Holding My Father’s Place (Chapter I)

He left us on October 11, 2017, at 12:20 a.m., as told by the black and white face of the clock on the wall directly across from his bed.

January 1, 2018 marked the first day of the first year since 1945 when my father’s physical strength and his deeply felt presence left those of us loving him still.

Hard-working. Loyal. Funny. Patriotic. Handsome. Proud. Non-judgmental.

My father was a tall, charismatic, powerful Black man, who taught me far more than just how to ride my bike without training wheels and how to protect my thumb when making a solid fist to fight a bully and keep her away. He taught me how important (and how possible) it is to live a just and generous life. It was not a faultless one, because none if us are truly faultless, except as part of the folklore told at the time of their deaths.

He taught me — and is still teaching me — how to recover. How to live my best life.

I want to talk to you about my father — to tell you just a little bit about the way he lived, the many lives he touched, the way he walked through the world. Mostly, I want you to know about his long, purposeful stride and the deliberate choices he made, which rippled outward in ever-widening circles and vibrations, changing the world around him.

The myriad ways in which he made me better.

I want you to come to know his ethos, his loyalty, his gift of gab, how he met no strangers. I will share with you along the way some pieces of his childhood, and I will tell you of his service to a country that did not deserve him.

Over the years, particularly the last decade, he and I had many honest, uncomfortable, and pain-filled talks. Always we would come back together when our wrath had passed, to mend our stretched seams into a fabric even more durable and softer for having been cleaned.

You need to know about the way he shaped two generations of children.

That’s what I want to do, most of all. I want — actually, to heal, I need — to share with you so much of what was so good about my father, as I curate the many floating fragments that thankfully remain.

But I have not been able to do so. Not before now. And not without an important preamble.

The story of my father deserves to be told from a place of remembered pride and joy. I wish to speak about him always and only in a way that carries the fullness and the vibrancy and the shine of my love for him, to do his spirit justice and to find my own peace with his passing.

But I can’t. Not right off the bat.

The story of my father requires a calm voice, full of nothing but reverence for the many quiet, reflective and humbling moments leading to his final reprieve from his pains.

Daily, I think of those hours when we lived mindfully, thankfully, but also warily and on edge, knowing that each conversation, smile, laugh, kind touch or funny remembrance was next to last.

My father deserves these things. We all do.

I will tell you that this man is special. His portrait must be sketched for you carefully, through the prism and the light of pure love, flowing and leaping from the bare heart of this daughter towards the soul of her amazing father.

But to do him this justice, I first must tell you about something that happened just a couple of days before he died. A thing that for all this long time since his passing has left me shattered.

It has taken me this long to repair the compound fracture and to begin to heal. At least enough so that I can begin to paint my father, finally, for you.

Three days before my father died of cancer in hospice in Brooklyn (oh, how hard it was to inscribe here, for the first time, these awful and final words!) he was — as most hospice guests are — physically weak and depleted. True to his enduring spirit, however, he remained ever good-humored. He was able to laugh, to give us his signature, very communicative and telling “looks” out of his large, dark and expressive eyes, especially when making sure my brother or I had completed a task he had specifically assigned to us. And he never ceased to enjoy a joke with us.

His telling facial expressions and his all-seeing eyes, although weary at times, never dimmed. By dint of sheer will he daily rebounded— despite surgery, worrying news, medical poking and prodding, and frequent emergency room admissions at all hours, for almost a year.

And oh, that beloved face! It showed the beautiful patina of age, the burnish of deep water fishing out on the Long Island Sound, and the mischief and humor of years of teasing his high school sweetheart, my mother.

Those days when even though we dreaded what was sure to come, we could still admire and respect the light in his eyes. He returned our gaze directly and without flinching, his sharp wit and his infectious humor never failing to buoy our spirits. Over whatever unknown period of time we had left, every day when we saw him the soul of who he always remained intact.

Often, the doctors and nursing staff remarked on his good cheer, his gentlemanly demeanor, on our devotion, on our love. They talked about his popularity and teased him about his “entourage,” when they saw visitors who had called us to ask whether he was up for a final visit solemnly whispering in hushed tones outside his door, waiting for us to notice them and to signal they could enter.

Daily, we sat vigil with him. Mom always to his left, in front of the window. My brother and I, our children, and also dad’s closest family and friends made do sitting on the edges of his bed, on the floor, and squeezed into the window sill balancing multiple children on our laps while we laughed and reminisced.

