never could.
My father grew up rough. He was forced to be tough because of the city and time he grew up in. Not only did he succeed at this task, he thrived in it. Nothing he went through from segregation, to the Vietnam War, or the glass ceilings he faced when he came home, stopped or deter red him from his dreams. He grew up knowing instinctively that he had to rely on himself, because the world he lived in demanded it. He never allowed his self to become disillusioned with the cards he was dealt. My dad always knew what the deal was but still played the game as if it wasn’t rigged. And most importantly against all odds he won. He won a game he was destined to lose, a game no one expected him to win.
The fact that he accomplished all this with a rebel spirit always made me proud of my him. I learned from Dad how to make my own way and not care about the repercussions of following my own path. I also saw the limitations of his approach as well. As much as I admire my Father I realized he paid a huge cost for his freedom. And I still often wonder in the long run if he truly won at all. Maybe he just prolonged the inevitable, but even if that is all he accomplished, he did it on his terms.
Terms that bent part of the world to his will while other parts broke from his demands. These are facts he is very proud of. They are facts that are at the core of his identity as a man. And they are core to how the world views him as well. I have a different view.
I saw the hard work he put into building his legend. I knew the late nights he spent practicing for his little piece of perfection. I witnessed him waking up at 4am daily to work out while most of the world was still sleeping. I witnessed the daily quest for perfection of a soul that would not rest being second place. My father doesn’t know how to settle. As hard as I try, I never found what truly motivates my Dad. I still haven’t figured it out.
I know he grew up with southern parents who made it their life mission to prepare their children for a better day. A day they couldn’t have possibly known was coming, but they prepared anyway. And they were right. And he was prepared.
My father knows power, he knows responsibility and honor. But he doesn’t know love. It’s as if he has been superman for so long Clark Kent’s suit doesn’t fit comfortably anymore. Dad never learned how to be anything but super in a world filled with mere mortals. That’s why I believe he excelled everywhere while belonging nowhere.
As he continued to raise the bar less and less people could reach it. Over time he ended up with a bar that had no one to raise it any higher. That’s a lonely place to be in, but that’s where my Father always found his self. Understanding that type of loneliness is the only way to truly understand my Dad. He is alone in the saddest and, honestly, worst kind of way. It is the kind of loneliness that is surrounded by people who admire and love you. The kind that pushes you to the outer limits of reality but at the same time pushes reality farther away from you. You are alone, not because people don’t like you, but because people don’t understand you. How can you explain that to a world that fell so in love with who they think you are? They only see the image and that is all the truth they need. I feel deep down my dad always realized this sad truth. But understanding never changes who you are. The only thing that will change who you are is your heart.
And while the world is logical and makes sense love only has to have a willing mind. And the mind falls deepest in love with those people and ideas that are out of its reach. We love most what we can’t have. We get bored of what we know quickly. But we chase what we feel we want for all of our lives. And if love is what you want, the first time you “find it” will change you for the rest of your days. That is what happened to my Mother.