RICHARDSON: A son’s lament

June 15, 2014 

Every Father’s Day I get a little whimsical. I think about my dad -- the father I’ve only seen once since my third-grade year -- and wonder what might have been. I wonder what kind of advice he would have given me through my trials of life. He never realized how much I needed him to show me the way.

Don’t get me wrong, I have very pleasant memories of my father, and some not so pleasant, such as the time he called me out on strikes, something I didn’t know could happen in my version of baseball.

“Hell, I didn’t swing. What do you mean I’m out?” Just for the record, I didn’t say “hell.” I knew better.

I remember my father and me watching “The Twilight Zone.” One episode scared the ... out of me, but it was all right because my father, although sleep and snoring, was there if I needed him.

I thought I was living the perfect life. We had moved from the projects to a house with a backyard just a couple of blocks from where the Watts riots would break out in 1965. Before that momentous event, we were long gone and so was my father.

He left 54 years ago, and there is a huge part of my psyche that still yearns for his approval and another part that wants to kick his sorry ass for leaving me with “That Woman.” I didn’t know it then, but in his leaving me with “That Woman,” he gave me the greatest gift he had to offer.

I know this is Father’s Day, but in my humble abode in various public housing projects across the Los Angeles area, after his departure my mother was my dad. I know this column might have been more appropriate on Mother’s Day, but I did want to give my father his due.

Apparently, from people who know, I’m a chip off my father’s block. They say I look just like that handsome devil, just as my son, Paul, looks like me, sans the dreads and gold teeth. According to my mother, our temperaments are similar. I try to not get too up or too down. However, I know I am capable of going slap-dab crazy. The football field brought that side of me out.

I wanted to see my father run along the sidelines cheering me on. Instead I had my mother worrying about whether I’d get hurt. I needed him in my life. But I was lucky. I had a surrogate father, Arthur Milton. My best friend’s father was there for me as well as his six children. He does not know how pivotal he was to my development as a man.

Too many boys are growing up without fathers. They think it’s normal. Even the sperm donors think it’s normal for them to impregnate and run. They might show up at graduation time if their offspring make it that far. By its very nature, it’s a dysfunctional arrangement that robs children of their possibilities. Children are sucked into a generational vortex they didn’t create. They adopt the lifestyles of those they see, and the dysfunction gets replicated over and over again, leading us to where we are today.

My wish on this Father’s Day is pretty simple, yet so difficult. Fathers need to inject themselves into their children’s lives. Fathers need to man up and kick their selfishness to the curb. Regardless of the circumstances, fathers need to be at PTA meetings and teacher’s conferences. They need to be on the emergency call list. They need to be present, not for the “baby’s mama,” but for the child. It’s never too late.

It doesn’t matter that the father and mother have moved on. That little bundle of joy from that brief encounter still has to be raised. It’s a partnership that never dissolves, or at least it shouldn’t.

If I could wave a magic wand and have my father next to me now, I would welcome him with open arms. I’d like to know what he thought of me. Did he love me? He obviously did because he let “That Woman” raise me, and damn, didn’t she do a good job.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet@crichard1020.

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