Editor’s Note: This essay is part of an ongoing series that poet and essayist Abdul Ali asked me to be a part of. He started it for his blog, Words Matter. Leading up to Father’s Day, Ali’s creating a space for a discussion on fatherhood. Here’s a memory I have of my father.
THE TOOLS IN HIS TRUCK RATTLE when we go over the slightest bumps. Dad and I might be cruising some street in D.C., Maryland, or Virginia. We might be on our way to a service call or on our way home from meeting a potential client.
Dad’s a self-employed master electrician/electrical contractor. He’s 6-foot-1 and might be considered athletic if it wasn’t for his paunch. His hands are rough and strong from the nature of his work. I once watched him lift a hammer, like Thor, to drive a six-foot metal spike into the earth. This was after he’d upgraded the electrical service of a house, and was splicing the ground wire to the spike.
At 6-foot-2, I fall short of such a man, who believes a man’s pride is his hard work. And because of his belief, this man from Trinidad and Tobago made a life for his wife and three kids in the U.S., where he emigrated to when he was 20 years old.
Because of hard work, he was the foreman on a job at the U.S. Embassy in Russia. Hard work and its rewards kept his family fed and off the streets.
A way he put it once was no man’s hands have time for foolishness. So you can imagine how he regarded my aspirations of wanting to be a writer. Though he supported them financially, dad mistook those aspirations for passing fads. And when they weren’t, the unprofitable writer’s life only affirmed his suggestion that I pick up a “real” craft.
So now I’m riding along with dad as a helper, after being laid off as a staff writer for a newspaper. At 29 and still living with my parents, how do I measure up to a man — who, at 28, had a successful business, was a homeowner, married (now going on 34 years), and a father?
One day, while on the road, he asked if I was still writing. At the time, I didn’t know he’d nearly read every article I wrote. Or that he rode around with several copies of the paper in his truck to pass out to his friends and customers.
When I tell him I couldn’t stop if I wanted to, I remember the poem I wrote for his 50th birthday; how he had it neatly folded in the top draw of his nightstand, next to his gold watch and expensive cufflinks.