Recently, I visited one of our job sites to document our progress. In doing so, I observed how one of my partners, Jesse Witherspoon, interacted with his son, Dezmon. I had not seen Dezmon in at least twenty years.
My own father, Pastor Ray as he was known, taught me to always look a man in the eyes and give a firm handshake. This young man looked me in the eyes and greeted me with a firm handshake and a smile. When he spoke, I heard and understood everything that he had to say. I see the same traits in my nephews, Gannon, Del and Eddie. Today, I can not resist finding that very impressive among their generation. I can only attribute these traits, rightly or wrongly, to the men in these young men’s lives.
Pastor Ray, was bigger than life to me. To this day, I still marvel at how he and my mother owned a home, raised five kids and gifted me with a menagerie that he built with his own hands in his “spare time” to house my rabbits and ducks. As the neighborhood zookeeper, my collection also included dogs, turtles, gold fish, parakeets, and an iguana; all of these “creatures” supported on one working man’s income and my little newspaper route.
My parents sent me to St. Emma Military Academy, fifty miles west of Richmond, Virginia, when I was thirteen and my brother, Rick, to Archbishop Carroll High School, here in D.C. I get exhausted just thinking about the responsibility my father, the leader of our household, had to bear on a daily bases. And yet, he always had a smile and a positive word to say to everyone.
During the last thirty years of his life and being visually blind, Pastor Ray led Guiding Star, a small Baptist church in Brookland, Washington, DC. He married all of my family and friends and buried some of them. Toward the end of his life, riddled with pain from cancer, I asked my father how did he do all that he did for us? And during one of his last hospital stay, where did he draw the strength to minister to his hospital roommate, late at night in his last hour, knowing that his time was near too? My father simply looked to the heavens.
I can remember during my rebellious phase, declaring that I did not understand my father and that I did not want to act like him. You can imagine how startled I was when some years later my niece stated, “Uncle Mike, you act just like Granddad!” Well, today I can say that I accept my niece’s assessment as a compliment. When I talk to folks, sometimes I can hear my father’s voice speaking through me when working with a cantankerous situation; I try to look at the big picture by considering all the personalities involved and the impact that my decision may have on everyone. I always attempt to leave a negative situation on an upbeat note with a smile and a firm handshake: classic Pastor Ray!
Please, don’t misunderstand me. I am no where near the man father was, but I feel his spirit living within me. So, on Father’s Day 2011, I salute Jesse Witherspoon and the many fathers like him for instilling young men like Dezmon with the simple, but foretelling attribute to look another person in the eyes with a smile and to extend a firm handshake in greeting. I think that this gesture speaks volumes of the father/son relationship.
Happy Father’s Day, to all the men and women who had a positive impact on some young person's life!