Like many black men, I grew up without my father in the home. I never resented him, or questioned why he was absent from my life. It was a fact of life and I accepted it as such.
My mother supplied several dozen reasons (daily it seems) as to why they had divorced. I loved my mother. But although she was endearing, she was a difficult character tat times. So as a kid I packed a sandwich bag many a day and headed for the railroad. I was going to get away from that woman and live a hobo’s life. From the way she blistered my ears blasting me verbally, I think I understand one the reasons Dad headed for the hills.
Was that the real justification? Some things provide their own rationale, so in the end, it doesn’t matter. I had strong men in life to help through hurdles and pitfalls. If I have any worth as a man today, it is because of the men God placed in my life.
My older brother Sammie was a constant morale force. Even while we were kids, he taught me to be respectful of women. Sammie was wise and cool. When I had my first foray into interracial dating (a beautiful red-haired Irish-American girl) and it went sour, Sammie helped me to deal with the pain of rejection. You see, my would-be girlfriend’s father was a Boston cop; as were two of her older brothers. I was unceremoniously shown the door.
Sammie had a lot of Italian-American friends and one was a ‘made man.’ He didn’t shoot me when I met his niece and my heart raced. Uncle Vito said, “You boys are part Sicilian.” That only meant he was accepting and knew the young heart. That particular uncle was infamous to law enforcement, but besides protecting us from less understanding folks, he taught me that all things pass away with time. Vito said: “Enjoy life, kid because your tomorrow may not get here.” Vito treated his wife well. I remember him as being a hell of a dresser. Sammie took after him because my brother dressed with style. Here’s the point, Vito was a strong man who showed us how to believe in ourselves. Fathers you see, are mentors and encourage you to excel.
My grandfather, Sherman taught me to appreciate the gift of perseverance. Of course, he was there to straighten me out when I steered off course. I remember a week before his death, Grand-daddy Sherman called us from Augusta. I spoke to him briefly, but Sammie had the phone more than me. I honestly believe that he made Sammie promise to watch out for me and keep my tail out of trouble. Try as I might, my big brother always pulled me out of whatever crap I brought on myself.
My uncles James and Robert (RD) influenced me in much the same was as ‘Uncle Vito’ and my older brother. James taught me martial arts – Robert taught me how to play baseball and football. Everything they knew about both, Sherman taught them.
For the last ten years of his life, Dad and I had a very strong relationship – an unbreakable bond. I loved the man I learned he was. He was a college graduate, served in the Korea War, later was a business man. Dad took me to task about some less a less than appreciate attitude I had about our country. He was a fighter and even killed people in war. He didn’t have regrets about it because he was a product of his father and time – a real man.
Lately, several things happened to me that has proven to be deflating. I remember the most valuable lesson a young man can learn as he grows into adulthood: “Don’t give up – get off the ground. Plant your feet — turn around and kick ass.”
I’m not a young man anymore. It’s time to listen to those voices and act.
All of the men that served as father figures, as a guide, mentors, teachers, and spiritual forces and my birth father have died. I remain to remember: “Live life…avoid trouble…appreciate your gifts… tomorrow is not promised… don’t give up. Plant my feet…”
And I thank them all.
Catch you later,
Bernard A. McNealy, President
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