411 Focus

Daddy was strict, but he was honest. Like James Brown sang, he "didn't take no mess"

Contributed By:Dorothy Nevils maslivend@sbcglobal.net

It takes time to be a father

You ever watch a toddler sit in a grownup’s seat and turn the wheel, back and forth, back and forth, squealing with delight, bouncing up and down, its little dimpled knees flexing? There is no way you can convince them that what they’re doing is make-believe… that they’re in the spot where they started… that the car has not moved!

I remember being at my obstetrician’s office eons ago – well, not quite four dozen years. At that time, I think, several doctors’ offices were above Gary National Bank, on the corner of 5th & Broadway, just south of Lytton’s. Two or three young teens – in mind, if not chronologically – were seated close to me. “He so cute,” one of them drooled. “He must look like his daddy.” She had already cast her vote: Father: 10; Mother: 0!

Her observation didn’t match mine. I could hardly care less how he looked. He was well-cared for. “Superior,” in my book, came from the inside, a yardstick gifted to all of us from my father, long before the little evaluator pronounced my child acceptable. That same yardstick I have used all my life!

My father grew up in Kosciusko, Mississippi. He, like others who wore his skin, was pulled from school in the fourth grade to attend to “crops,” a lot more important than a Black boy’s education. He and his wife had four children, and she died when the youngest was a baby.

His children grown, with families themselves, he eventually settled in Southern Illinois with a new wife and a new family, my two brothers and me. He remarried again when I was around five or six, introducing my stepmother with four words: “This is your mother.” We knew from that day exactly what that meant.

Daddy was strict, but he was honest. Like James Brown sang, he “didn’t take no mess,”…not from us, nor from anybody else. He didn’t deliver us up to anybody else to “chestise,” nor did it himself, without evidence.

I will never say he had no bias.That would be too big of a stretch! If you were around long enough, you’d have witnessed a bit of it. Grown, now, I can see why: Carl was a spitting image, short like Daddy’s first four, while Jimmy and I were the opposite; Carl was a “Daddy’s boy,” mimicking as best he could all Daddy’s habits, his moves, even the slow drawl – while Jimmy and I were the opposite; Carl screamed and played near death at the third strike, feigning injury from a wayward strike, while Jimmy and I followed the adage, “Never Let Them See You Cry,” even though we’d never seen nor heard of it.

A tad imperfect, Daddy was about the most honest person one could find. Hugo Chambliss was the richest black man in Mounds, if not the richest, period. He had a fault: He was also the worst driver in town! He drove slowly, so slow that there was no dust when his tires met the gravel. Plus, he drove on whichever side happened to be closest to his car when he rounded a curve. That’s why he ran right into my father as he rounded the same curve from the opposite direction.

The church folk thought there’d be more money in the collection plate. Heck! We’d get new clothes… maybe a sleek new automobile! It was clear that he’d followed the curve to the left… and run into my dad. My dad wanted only one thing – to get his truck fixed!

My dad shared his values with us, instilled them… and they’ve stuck. Hopefully you’ll share those values with the boys and men who share your space: It takes but a minute to make a baby… but a lifetime to be a father.

Story Posted:06/16/2019

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