Lessons From My Father/Sam Cooke Archive

by pronounced "ahhh" like a sigh

I wrote this piece a few years ago but it perfectly encapsulates what my father means to me and the kind of man he is. He is the reason for everything. I’m daddy’s girl to the core and he’s been nothing but extraordinary. I love watching him with E. Those two, inseparable.  My father taught me about sacrifice. About doing what’s right even if it’s not easy. About making sure the people you love can see that you love them. My father is a man of few words, though I’m just discovering what a beautiful writer he is, he was never easy with I love yous. Matter of fact, I can’t recall ever hearing it but I knew he did. Knew by the way he moved. The way he cared for his family. The way a smile spreads across his face when all of his children are home. All my life, I’ve only wanted to make him proud. To let him know that all that he sacrificed. The multiple jobs he held while in school, the moves he didn’t make, staying in this country when he longed to return to his village… I want him to know that it was worth it. That every thing he gave up so that he could give us was worth it. I’m still working on that thing that will make him proud and sigh easy. I know he worries about me. About how I’m going to take care of myself. About this “writing” life he doesn’t understand as a real job. He wants  security and insurance and steady paycheck. He wants someone to take care of me like he has my whole life. What he doesn’t know is that because of how he took care of me, my entire life, I’ve learned how to take care of myself. Learned to accept nothing less than the best of people. I have my father’s heart, his desire to only see the best and brightest in every dull and ordinary thing. My father believes with all his heart that the world is basically good; that people are basically good. It’s where I learned it. What I try to put it into motion. And what I also learned from, Daddy, is that when I slip and fall, to get up, Nyono, fix what you broke. Mend what you can. And if you can’t fix it, then forgive yourself and move on. He also taught me about laughter. About joy. About finding the love and humor in everything you do. I got my sense of humor from him. I got my sense of justice from him. I got my heart from him. I got this learn to love even the most jagged and broken bits of people… from him.

Despite what the world offers and threatens to take from me, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

I learned this from my father. The greatest man I have ever known.

I love you, Daddy! Happy Father’s Day. Thank you for everything.

Love,

Nyono

PS. I’m the baby he’s holding.

***

9/3/08

When I was a kid there were two men that came closest to rivaling my father in greatness. Malcolm X was one, the other was Sam Cooke. It’s a credit to my father, that he introduced me to them both. My early memories of life and Stillwater and struggle and my daddy are all played with a Sam Cooke soundtrack. To the point, that for the longest time, I thought all the Marvin Gaye songs I liked were by Sam. I was confused when Marvin was killed when the songs they attributed to him, had Sam’s face in my mind. Was even more broken when I learned at age 8, that I could never meet Sam. That he had been killed years before I was born. It was the same year I discovered that Little Michael Jackson from the Jackson 5 and Big Michael Jackson from Thriller were the same person (and both now too old to wait for me). It was also the year I discovered that the Huxtables weren’t really married and the “twins” from Parent Trap were one person playing dual roles. The 3rd grade pretty much sucked.

But I still had Sam. And stillwater. Late nights,  waiting for him to come home from school. or one of his jobs. Me in my room. new sister sound asleep in a crib. in a room that used to be just mine. I used to lie in my bed, underneath the covers with a flashlight. reading. waiting. Radio turned to the only ‘oldie’s station. music a low hum in the background.
My father usually came home around midnight. Right when the dj played his favorites. I could hear the key turn in the door. open. My father would walk in slowly. quietly. tired. Hang his coat. Then, I imagine he would blink in the dark. Wait for his eyes to adjust, rub his face. Sigh. I heard him walk down the hall into the bedroom he shared with my mother. He’d emerge a few minutes later. Now in his faded yellow pajamas. His footsteps lighter. He would head for the kitchen. My mother always kept food for him warm and waiting in the oven. I remember the soft crinkle of the foil. The clatter of the plate on the table.  The knocking wooosh of the chair. My dad would turn on the stereo in the living room. I remember that wood paneled monstrosity. Legs metal and nearly as tall as me.  8 track. record player. radio. could imagine my father’s face. brown. soft. eyes partially closed. squinting in the dark and searching.  I loved to hear him spin the dial looking for his station. Loved the gibberish of voices being found and then lost. I knew he would find it. The same station I was listening to. The same dj’s voice, I held buried beneath Wonder Woman blanket and 8 year old waiting.

That’s how I found Sam. His voice cool, comforting, water. There protecting my daddy and me. Soothing my worry. Soothing his weary. “if you ever/ change your mind/ about leaving, leaving me behind/ bring it to me/ bring your sweet loving/ bring it on home to me/yeah.. yeah…” i remember my father’s voice in barely whisper, reaching over Sam’s strong. “yeah… yeah… hmmm hmmmm hmmm”. My dad would fall into a hum, acquiescing to his inability to remember the words to any song. But I understood what the murmers held.  It was Sam cooke that liftedmy father out of the days bent over textbooks; his nights spent cleaning America’s excess from dirty, sticky theatre floors. My father longed for his village but it was Sam that brought him home. Allowed him to sit taller, walk harder, work longer.  Allowed him a steady and clear path back to his baby girls. The eldest of which, often worried that maybe this would be the night that daddy didn’t return, so she fought sleep from the base of her throat. She just wanted to listen with her father.  To create the stories he never shared; to know the past that kept him sometimes home with her, other times coated his homesick and longing for the home of his youth.
At night we both shared restlessness, both listened, both sang underneath our breaths. We both waited until the song drifted into it’s final moments.
I remember sliding into sleep as the DJ’s voice broke through songs drifting final moments, “that was Mr. Sam Cooke.”

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

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