My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me. - Jim Valvano
My dad was an only child born to Jamaican immigrants. Back in those days you couldn’t just show up in the United States. Someone had to sponsor you so you wouldn’t end up on public assistance. My grandparents were hard working people and made a life for themselves even though they had very humble occupations. My grandmother was a maid and my grandfather was a cook. They had one precious son and poured all they had into him. Being new to this country didn’t stop them from making sure my father attended college. In my dad’s senior year, his father had a heart attack and died on his way to work. Somehow my grandmother figured out a way for her son to graduate from Lincoln University in 1952. This has been a huge source of inspiration to me. On many occasions I thought if my widow grandmother can get her one son through college, I certainly can figure out a way for my three.
My grandmother succumbed to breast cancer a month after I was born. My dad said she did get a chance to see me which really makes me happy. This was a tumultuous time in my dad’s life. He went from being a bachelor, to being a father to two teenage stepsons and a baby girl, having a new wife, and a sick mother. My parents separated after a few years together, but they worked out a great way to be cooperative in their parenting.
Spending time with Daddy was always fun. My dad would faithfully take my sister and I out on the weekends. My mom would make sure we were dressed up and ready to go. We went to the movies, puppet shows, plays, and all of the zoos (Central Park, Staten Island and the Bronx Zoo). He would take us to the beach, museums and all of the classic New York sightseeing places like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State building and Rockefeller Center. My dad was a true New Yorker and knew the subway system like the back of his hand. If we went out on a Sunday, my mom would insist that Dad take us to the local church for Sunday School. Neither of my parents went to church but I think my mom wanted us to have some training in this area. Both of them were casual Episcopalians.
One of the things I really admired about my dad is that he completed the New York Times crossword puzzle every day. He was also very knowledgeable about the movies. He could tell you things about movies that the normal person just didn’t pay attention to. I learned that Alfred Hitchcock made a cameo appearance in each of his movies. My dad could tell you where he would appear in almost all of them. I thought that made him one of the smartest people I knew. He was faithfully with both his financial support and his time. We could depend on him for graduations, dance recitals and emergencies.
One evening when we were old enough to stay by ourselves, my mom got us ready for bed and went out for a few hours. We must have been watching TV in my mom’s room when a praying mantis flew in the window. You can just imagine the screams from two little girls. To us, it looked like a dragon. We called our daddy and he came over and put the dragon out of the window. Our Hero! He stayed with us until my mom returned.
When it was clear that my sons and I would have to figure life out together, I asked my father if we should return to New York. This way we would be near my family and they could help raise the guys. My father said absolutely not. There were a lot of things hitting the news at that time and he thought it was best to keep the guys out of the city. They would have more opportunity in Georgia and somehow this would all work out. He didn’t live long enough to see this very wise advice materialize into three college graduates. My oldest son was just 10 when he passed away from a stroke and prostate cancer. I share the funny Grampie stories with my guys in the hope that his twinkle stays alive. My dad would be so very proud of them.