Driving in my car one day this week, I found myself flipping stations.
This is a usual occurrence for me. Driving in southern California can get so
tedious, with its long stretches of freeways. I found myself locked in on
94.7, the WAVE the elevator Jazzy music station. I caught Dave Koz, who is one
of the morning drive DJ’s on the station discussing an upcoming song. Playing
it for the first time, it is the first released single on the new Luther
Vandross CD, due out in a few weeks. For those of you who aren’t hip to
Luther, he has one of the most beautiful voices in R&B. His career, which has
spanned a couple of decades, produced such memorable hits as "Here and Now",
"If Only for One Night", and a soulful cover of "A House is not a Home".
Speculations about his sex life (he prefers men to women) and continuous
discussions about his weight (yo-yoing from 160 – 250 and back to 160 pounds)
have kept him in the gossip columns throughout his career. His recent stroke
brought him from the idle gossip pages to the prayers of many. His new song
has somehow taken on a different meaning as he lay in a hospital bed,
uncertain whether he’ll make it.
The song is called, "I danced with my father, again". A tribute to his
recently deceased father, a man he clearly admired and loved. The words and
music filled my car, while emotions flooded my soul. In his song, Luther
describes an enviable childhood; one filled with love, patience, teaching and
learning. He illustrates a relationship between father and son we often hear
about, but seldom see. At least not in my world. What big shoes to fill for
Luther as he sees for the first time his mother unable to provide all the
answers. The song ends with Luther wanting his father back not to fill his own
void, but for his mother, "if only she could dance with my father again". He
I thought of my own father and the loss I have been feeling the past year.
He died a year ago, tomorrow. I thought of how we were able to work out our
differences within weeks of his dying. As I wrote in my three Sunday Travel
Pieces prior to his death, it’s not how I would have liked it, and likely not
how he’d have preferred it, but it’s the way it was. Unlike Luther’s father
(or at least the image he has presented to us), my father was not many of the
wonderful things Luther described his father to be in that song. He was
impatient, stubborn, had many unresolved issues of his own. And yet, I am
truly sorry my father is gone. I suspect if there had been more time, or in
the time of his dying he were somehow given a second chance, I wonder whether
we’d have been able to move past our differences and start anew. I think we
A year later, I can’t tell you that I know exactly what I am feeling. Here
I sit, now having lost both my parents. I feel a lot of things. My mother
would have been 70 years old in April. August will be nine years since she
passed on. I know one thing is for certain. And now more than ever, I yearn
for my mommy. Today, I am many things; a confident Black woman, a wife, a
sister, an in-law, an aunt, a best friend, a "big sister" and mentor, a niece,
a cousin, a business owner, and now, an orphan. There is a hole in my heart
that will probably never be filled. I feel an emptiness that few my age
understand. I have wished I could discuss this with the family my father left
behind, they should understand right?
I remember when I was writing a tribute for my mother that I read at her
memorial service. Many came to honor this woman, known simply as Emily. You
had to know her to understand that statement. Friends, family, clergy, former
college buddies and former colleagues came to pay respects to her. My mother
was an incredible woman. I wrote her a nine page letter which allowed me to
open up for the first time in public about my pain, my joy, my hopes both
realized and unrealized. I wrote, "My family is like the Elusion Islands, same
name, but no connection". Little has changed in the nearly eight years since I
wrote that. The most awful thing about loss is the postponement of grief due
to wreckage left behind. I would like to tell you that I have resolved all my
issues surrounding his death, or hers for the matter. Indeed I miss him, and
wish we could communicate. I miss both my parents. In my father’s case, we’d
begun to really open up to one another, and clearly it took his dying to
facilitate this. However, many of my feelings of wishing he were alive are
more about being selfish. Yes I wish we could have worked on our issues while
he was still healthy, and also, I wish death didn’t have to be so complicated.
But the thing he left behind in his legacy is a disjointed family. So when
people ask how my year has been since his death. I am not sure what to say.
Painful may be an understated way of describing this past year. Have I
resolved anything? I know that I am no better at communicating with one of my
three brothers and there is an estate that remains unsettled because of it. I
do know that my favorite brother had a baby only three months after my father
died. She is truly amazing and a smile crosses my face to talk to her and
about her. I can say that this brother knows real joy and happiness because of
I can say with honesty that if I didn’t have a strong, healthy and loving
marriage, I think this year might have been unbearable. Paul keeps me
grounded. Though he doesn’t always understand (not knowing about dysfunction
in his family), and sometimes unable to take that leap of faith, he loves and
supports me. I am a truly fortunate woman.
And so this song seems to have a double meaning for me. I long for the
father I wished I had, and yet I truly do miss the one he’d started to become.
I also wish things didn’t have to be so complicated. I wonder if I could go
back to a time when my most complicated relationship was with my Barbie Dolls.
Resolutions were as simple as making up a new game.
Thank you for allowing me to speak openly.