Remember that song?
In several posts, I’ve made reference to my “step-father,” the guy that married my mom when I was nine. In reality, I almost never refer to him as my “step-father.” I’ve only done so here to differentiate him from the guy that gave me life and a name. Perhaps I should start referring to my “step-father” as “the guy who chose to become my father.” That, he did.
I‘ve been very blessed, in that I’ve had several fathers. None of them have been perfect. However, none of them have been arbiters of evil either. And the one who has given me the least amount of love is the one who is responsible for me being here. The other two chose me.
I’ve told the story of my origins and my uncle (yes, I’ve linked to it again). What I haven’t told is the story of the man who became my father in the course of time.
A tall, powerfully-built former college athlete—football and basketball—Johnny Ray presents a stark contrast to the athletes of this day: he’s reserved, soft-spoken, even taciturn at times. He’s never boisterous or boastful. However, he can sometimes exhibit an unexpected humor and playfulness, punctuated by an infectious, loud laugh. His specialty is the type of insight that comes unbidden, out of nowhere. The time when I saw the greatest joy on his face? That was when he was holding my oldest nephew—about nine months old at the time, now nearly thirteen years old and nearly six feet in height —in his arms.
Johnny Ray looks much the same as he did thirty or so years ago—except that his hair is now nearly totally gray. (Lucky him, he’s showing no signs of balding at age sixty-two.) I joke that one small patch of gray is me, another small patch is the sister next to me and the rest of it is my (step-)brother and our youngest sister. (Don’t ask.)
When the sister next to me—nine years my junior and Johnny Ray’s biological child—was eighteen, I told her the story about the day Johnny Ray and I met. She was fascinated. Of course, she knew that I was the product of our mother’s first marriage, but it was only an intellectual knowledge. Emotionally, she had always thought of Dad as our same father.
One day, when I was about four or five, my Mom said, “I’m going to take you to meet Johnny.” We went to his apartment and there he was: this towering, dark brown-skinned man. He didn’t make a big deal about me, as some are wont to do with small children. As I recall, he said something like, “hi, nice to meet you,” as if I were thirty. I like that, now as then. By the time a couple of years had rolled around, he was the apple of my eye.
We’ve definitely had our differences over these many years, but he’s nearly always willing to listen, and, nearly always, so am I. He once paid me this compliment: “You’re the only one of my children that ever listens to me.” Me, being the smart-mouth that I am, shot back: “That’s because those other ones are so much like you.” I’m not sure if it hurt his feelings or not, but I didn’t mean it in a bad way. I meant it in the way that when two people are so much alike, they can sometimes not “hear” each other. (Yes, Mom, that’s why it happens.) :-) Dad and I are very different and I think that it facilitates our “hearing” each other. I know it definitely did when I was a teenager. You know, ladies, that time when Mom is the enemy?
Here’s one pertinent fact about my Dad: he is an awesome cook. He has run his own prosperous catering service for some years now, after many years of working for other people. (His specialty is blackened chicken. Yum!)
Now don’t mistake what I’m saying. Mom is also an excellent cook, but her husband is better; more imaginative. And I know that Mom knows this and is comfortable with it. She once said that Dad was a better cook because he enjoys it more than she does. And just to prove that some things are genetic, my brother is a trained and accomplished chef.
Here’s yet another pertinent fact about Johnny Ray: he is a strong, Bible-believing Christian. Oh, he wasn’t always so. As I mentioned to La Shawn in her comments, my immediate family were once members of the Nation of Islam. Yes, really. Things happened, years passed, and my Dad (and Mom) changed. Dad is now an associate pastor at his younger brother’s Methodist church.
When I look at how much my Dad has changed in the last twenty or so years, my own faith is strengthened. He went from being a good man--though one who often did what was right in his own eyes--to being a great one, who presents his decisions to the Father first, before making them.
I know so many people, especially women, who have horribly ugly stories of “step-fathers.” I am sometimes astonished at how greatly I’ve been blessed with “men who have stepped into the breach” that my biological father vacated. If that is what is meant by the prefix “step-,” then Johnny Ray, as well as my Uncle John, certainly fit the bill.
Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you.