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“Daddy”

Volume 8 | Spring 2018

by Thomasi McDonald

Sons want fathers who are heroes:

When my daddy finally come home for good?
When he got discharged from the US Army?
I was seven years old.
My daddy retired, a staff sergeant, having served as much time fighting America’s wars as Nelson Mandela spent in South Africa’s prisons.

My daddy? When he come home for good, opened up his black foot-locker and it filled our house with the smell of Brasso and shiny silver    
     coins           
His big smile shone brighter than the medals and ribbons pinned on his chest.
We laughed, my mother and us, watching my daddy do the Tighten Up in the middle of the 
living room floor.
And we thought we would be so rich forever.

After he helped make the world safe for freedom and democracy, my daddy bought a three-bedroom brick house for his family.
He copped a job sweeping floors and buffing hallways as long as cotton rows at the community college.
We watched him fight private battles with the bottle and in between rows with my mother, he 
     grew the sweetest red peppers and biggest collard plants in town.
He taught me how to mow and rake the lawn, and the meaning of the word “musty.”
Late at night, I would lie in bed enchanted, as he walked to our back door, whistling his blues; a smooth trilling that wafted like mint         
     over the cool night air.
The music of my daddy’s soul is the reason why I love a John Coltrane ballad.
And I would rest secure, a little boy knowing his daddy had come home again.

Sons need fathers who are heroes:

My daddy was born in a place called Wolfpit, N.C. My momma told me, “boy, your daddy used to be the meanest man in town.”
I looked at his name, Charles Everette.
And in my mind’s eye?
He became Ezzard Charles, a smart, cagey swivel-hipped fighter.
A stylish, elegant contender—my daddy, with his thin necktie carelessly knotted, sitting in some segregated bar, drinking bourbon and       
     branch water in a black and white photo my mother never lost.

Grown sons raised by their fathers know about heroes:

Twenty-nine years after my daddy come home for good?
We did not expect him to live past Spring.
I looked at that gray, wizened man.
Already lying as still as death in a hospital bed where so many fathers had died before.
My daddy was a king man, often mistaken for a pawn.
Who built a home and a family with his bare heart.
Who paid a pound in flesh, sweating out many a drunk, sending his children to school and one to Heaven.
My daddy?
I knew he won’t gone go out like that.
When the security guard at the hospital dozed off, my daddy pulled the plug we mistakenly thought was keeping him alive and escaped into    
     the muddy night.
He ran across the street to my sister’s job three hundred yards away.
With syringe needles and IV tubes hanging off of him like shrapnel.
A whirring inside his head, like the noise that decorates search and destroy missions.
This quiet warrior running down the road with his life.
My daddy took on the world again, and won.

Sons never stop looking for their father’s glory:

My daddy lived five more years. One day we were watching a baseball game on TV.
I asked him, “Daddy, didja ever play baseball?”
“Yeah” he slowly answered, and I thought I saw the rare instance of his smile, probably recalling a boyhood moment circling the baseball   
     paths of some cow-patch in Wolfpit, N.C.
But in my mind’s eye?
My daddy was a hard-charging second baseman with the Kansas City Monarchs at the height of the Negro National Leagues, playing with 
     Satchel Paige and Josh Gibson. Living out of a plain, brown clapboard suitcase in second-rate, segregated motels all over the   
     country.

I didn’t talk much with my daddy. 
He didn’t say too much to me either. 
But there were lessons he passed on about the secret lives of black men and the importance of a daddy’s presence in a little boy’s life.
In a cigarettes and bourbon voice he would say in disgust to me, “Damn generic cigarettes burn up before you even light them.”

We would sit and smoke Vintage Second World War Pall Malls
We would drink hot, sweet instant coffee and watch the baseball game on TV with the volume turned up to
Daddy, can you hear me?