On Sunday, June 17, Father’s Day will be celebrated near and far when children (from infants to adults) spend time with their fathers and father figures in many cases bearing carefully chosen gifts. Some will spend time remembering those men who have transitioned, who fathered them or represented a father figure in their lives.
Over the past three months, my siblings and I have been spending many hours at our father’s bedside reminiscing with him. My father suffered a stroke, which left him incapacitated for weeks. He has shown vast improvement since March 19 when he was rushed to hospital. Thankfully, he is regaining his speech and mobility. It was very distressing watching this man, my father (Papa), who was always energetic, walking with that military strut that came from spending decades as a police officer, suddenly unable to even move his legs much less stand on them. We could not have a conversation with him because he could not communicate verbally. His bright intelligent eyes would brim with enthusiasm as he tried to communicate but the words would not emerge when he opened his mouth. After a while, it became very frustrating for him and those with whom he tried to communicate.
Two of my sisters visited every day ensuring that he was kept clean, fed and comfortable. My two sisters are absolutely amazing women because of the dedication they showed visiting every day and the progress my father has made is definitely due in part to them. Other family members, including myself, would visit three or four times a week so there were always visitors at my father’s bedside to cheer him up.
We kept his memories alive because it seemed the stroke had robbed him of some of his memories. We reminded him of stories he had told us of his childhood and youth. We would sing his favourite songs while he tried valiantly to join in sometimes with very entertaining results. His expressive eyes would light up, that unforgettable, uproarious, infectious laugh of his would just bubble up and out enchanting all within hearing. Always the ladies’ man, he is a favourite with the nurses who drop by to chat and joke with him.
Some of our memories are funny yet some are sad including remembering my mother who transitioned in June 1975. She and my father had been married since she was in her late teens and he in his early 20s and they were fortunate enough to celebrate 25 years together. He still misses her and tears would appear in his eyes when she is mentioned.
It has sometimes been surprising the differing memories we have of living with our parents even though we all lived in the same family. However, some memories we all share. All my father’s children can attest to the fact that he was extremely strict and even over protective of his “girl children”. As a police officer who was often confronted with the seamier side of life, my father seemed to think we should be wrapped in a bubble for protection. It was very frustrating to think we were being limited and prevented from enjoying the freedom we witnessed other young women enjoying but I have come to realize that my father was a product of his time, his culture and his upbringing.
One of my earliest and fondest memories of my father comes from when I was six years old and attended Kitty Methodist School. We had moved from Stanleytown in Berbice because my father was stationed at Eve Leary (police headquarters in Georgetown) and we lived on William Street, next to the school. There had been a massive amount of rain that day and not surprisingly the schoolyard was flooded (Guyana’s coastland is 2.4 metres below sea level.)
My mother was at home with my three younger siblings and could not leave home to rescue me although I could see her anxiously looking over at the school. Then my father came home from work, came striding over to the school, lifted me up onto his shoulders while several other children looked on enviously (they did not have tall fathers!) and took me home. This memory always makes me think of Folami Abiade’s poem “In Daddy’s arms I am tall” from the book In Daddy’s Arms I am Tall: African Americans Celebrating Fathers, published in 1997.
As a small child I thought my father was the best artist, the best singer, the most handsome man in the world. When I was older I realized that although he had a great voice, my father never knew the words of any song and was always ad-libbing but I loved him anyway even though I would be embarrassed if other people were listening. I still think that my father is way better looking than Sidney Poitier who was considered the epitome of handsome African-American men (that was before the arrival of Denzel Washington). When Poitier appeared in the movie To Sir with Love and there were comments about his good looks I would let people know that my Papa was better looking. I think I should have had a t-shirt that read: “If you think Sidney Poitier is handsome you should see my Papa” but, alas, nobody in Guyana wore such t-shirts at that time.
One of my other wonderful memories comes from when I attended secondary school in Lethem, Rupununi in Guyana’s interior many decades ago. I was assigned the exciting project of researching and writing about a prominent family in the area. This family, who traced its roots (maternal) to the indigenous people (Wapishana) of the area as well as (paternal) all the way back to Scotland meandering through Jamaica before arriving in Guyana in the late 1800s, had members spread across the Rupununi savannah land.
The descendants of this man from Scotland and the two Wapishana sisters with whom he sired a total of 10 children were spread across the Rupununi, all of them owning ranches, countless cattle and thousands of acres of land. It was fascinating material for a child who loved history – mine and anybody else’s. To access the information I needed for my project, I had to travel miles across the Rupununi to speak with the children and grandchildren of the man who began what seemed like an empire. There was no library with research done and books written about this fascinating and seemingly avaricious and cunning man and his family but it was an exciting project that I was determined to complete.
My amazingly accommodating father would come home from patrolling miles across the Rupununi savannah sometimes spending days on horseback. He would then take me (we travelled countless miles by Land Rover) to the various ranches where the children (all of them older than my father by then) of the Scottish/Wapishana liaison lived. The next generation of that family by then counted other Europeans who had married into the family. My father would proudly introduce me to the surviving children and, in many cases, adult grandchildren of the family and explain why I was there. I interviewed the people, learned much about them and their ancestors, toured the ranch houses and wrote an excellent report (it was a few decades ago but I am sure it was excellent for a 14-year-old).
Papa is making progress with therapy and his speech and mobility have improved but his children never imagined when we were all visiting Guyana in December 2011 and January 2012 that on Father’s Day 2012, we would be visiting our father in hospital. Life is fragile and fleeting so make sure to call if you cannot visit your father (although this should not happen only once a year) on Father’s Day.