Before he left this earth, my father taught me how to give and how to receive love. And he did so selflessly. For this Father’s Day, I want to pay tribute not only to my Daddy but all the other Black daddies who are breaking their backs to give their daughters the love and the presence they so desperately need.
I was 15 years old when my mother passed away from colon cancer. I remember my father telling me that I had to tell her that it was okay to stop fighting. Selfishly, I begged and pleaded to not give my mother my blessing. I didn’t want her to release herself from the five-year-long battle she fought with cancer. I couldn’t imagine life without her. Yet, he insisted that if I loved her, I had to be selfless enough to let her go.
This would be one of many lessons my father taught me about love, sacrifice, and selflessness. From that moment forward it was just me and my dad — thick as thieves, ride or die, besties. So, when he suddenly died of a heart attack early one Sunday morning in December 2011, my world came crashing around me. Who would now be my teacher in lessons of transparent and unrelenting love?
It was true then and it’s still true now: Black daughters need their fathers.
When my father passed away — almost 15 years after my mother to the date — I was older and better able to process the grave feeling of loss that I felt. But are we ever prepared to say goodbye to the people who gave us life? Sometimes, when I think of his passing, I relive the grief as though I’m slowly walking into urgent care all over again, with wobbly legs and heavy steps, unaware of what tragedy lies ahead. More than a decade later, I can still literally feel my heartbreak. And I’m one of the lucky ones.
I can’t imagine the pain he went through at the loss of his wife, but he showed up for me and raised me through the loss.
When I find myself suffocating in heartache, I have a catalog of memories and lessons from my father to pull from not only in what he said but in how he lived his life. Things that I would sometimes roll my eyes at as a teenager, like finishing whatever I start, saving my money and the importance of financial literacy, the value in keeping my word, and how precious time is.
But the largest lesson is one I replay constantly in my mind. It happened that day in the hospital when he insisted that I let go of my mother so she could finally be at peace. At that difficult moment, I realized that I had to love her enough to want her to not be in pain at my expense. My mother had sacrificed for me and it was time for me to do the same. I can’t imagine the pain he went through at the loss of his wife, but he showed up for me and raised me through the loss.
My dad was a little and big things type of man. When she was alive, I watched as he showered my mother with the little things: Chasing her around the house with his camera, capturing candid moments of her with a scarf on her head while she acted like he was working her nerves; driving from Los Angeles to Tijuana, an almost three-hour drive, just to get her authentic Mexican food at a moment’s notice.
But then there were the big things. I remember when my mother was first diagnosed. It was as if my father’s life stopped and everything revolved around caring for her. Even when she was capable of taking care of herself, he was fully committed to doing everything in his power to lighten her load and to make things easier for her. Cleaning, shopping, cooking, taking me to school. You name it. He did it. I watched as he stood by her side, hand in hand, day by day, night after night. All while watching both chemotherapy and cancer itself ravish her body and leave her almost a shell of who she used to be. Even after she transitioned he was relentlessly committed to her. So much so that he couldn’t bring himself to remarry after her passing.
When I find myself suffocating in heartache, I have a catalog of memories and lessons from my father…
His love didn’t announce itself when it entered the room. It was a quiet type of love, but it knew no bounds for me and my mother. Through my teenage rebellion, poor haphazard decisions, and overall young people foolery — he was there. Maybe with a side-eye, a smart comment, and every now and then an “I told you so.” But he never gave up on me. I didn’t realize the privilege of having that kind of love until it was gone.
My father worked his fingers to the bone as a finance manager at a car dealership. Sometimes working six days a week, 12 hours a day, so that I would not want for anything. He sacrificed his happiness, rest, and peace of mind a million times over so that I could pursue my education and live more comfortably. My father was the first man I ever loved and the first man to ever buy me a Valentine’s Day gift. That exchange became one of our annual traditions.
He fiercely watched over me and my mother and in so doing showed me I deserved no less than fully committed, transparent, and transformational love. And I believed him. I grew up knowing that with love, no matter the outcome — you leave better than you came. It seemed based on Ecclesiastes: Love that is steadfast and enduring, loyal and honest, sacrificial and selfless. Love that makes mistakes but also forgives with an open and venerable heart. When my husband and I were dating, and he would show his behind — still does — I used to always tell him snidely that I know how a man should treat a woman because my daddy showed me.
And I am not alone. Lots of girls have Black daddies who showed them and showered them with love. Fathers who make countless sacrifices so that their baby girls can have a better life than what they had. Black daddies who have earnestly and lovingly filled the fatherly shoes for daughters who might not be biologically theirs. Dads who have even learned how to do their daughter’s hair — laid edges and all. We have to remember all the great Black dads out there and not allow a White supremacist society to tell us lies about Black fathers being absent, detached, or uncaring.
My father taught me how to love myself. And, that I am worthy of a love supreme — one of my father’s favorite John Coltrane albums. In learning how I should be loved, how to receive love, and how to give love I was able to recognize my true love — my husband. So yes, my father taught me priceless lessons that I will forever carry with me, but two of the greatest gifts that he gave me was himself and the ability to be vulnerable enough to be loved by another man. Happy Father’s Day, Daddy. I love you always.