About the second morning of his hospice stay, the nurses came in, kindly and discreetly leaving two additional chairs for our comfort.

This floor and this room, we had all come to know early one surprise morning, was where my father would eventually die.

We had so very little time, really, to absorb the aftershock of learning there was nothing more to be done for him medically. The truth was unyielding and undeniable.

Faking a trip to the ladies room, I managed to make it outside his ICU bay with my smile still affixed, and over to the medical supply closets before crumbling to the floor and stifling a long scream behind my hands, sinking beneath the knowledge that he would never again return to his old life, his own bed, his own home and mainstay of 48 years.

I feel the cold floor beneath me still, and hear a woman doctor’s kind voice calling for help. I cannot tell you exactly the gentle words she used, because all that mattered in the cacophony was that we were sure to lose him. And soon. There was nothing we could do to stop it.

Shell-shocked, we knew we owed it to my father to master our grief and hide our distress, recognizing that our trauma was insignificant and that we needed to give my father space and breathing room to come to terms with his own reverberations.

And so it was, as is the case with every other family in hospice, that his hospice room became both our sanctuary and our family’s watchtower.

On that morning, my kids had their final figure skating competition of a long and busy season, so I left Brooklyn in the early pre-dawn hours to meet them in New Jersey, cheer them on, and bring them back to see their grandfather. We all left immediately after the awards ceremonies, to beat it back over the George Washington Bridge as quickly as possible.

Upon arrival, I left the children to refuel at the hospital cafeteria with their father and hightailed it to my father’s private room to spend some quiet moments before the kids descended on him to show off their medals to their proud Papa and barrage him with good news.

By that time, we had come to appreciate the quietude and the peace of hospice. The nurses, the medical staff, the guests — all fully aware of the hallowed, special and time-limited moments taking place — conduct themselves with grace and reverence. Families and clergy pass one another in the hallways, bestowing a quiet and understanding smile and share looks of concern and fellowship. There is kindness in the difficult moments, and I often found unexpected compassion in the hallways, where strangers would come sit next to me, offer a word of prayer and solace, and press a Kleenex in my hand when my mask had slipped temporarily and outside my father and my mother’s view.

We all know why we meet in this place. There is a stillness to hospice that is both palpable and somewhat comforting, and as I ascended to his floor late that morning, all the morning’s stress and frustration and hurry-up-and-wait, and C’mon! It’s time to go! smoothly gave way to I’ve got all the time he needs, for whatever he needs. As always, I made the sound of my boot heels virtually silent as I drew close to his door and peered in.

It was Sunday, dad was awake, and my mother was alone with him, holding his hand and resting her head on the cold metal bedrail as she often did. She looked weary, but stalwart. I knew she had gone to morning church service beforehand to shore herself up and to re-fortify.

I felt almost a voyeur to this single, intimate, sacred moment. These two junior prom dates were together for 55 years, and married for 48, having been joined together by a Justice of the Peace in a 1960s South Carolina courthouse. In 2009, they renewed their vows in my garden, amid family and close friends formally solemnizing the wedding they had never had, but deserved.

Standing outside the hospice room, I bore silent witness to their love captured as much in this beautiful moment as in any photograph of them I had seen and memorized. For over half a century there had been two of them.

At the sight of them in silent communion, I hesitated to intrude. Then my mom lifted her head, and I saw sadness, depletion but also an unexpected steel embedded in her eyes, so deeply that it bordered on fury.

Intrusion, it seems had already happened.

Not 15 minutes earlier, I came to learn, an elderly woman visiting a hospice patient next door had marched more than halfway into my father’s private, peaceful room. Accompanied by her middle-aged daughter, she grabbed for the empty chair next to my mom.

She did not speak to or look at the occupants, or — it seems — appear to even notice my mother or my father at all. She simply began to wordlessly and angrily pull my father’s heavy chair out of his room, the unmistakable sound of the heavy wooden legs dragging against linoleum and disturbing the peace.

Startled and stunned into silence by their sudden appearance, as much as by their seeming oblivion to her presence, my mother watched in utter bewilderment for a moment, immobilized and disbelieving, before finally asking the woman what she thought she was doing. It was only then the woman seemed to care that there were people in the room.

