For Ken on July 19th

July is a busy month for my family. We celebrate a cluster of birthdays from July 10 to the 16th. Then on July 19th, I stop to remember my father. It is on this day in 1996 that he broke the only promise he ever made to me. “I don’t plan on going anywhere,” he’d said. But by July, he was gone.

Like my mother, my father was larger than life in my eyes. They had separated after I was born but he was never really out of our lives. He visited as often as he could and wrote regularly to my mother.

Through her eyes, I got to know a man who “cut a dashing figure in his uniform.” He was intelligent, chivalrous, charming and strong in his beliefs.

Through my eyes, I saw a tall man who my mother said was my father but I wasn’t sure what father meant or how it was connected to me. And Daddy didn’t roll easily off my tongue. I remember one of the first times I saw him. As he bounded on to the steps of our house, I hid behind my mother’s dress, peeking out only when I thought he wasn’t looking. I can still see him now, sitting on our verandah, the setting sun forming a burnt orange halo around his head.

Through the eyes of our local media, I got to know a man who was well respected. As second in command of crime in Jamaica, his opinion counted.


But who was this man who had the same name as me?

As I got older, I began to develop my own relationship with the man whom I knew only through other people eyes and the narrative I had created for myself. It wasn’t easy at first — too many years of disappointment and hurt to soften. But he never backed away from my questions, no matter how personal or intrusive. I guess he sensed I had a right to know.

He never said a bad word about my mother and if she had any resentment over the dissolution of their relationship, she kept them to herself. As a result, I was able to develop my own relationship free of her emotional baggage – an invaluable gift I’m sure she never realized she gave me.

When I was growing up, my father always encouraged me to write. No matter that my letters were shopping lists of all the things my mother refused to buy me, like the A-line skirt, scarf and sunglasses I knew I needed to have at age eleven. In his mind, writing would help me learn to express myself.

I didn’t start writing until after he died. Being away from my mother, I had to find a way to process the conflicting feelings I had, the dreams I realized I had held on to. I had to find a way to knit together and hold on to every story she ever told me about the man everyone said I resembled – but who was sometimes a stranger to me – with my own stories. For months, I wrote furiously as if by writing I could bring him back.

One night, I did. He looked about 40, the age he was when I was born. We were walking side by side, his left hand loosely holding mine, my right reaching around his waist to hold his. I was probably five or six. No words were spoken. None was needed.

I could still feel his presence when I awoke but my sadness had lifted. I stopped writing about him after that.


21 comments on “For Ken on July 19th

  1. Beautiful! What a wonderful tribute to your father. I love how your parents never said anything bad about each other. That is so important…and yet many time forgotten. Wonderful post.

  2. Are you writing a memoir. You’ve been a bit mysterious about what you write.

    I liked this. Very touching. Your mom and dad’s relationship was a stark contrast to what my parents had. It’ll come out eventually. I’ve just had to redirect how I’m thinking about it because it was wrong on so many levels.

    Anyway, this is really warm and heartfelt. I see a memoir 🙂

  3. Not really mysterious. I love to write about my travels but these stories seem to want to be told. I had no intention of writing about my family but I guess it’s time?
    I realize how lucky I was. I missed growing up with my father and having that special bond but I’ve been given other gifts.
    Thanks, Totsy. Can’t wait to read yours.

  4. Reading the piece, and the comments before it… sometimes, no matter what we are “supposed” to be working on, there’s a piece inside of us that insists on being written.

    Lovely piece. I’m sorry you don’t still have your parents, but am glad you can still reconnect with them, and see them with different, adult eyes now.

  5. Thank you for sharing this. Very moving and powerful. Glad that your father inspired your love of words. As I have an estranged relationship with my own father, makes me want to pick up the phone and call him.

  6. Thanks, Beverly. The more I write about them, the more I value the gift that they were to me. I have been more than fortunate.
    Thanks for visiting and commenting,

  7. Hi Marcia,
    Thank you for your patience with me… I stopped receiving posts from you and assumed you were still on vacation. Do we need to subscribe again to this new format?
    What a wonderful memory of your dad. It brought back memories of mine and there is a slight resemblance there… Thanks for stopping by and adding your link because your gravatar doesn’t have your blog added to it…
    Neat theme… Love the addition of ComLuv too. Do you like it? 🙂

  8. My apologies on responding to your admirable tribute for your dad as late. I’m just glad I finally found your site.

    It’s heartwarming to know you had the opportunity to connect with your dad on such a profound level. Your post attests to this. ‘It’s not the quantity of time, but quality of time spent together.’

    Thanks for sharing.


  9. No thanks necessary, Elizabeth. If you don’t mind, please do.
    Thank you. I’m very proud to have had him in my life. I was very lucky to have them both.
    Thanks, I love ComLuv — I used to use Disqus but prefer this as it shows the latest post. It was so difficult to switch back from Disqus — took me all day.

  10. Sorry you had a problem finding my site — can you tell me what happened?
    You’re so right about quality time, Rhonda. Even though I never lived with my father, his influence on my life is quite profound.
    Say, will you be at the Harlem Book Fair tomorrow?

  11. You’re welcome, Nicole.
    If you feel inclined to, I hope you call your father. Fathers are really important in women’s lives.
    Hope the book tour’s going great.

  12. …when I tried going to I couldn’t see the post, so I tried googling, and rechecking, and nevermind me. I’m sure it was me. I have you linked now… I think… which I’m going to test in a sec.

    And no to the Harlem book fair. I’m mad about that too. My husband and I were just talking about it, but I just couldn’t endure another sec out in our 115 record high heat wave!

    Are u in the area? I’m up there a lot.

  13. This memoir is compelling. My mother always told me of my great-grandfather, and I couldn’t help but take in how interesting he sounded, especially since he sounded so amazing through my mother’s eyes. I try to encourage her to write about all her experiences she had with him, but she never does.

    That’s really cool to see that your dad encouraged you to write. I wish I was encouraged to do anything besides clean everything.

  14. They were very special people. I’m so glad to have had them as parents.
    Sometimes, we don’t realize the gifts they give us until we’ve become adults ourselves.

  15. Hi Rhonda,
    I’m exactly 9 blocks away. Next time you come, please let me know.
    I didn’t get a chance to go yesterday. I completely forgot that my aunt was coming in from MD so that was my entire Saturday.
    Was looking forward to going, despite the 100+ degree temperature. I remember it being quite hot in ’02 and walking there in the unbearable heat.
    I’ve switched themes and still testing to see how you and others access the site. That’s feedback that you’re providing me. It could definitely be the new theme.
    BTW, it was hot here this weekend. I went to Coney Island on Friday to see the fireworks – very lovely.

  16. I probably didn’t hit the Approve and Reply button so here goes:
    I’m about 9 blocks from the HBF, meant to go but completely forgot my aunt was coming from Maryland yesterday.
    Hope it was lovely despite the heat. I remember ’02 being almost as hot and I walked over to 135 with friends. Went to Coney Island on Friday to beat the heat. Fireworks were beautiful.

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