I used to think that when my dad died, I would die. There was just something underneath it all between us. I used to hear him in my inner ear from time to time – while he was still alive. He was an artist, a very sensitive man. But he died and I didn’t die – I became more in touch with the beauty of existence, I think partly because I know that was his legacy for me – to live. I’ve only gone to see his urn twice because he isn’t there – he’s every where, and he’s not really dead. I wish I could post this really cool picture of him from the early seventies. He’s at a party sitting between two seventies-looking women with long hair parted down the center. He wore jeans and he leaned back with his legs crossed — I imagine they might have passed a joint around at some point. He’s got his head thrown back in laughter. He’s wearing a beard and slightly messy afro. He looked like a rock star.
In 2003, he had an arrhythmia and had passed out before they found him. While he was in a coma a lot of people from disparate ends came together in the hospital, friends, family, students – my mother from whom he was divorced and stepmother were in the same room – even my mother’s sisters were there.
He was a strong influence on me. At one time I believe I tried to emulate him. I begged him to let me wear his dungaree jacket that he had embroidered for himself in the early seventies and this African beanie hat that one of his clients had made for him. I was “Little Joe.”
My father meant to stay with the family until the bitter end but a divorce initiated by my mother was really warranted. They were just 18 and 22 when they married and though my home life was not tumultuous, they weren’t compatible. They gave me a brilliant childhood, however. They were married twenty years. It was hard for him in the beginning – he felt everyone had turned against him and that he had failed. He took me to the circus (I was 20 years old) after the divorce – it was melancholy and reminded me of the circus part of Peggy Lee’s song “Is That All There Is.”
He insisted on being in my baby sister’s life and there was no fight from my mom about this. My dad took her every summer and on weekends and eventually she went to live with him and his second wife. My parents were civilized about their separation. My father would precede a minor complaint about my mother with “I hate to talk about her but…” And if I said anything negative about my mother he said, “Now don’t talk about her like that.” But my father wasn’t perfect – God knows that! When I look back I realize that both my parents were adolescents who were growing up with us, and I got some of the best ass-whippings this side of the city!
As an adult on my day off, I called my dad and said, “Let’s go to the beach.” He came and got me. He fished and I sun bathed in the sand yards away. I’d crane my head up to see him in the water up to his thighs, sunglasses on, fishing pole out. At the end of the day, he gutted fish for me to cook. It was one of the best days of my life. When I was in elementary school a little girl yelled at me, “You think you’re father’s Superman!” Well he wasn’t, but I feel damn lucky to have had him in my life.