Remembering My Dad This Father’s Day

Remembering My Dad This Father’s Day

By Michael P Coleman

THE HUB’S conversation with Stephanie Walton about her trailblazing father made me reflect on my own dad,  Unlike Dr. Walton, Charles Franklin Coleman didn’t graduate from medical school, but he was much wiser than I gave him credit for while he was alive.  He offered universal, sage advice that I draw on to this day.  And with all of the differences he and I had, he was the unheralded glue that held our family together. 

My relationship with Dad was, as they say on popular online dating sites, complicated.  My older brother walked on water in Dad’s eyes.  And my younger sisters didn’t have Y chromosomes, so they were very highly esteemed.

But me and Dad?  That was one rocky road.  While I was growing up, I couldn’t get through a week without hearing the words “THAT boy is never going to amount to shit!”  Dad was a man of very few, sometimes profane words with me, but I felt every word he said.  I learned early on that, if I didn’t, I felt the extension cord on my behind that followed. 

Yes, Dad was “old school,” having been born in 1937 in rural Mississippi and attended a challenged, segregated public school system.  The day after he graduated from high school, he packed his belongings into two large brown paper sacks and walked over 20 miles to the bus stop to buy a one-way ticket out of the Jim Crow south.  After a quick sojourn in St. Louis, Dad settled in Detroit, started working in manufacturing, and started a family with my mother.

How’d that story turn out?  That Mississippi kid who had barely graduated from high school helped raise four high school valedictorians, three college grads, an engineer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer (just wait!), and one kid with a Master’s degree (so far).  His four grandchildren are on the way to continuing that tradition. 

And Dad’s pearls of wisdom?  He had many!  But perhaps the most memorable was the advice he gave me as I was uncharacteristically drinking at my parents’ house one day.  Neither of my folks knew that I was thinking of separating from my wife of over a decade, and I was struggling with the decision. 

“Son, I don’t know what you’re going through, but whatever it is, trying to drink your way through the problem isn’t going to work,” Dad said, with his trademark piercing gaze and while smoking that omnipresent cigarette.  “If you try to do that, you’ll wake up tomorrow morning, sober up, and the problem will still be there, lying on the pillow next to you and staring you in the face.  Solve the problem first.  Then, if you want, pour a drink to celebrate.”  

Dad’s advice was all the more poignant, coming from a longtime alcoholic who had been staring the same person…er, problem…in the face for almost 40 years at that point.   If anyone knew about trying to drink through a problem, it was my father.  But his advice probably kept me from going down the same road.  I put my drink down right then.  And to this day, I never drink when I’m feeling stressed or challenged. 

As we celebrate Father’s Day each year, I struggle as I didn’t have the type of flawless father who’s described in Hallmark cards or depicted on episodes of The Cosby Show.  But Dad loved me, in his own way, and I took the things he did right and used them as the foundation for the fatherhood template that I employed with my own two daughters. 

Dad’s been gone for over 15 years now, having finally lost the battle against his lifestyle.  36 hours before he died, he and I had a powerful conversation about being your own man, and I carry that advice with me, as well.  I miss him every day, and I thank him often…both for the things he screwed up and the things he did right.  Dad did the best he could, and gave all that he had to give. And that, my friend, is all any of us can do. 

Happy Father’s Day.

 Connect with Sacramento-based freelancer Michael P Coleman at michaelpcoleman.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP.