Father's Day came and went about a week ago.
As an African American man who came from poverty, I guess I can be proud of myself. Why you may ask? Maybe because I have avoided many of the traps that have prevented many African American males from becoming educated, owning their home, having a career, maintaining stable relationships, and raising their children. I have avoided many of the traps and achieved all of the above and more not solely because of my actions, but because of the actions and support of those around me, such as my father (Headley Sanderman Barrett).
Now, I will be the first to admit that my father and I had a very contentious relationship growing up and did not always see eye to eye even as adults, nevertheless I am clear that if not for the stand that he took for me being great, I would not be who I am today or who I aspire to be tomorrow.
My father preached discipline, respect, and most of all held exceedingly high expectations ("nothing less than number 1..." he would always say) for his children. Truthfully, I resented much of this as a youth and could not stand my father, but time and added wisdom has a way of shifting one's perspective. As I matured into manhood, I could see the value in the attributes my father preached. I began to see where the lack of these attributes in others caused them to fail or to give up on their goals in the face of adversity (something my father would not tolerate in me and my siblings).
In the West Indian culture, men do not often show signs of outward affection especially to their sons. I found this very difficult to comprehend as I always got a heavy dose of discipline, but little in terms of love and outward affection. It was not until I got older and a little wiser did I begin to think about my father's life, how he was raised, and what he encountered making him who he was. I never attempted to walk in my father's shoes to try and understand how growing up poor in the Jamaican countryside in the 1930's or being an uneducated Jamaican immigrant and trying to make a name for himself in a hostile 1960's America shaped his worldview. I can only now imagine what courage, determination, and sheer will it took to for him to not only survive but thrive as he started and ran his own real estate office in East New York, Brooklyn in the 1990s.
Well, today, a week after Father's Day, my father has passed on. I am sad as expected, but overwhelming appreciative of having been his son. It's only been an hour, and I must say I miss him already, as I am only really beginning to understand the important role he has played in my life and that of everyone I encounter. I am only now grasping his struggle. I am only now understanding his unique way of showing affection.
I know that you cared dad and expressed it in the only ways that you knew how (discipline, respect, and those pesky high expectations). At least you were alive long enough to see that your time was not wasted and that these attributes serve as the foundation of my being and are being transferred to my children as they grow, but with a touch of outward affection of course.
As you go on to your final resting place, I would like you to know that I appreciate all that you have done for me and continue to do for me. I love you and miss you dad.
Dr. Mario Oneil Barrett, Ph.D.