I’m a 53 year old man who was blessed to have a father who both tap danced and played piano.We would gather at my Aunt Beulah’s house for the holidays and he and my uncle would play Jazz and they would talk about seeing Jimmy Dorsey’s orchestra as kids. The conversation would always go to how my father won my mother’s hand because he was an amazing dancer. Then the conversation would shift to who in the family was actually the best dancer. My dad and his brothers would put a record on, clear the floor and “trade blows” where one would do a dance step and the other brother would attempt to top it. This would go on for long stretches of time in my Aunt Beulah’s basement as she would entertain us spectators, offering us punch and more dessert. I remember everyone, especially my sister and I, having a blast.
My Father was older when I was born, so when I became a teenager, he and I weren’t as close as I’m sure he wished we were. I was just a kid. All I knew was that I was not interested in hearing how hard his life was because it was always in the context of how ungrateful he thought I was. I was young and rebellious, not realizing what he meant to me at the time and what his absence would mean to me now.
I remember when I was like 6 or 7, sitting in front the television and seeing Sammy Davis Jr. sing his signature song “Mr. Bojangles”. It was a deeply sad song to me as a young kid and it always made me cry then. I wasn’t exactly sure why this song about this old Entertainer at the end of his career made me somber, but I noticed also that my Dad’s mood would change whenever Sammy sang this song on television. I would learn later that my father had given up his dream of becoming an Entertainer in order to take care of his family. I asked him near the end of his life if he had any regrets and he said to me while he had none about his career choice, he wished that he had never stopped playing the piano. In that moment, I realized that my Dad was “Mr. Bojangles”. It was in his blood. He gave up what he loved most in the world in order to take care of us.
My father was the greatest example of not only what a Father was, but what a man was. I HAVE NO EXCUSES. I don’t get to be a bad Dad, nor do I have any legitimate excuse to explain away my shortcomings. I understand that while I can’t be a perfect Father or Man, my responsibility is to strive to be both. My Father, through loving his family and setting an example for me, quite unintentionally set the bar very high and I gladly accept the challenge.
I won’t stop trying to be like you, Pops, because I still want to make you proud. Just continue to watch over your baby boy…and save me a seat.