The Well Magazine Summer 2012 - Page 26

CONTINUED FROM PAGE 7 FREEDOM IN FORGIVENESS have happened to me if my troubled father, so vexed by all of the demons that plagued not only him but also possessed his family, had been in my life. I knew how my life without him had turned out. And while less than perfect, I was not an alcoholic. I had a steady and respectable job. I had managed to go back to college and earn my degrees despite my hardship. I believed in family and loved my children, who would never know the pain of not knowing their father’s love or suffer the image of me to be reduced to a foggy memory. ll that time I had thought myself deprived by not having known my natural father. But sitting there in the living room where his mother’s only picture of him hung in an oval frame, for the first time in my life I understood that I was better for having not known him. I actually thanked God for not having known the man and for having given me the good sense to latch onto the best that was in the men who were in my life. I was the sum total of them all. From my grandfather, I took his love for God and family and his stewardship. From Uncle Gene, I took his humor and oomph for masculinity and manhood. From my stepfather, I took his kindness toward children, his love of the blues and knack for do-it-yourself fix-up jobs. From Mr. Adams, I took his zest for education and the belief that it had the power to change my life, his perseverance and indomitable back-thefreak-up presence as a black male. From some men who crossed my path, I took the fire that for me symbolizes black manhood. And from others, the gentle hand, tenderheartedness, and righteousness that is our eternal flame. From my father, even in his absence, or perhaps because of it, what I took was the memory of a father walking hand in hand with a son, the smell of cinnamon gum, and a pact that I made with myself to be a better man than he was. In letting go of my anger as I sat talking with my father’s mother, as it seeped from my pores like sweat and spilled from my heart and soul, I was also filled with sympathy and sorrow for my father, whom I was beginning to see as a troubled boy who grew up to be a troubled man whose troubles eventually swallowed him up whole. efore we left Evergreen that next morning, there was one last stop to make on my journey. I needed to go by Long Corner Cemetery to see where my father was buried. Mrs. Jackson said that one of her sons would need to take me by the cemetery, not far from her house. It wasn’t the cemetery that she feared I would have trouble finding but rather my faThe Well Magazine / Summer 2012 26 A ther’s grave, which was not marked with a headstone. At the cemetery, my father’s younger brother, Billy, led me to the gravesite and after a while, narrowed my father’s resting place to one of several nameless white slates covered by weeds and grass. “I think it’s this one,” he said, looking puzzled. “But I can’t say for sure.” John W. Fountain is the founder and I stood above the grave, president of WestSide Press Books, a teary-eyed. Then I squatted. professor of journalism at Roosevelt University in Chicago and an awardBilly and my wife and son walked away so that I could winning columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times. make my peace. I had not been able to cry at his funeral. But sixteen years later, the tears began to pour. They flowed freely as I began to have that long overdue conversation that I had always dreamed of having with my father. Much of what I said at the gravesite that day remains a blur, though I do recall telling him who I was, telling him about the man I had become. It was only those words that I found most liberating that I clearly remember saying: “