One of my favorite stills from the movie, Mo Better Blues.

Over the weekend, I got it in my head to go help my father do some housework. As my father gets older, he really needs a helping hand getting things done around the yard and in the house. Last weekend’s project was to pick up some flooring from a warehouse and store them in the garage. While we were lifting the flooring into his truck, he said to me, “I can’t move around as fast as I used to now that I’m getting older, Jay.” His statement wasn’t really all that necessary, I obviously could tell this used to happen a lot faster when I was younger. However, for a moment I stopped and thought about how my relationship with my father had come full circle…

I’m a child from divorced parents. I spent most, if not all of my childhood with my mother. My mother understood the importance of having a male presence in my life and also my father. Therefore, it was not common for me to go long periods of time without seeing my father. In those times that I would spend with my father, we would hang out, play sports or run a race. Sometimes we played chess or a game of cards, but what I enjoyed the most was boxing with my father. My father grew up boxing and was pretty good at it. He told me that if I really wanted to get good at baseball, boxing would be a good way to work on my hand and eye coordination.

There were a few things about these boxing matches of note: 1) He always won, 2) My father always was faster than me, and 3) My father was always stronger than me. This wasn’t up for discussion. I can remember that all the way through high school, my father could still beat me in a footrace. He could always lift way more than I could when we carried groceries into the house or had to do some work on my grandfather’s farm. That was just the way it was.

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Looking back on those times and fast forwarding to now, I realize that the tables have turned. As we attempted to load this flooring into the truck, I thought to myself, “This would be so much easier if you would just let me do it.” I could lift each one of the boxes containing the flooring myself. Even though it was twenty boxes, I was confident that alone I’d be able to complete the task a lot faster. That’s when I had an epiphany about a father’s relationship with his son. I thought back on my childhood and imagined what it must have been like to raise me as a son. The lessons I never noticed, but were glaringly obvious came to the forefront…

1) My father, although stronger than me, always gave me a load to carry.

If each time something had to be done, my father, just said, “Move out the way and let me do it.” I may have never developed the strength I have now. I have friends who you can tell have never done a hard day’s work. If you asked them to do something like paint a wall or change the oil of their car, they’d be lost. My father was teaching me that even when you’re stronger than someone, you never carry their load. Every man must carry his own weight.

2) My father, although faster than me, always had patience to wait for me.

One of the most frustrating parts of small children is their short legs. If you’ve ever taken a small child for a walk for any distance you almost immediately notice that it takes four or five times longer than if it was just you. I imagine that as a child growing up my father knew that he could get from point A to point B a lot faster without me, or by telling me to run while he walked. My father never did that though. He was patient and he waited for me. I would have never known that it was taking him longer than usual.

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3) My father, although busy, always made time for me.

I feel as children when we grow up and our lives get busy, we tend to let our relationships with our parents slip. Growing up you spent pretty much 100% of your time outside of school with your family. When evaluating plans for the weekend as an adult, you tend to pick time with the guys or hanging out with the ladies over Dad. Well, my father never did that to me as a child. He always made time for me. When I needed to learn how to ride a bike or throw a baseball, he made time. He didn’t complain or think about all the things he could be doing, he just made the time. What this past weekend meant to me was a reminder that I can’t ever be too busy to make time for my Father.

4) My father, will always remind me, “Everybody ain’t your father” but he always showed me the true meaning of friendship.

As a child, it was important to note that my mother and father were not my friends. Growing up in a Black household you learn early on, “Stop talking to me like i’m one of your friends.” Yeah, growing up I had that common DC problem of calling everybody, “Youngin’.” That wouldn’t fly with my father. However, over the years i’ve realized that my father asks me for advice. He listens to my advice as well. Most of all, we’re friends and friends help each other out in their times of need.

5) My father, as he grows in age, reminds me that always isn’t always going to be always.

As a young son, you sometimes view your father as this strong, all-knowing individual who is impenetrable. As an adult now, I realize that my father is indeed mortal. It’s a weird feeling to notice that your father needs help, and that everything won’t be fine if I leave everything up to him. My father taught me lessons as a child about how everything didn’t come easy to him, but I never believed it. I am learning now that we are all mortal and that we all have pain and we all need help from time to time. I learned that all those times he said, “Call your grandmother” or “Call your cousins” he was teaching me that since we are mortal, you need to appreciate the time you have with your family the most.

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Of course my father and I came to a healthy compromise on the best way to load and unload the flooring. He wanted to help, he wanted to remind me of that first lesson he taught me about carrying your own weight. Maybe it took us a bit more time to complete the task but it also gave us plenty of time to talk about life. I wanted to make sure that I reflected on this afternoon spent with my Father. I wanted to make sure that I wrote this post this week because I’m sure I’m not the only one who shares experiences like these. I wouldn’t regulate the experience to only men. I’m sure that women share similar experiences with their mothers. Moreover, I wanted to remember this because one day I’ll have a son myself. When I have my son I want to make sure that I give him everything and little more than what my father gave me. Whenever that time comes, I know that it will all start with sharing, patience and making time for my son.

– Dr. J

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