My father’s funeral was hard. It wasn’t because he’d died. It was because I had to endure sixty minutes’ worth of stories that didn’t resemble my own sporadic, dysfunctional experience with him.
I sat there. My youngest daughter draped in a black kimono to my right. My husband dressed in a black suit to my left. My oldest daughter donning a black dress to his left several inches away at the other end of the pew. My stepmother and her daughters sat across the aisle, on the first right pew, catacorner from us. My dad lie in state in front of everyone, his body shriveled from his final days of self-starvation. He wore blue. Later, he would be cremated.
His best friend, Michael had driven one hundred miles from Columbus to Atlanta. We’d talked earlier in the week and he’d already agreed to speak at the ceremony because as he put it, “They don’t know.” I didn’t know who “they” were and what “they” didn’t know, but it seemed that any best friend ought to have insight if his buddy died. I eagerly awaited his stories.
Michael began with his adoration of Daddy. Dudes looked up to him, Michael included. They all grew up in Cabrini Green, one of Chicago’s most famous projects. You know, from Good Times? Friends imitated Daddy’s walk, his talk and his motivation. Daddy had tried out for the Chicago Bears because he showed impeccable athletic skills. As the story is told, not many African Americans made it during that decade.
Michael was right. I didn’t know. I was a part of “they.”
“Tony didn’t curse. We didn’t curse,” Michael continued. And here’s where a lone tear stopped on top of my right cheek and rested there.
Perhaps Daddy didn’t curse in 1962. But by 1989? He did.
He cussed when he told me to “stop acting like such a bitch” to the girlfriend he’d started dating one short week after my mother’s burial. And as much time and space had passed between my sixteen year-old and 42 year-old self, I will never forget how confused and alone it felt to hear him utter those words.
Next up was my stepsister. She praised Daddy’s commitment to her and her two sisters.
“Dad was always giving us advice and,” she could barely get the words out without swallowing and choking on yesterday’s memories, “he was just such a good dad to me and my sisters, and we’re just gonna miss him.”
By this time, my tear ducts were dry.
Daddy was a great father figure and dad to her and her sisters. This was a fact. While he was being super-dad to them, he’d dropped his obligation towards me. That also was a fact. We were all adults when he and my stepmother married. I in my 20s and they in their 30s. But nothing was ever healed between us before he re-married and desired us to be one big happy, blended family. Pain lingered from the time he’d given up his parental rights. Its thick cloud followed me for two decades. And even though I’d semi-healed the situation, a knot of remembrance tightened as I sat and listened to how wonderfully he loved them. It hurt.
I want to tell you about everyone else’s words. But I can’t. I shifted to survival mode. Dwight’s fingers made small circles at the top of my back. My cousins spoke. I wanted to say something, but appropriate words wouldn’t surface. Folks didn’t have time for me to outline our relationship. It seemed useless to say that we’d re-connected the past three years, but only due to his throat cancer. Silence was best.
Someone sang “Goin’ up Yonder” strong enough to elicit a wail from my stepmother and cue gentle hugs from her daughters. My own emotions were wrapped up in that knot and buried at the pit of my stomach. The preacher didn’t know Daddy. They’d just moved to Atlanta a month prior. His demonstrative stance held little meaning. I’d bet money he’d given a similar eulogy at the previous homegoing from where he’d rushed in.
Eventually, it all ended. Everything. The knot began to loosen. My father’s funeral was the grand finale concluding our rollercoaster relationship. All of the memories, good or bad, sealed in the navy blue casket, later to be incinerated. Purged. The energy surrounding our relationship would no longer control me. It really was over this time.