I glance at the door and the clock in one swift movement. The party is winding down and still he has not arrived. Only a part of me moves around the house, greeting and thanking friends and relatives who came to congratulate me on my success.
But a part of me did not show up for this, just like he didn’t. I imagine that absent part back in my room – pissy, edgy, throwing things against the wall. Pacing to relieve my anger, my resentment. After all I have accomplished, he still isn’t here.
My mother smiles at me from across the room, looking up from the food tray she is carries. She catches my eye and I know that she has also felt my mood, my anger. She gets it, she always gets it. But then, she was there for me, always. Every game that rocked on the verge of defeat, every win with her smiles and tears. Always there, ready to share with me or stand aside to let me be with my winning team-mates. Years and years of her on the sidelines or in the auditorium for the times I was honored. Him, a shadow; a sometimes; a “maybe” part of my life.
What’s more important out there? I think staring at the door he has yet to grace. What holds priority over the college graduation party of your only child?
I am a Brown graduate! I want to shout, and unconsciously I beat that message on my chest. An honors graduate! Does that not mean anything to him?
“Are you ok, darling?” my white haired, petite grand-aunt asks me, catching my hand in midstream. I looked down at her small wizened face from my 6’ 6” frame. She cranes her neck to look up at me, returning my captured arm to my side. I resist the urge I used to have as a young teenager to pick her up and move her to another spot in the room. It was easy for me to do once my height came in. She would protest and kick her feet, pretending anger. But her laughter always betrayed her.
“You be good” she tells me, lovingly patting my hand as she walks away.
Be good I think. Through my years of growing up inDetroit, co-existing with the gangs on the street, the friends with the drugs, “be good” always rang out. I was tempted so many times. Maybe then he would notice, I’d think. Maybe then he would leave the office a bit early, skip a board meeting to see me, instead of never being there.
But somehow be good was instilled in me. My long powerful legs became my ally when trouble tried to confront me on the streets or in the school bathroom. My body, brains and heart keeping me on the right side of life.
He never knew the battles I fought. He never knew of the days when it would have been easier to take the rolled marijuana cigarette between my lips and suck the smoke into my lungs. No, there were always the meetings, the damned meetings, the business that never allowed him time for me.
My thoughts, my negative, angry, thoughts, now have the best of me. I move from the living room, with the laughter of those who did choose to come out to support me, past the sliding glass doors separating the inside from the outside world. I want to clear my head. I had decided long ago that his absence wouldn’t matter, it would not affect me. Yet today that decision is long forgotten, pushed aside, allowing my anger to fill in the space. I step out on the patio crossing the red pattern bricks to the edge where the grass begins.
I hear the sound of the door, the opening, the closing. I know who it is, who it always is.
“Ocie” she asks in her quiet voice. “What is it son?”
I say it. For the first time in my life I say it. Years and years of scorn rise in my voice. “He isn’t here, he’s never here.”
“Ah, your father. Honey, this was unplanned, it was a last minute community meeting, which shouldn’t have lasted this long,” she says gently, guiding me to sit down on a bench.
“Of course, there’s always some kind of meeting,” fighting back the tears of frustration I swore I would never shed over him. “He didn’t have to go. Would it have hurt for him to show up just once in my life?”
“You don’t know?” she asks, her brown eyes searching my face.
“This is what he does for you; every committee, every board meeting, the building of his business. For him the most important gift he could give you was to be successful. And not just making the money, but giving of his time and energy to make the world a better place for his son. Every day his commitment is to you, to us.
You know your dad. People listen to him, they respect him. Look at all the people in our community that are in our house today. He made a difference, and part of that difference was for you. The world was changing when you were born. More opportunities were opening up. But where were the African-American mentors? I tell you, there were none, or very few willing to help once they made it. Your dad thought it was important for you and for this community to see what a successful African-American businessman could be. He never had that in his life, but he wanted to make sure you had it in yours.”
“But what about my games? He never came,” I whine back, sounding more like a child than a twenty-two year old man.
“I told him about the games. About every win, every loss. Each night after he came home, after you were in your room, he’d make me recount every step you took on the court, every honor you won at school. He’d close his eyes trying to put himself in those moments, smiling at the good points, shaking his head on the rough ones. Every game, every honor, played back for him.
You see, son, your dad gave you what he could, what he thought was important. What he thought would give you the best opportunity when you were ready to venture into the world. Maybe you don’t see it that way, but he did.”
I flash on the late nights of study when I would pass him in the hallway. Me going for food to the kitchen, him exhausted, just home from another late night meeting, loosening his tie as he walked back to the bedroom. My bitterness hardly allowing for a civil greeting to him as we passed in the hallway. I wanted to show him he didn’t matter to me any more than I to him.
For the second time that day I feel a loving hand pat mine. My mother rises and walks back to the door, leaving me alone to think her words over. My mother’s love has always been clear, easy for me to see, to feel. My father’s?
I have a new perspective to mull over. I never thought… my mind trails off. I was so busy judging from my world, I never saw his.
I hear the sound of the sliding door signaling its opening again. Familiar steps cross the patio, steps I now understand better than before. I rise and turn. His smile is wide, his eyes proud.
“There’s my son,” he says, arms opening to hug me. I smile back and greet his eyes.
“Glad you’re here, Dad” I say, embracing him for the first time.