But there was no apology forthcoming for their intrusion, and no acknowledgment of their failure to recognize the sanctity of a private and closed domain. Bothered and insulted, instead, by the impertinence of my mother’s question, the older of the two simply wagged her finger at my mother impatiently, her eyes narrowed, and shouted authoritatively and with the lilt of a Russian accent, “One room, one chair! That’s it!” She then continued her struggle with my father’s furniture.

My mother, jolted, began pulling back on the chair, demanding succinctly and with tremendous self-control that the women leave immediately, and offered that there would be consequences for their failure to do so. Without ever making eye contact with my mother, the woman’s daughter said resentfully and in low tones, “Come on, Mother,” folding her arms around her mother and gently guiding her towards the doorway without so much as a backward glance.

In crises like these, we can (and so often do) try to self-soothe, as a first line of self-defense. We lie to ourselves daily about the tiny, poisonous blow darts of indignity that racism so deftly and artfully delivers in ways that steal our breath and stop our hearts. Our self-administered antidote is to try to reason that our invisibility is coincidence, and that their rudeness is mere oversight. Our logic struggles to make sense of the inexplicable cruelty of strangers that unerringly finds Black people.

We may pivot first to the possibility that perhaps this old Russian lady is just nasty and spiteful to everyone, in equal measure and without respect of person. Our empathy and our own sense of moral decency often grapple for alternate explanations for abhorrent behaviors and barbed wire words that catch us unawares, always at the worst, most unexpected and inconvenient times in our lives.

Often, we comfort ourselves that it’s just a small cut. And although we know exactly what pandemic it is that we are yet again experiencing, we still tell ourselves that this symptom not worth it, not in that particular moment. That we will survive it, as we always have. Rarely does it occur to us that it is precisely the appropriate and convenient place to expose our wound, let our attacker see the blood that been shed, and then demand attention and care. Never are we expected to inoculate at the source, to get at the infection where it hides.

The element of surprise and the sneak attacks cut deepest, I have found. But so often we soldier on, as we mentally add the latest incident to our ongoing journal cataloging unhealed wounds and unresolved trauma inflicted by virulent racism. We live with its sequela, and even decades later we can recount the tiniest details concerning the date, time, location and mechanism of injury.

Looking at my mother’s tragic face as she recounted what had just happened to them in my father’s hospice room, I understood what a lifetime of cuts culminating in this final wound had shown her starkly, at 70 years old.

Truth.

Even in death, we are robbed of dignity.

Even in death, there is anti-blackness.

Even in death, we are adjudged as nothing. Worthy of nothing. Deserving of nothing. Not even what is plainly ours and no one else’s.

In view of my mother’s reaction, the two women left huffily. But only, it turns out, to find someone to champion their cause. They had been aggrieved by a grieving black woman ordering them out of the room of a Black man confined to his death bed in his private room.

They had been told “no” with the voice of authority ringing from the depths of a Black woman minister and sentinel, whose only job was to sit watch by her dying husband. They felt robbed because they had been denied the property of a Black family who, as they saw the world monochromatically, didn’t deserve hospital furniture, and were taking more than our due. We couldn’t have more than one chair, but if we did by all rights they should take it — they, the gatekeepers and rightful owners of anything we might have temporarily called ours.

They then returned, my mother explained to me, with a white doctor. He peered in the room to find my mother, normally gentle and open, staring back at him in defiance. He took one look at her face, saw her righteous anger and indignation, and wisely turned and left, quickly and quietly ushering the irate and entitled women into their own room next door.

I have now given you what you needed to plumb the additional depths of my intense grief these past months.

I need you to let this all sink in. Allow the swirling sediment to settle for a moment.

In a hospital unit dedicated solely to palliative, end-of-life, “comfort care” for terminally ill patients, the sanctity of a dying Black man was deemed utterly irrelevant. Two white women barged into his room and physically tussled with his grieving wife.

All for the want of our chair.

Watching my mother as she relayed the story, and hearing tears of anger and frustration and grief and hurt for my father rise in her voice made those women’s hubris and privilege all the more repulsive and reptilian.

Knowing my mother’s life, and that of my father, I understood this was not new to their generation. From my own life encompassing far fewer years and far greater civil freedoms than my parents experienced, even I know that none of this is new.

Some of you will say that these people could have done this to anyone; that their behavior was rude, but not racist. You will reach for and will outright invent reasons why they felt so righteous and entitled as to seek out a white male doctor as an authority figure, insisting he dishonor my parents on their behalf and to try to intimidate my mother by making him their spokesperson.

You will try to explain why well-recognized physical boundaries and usual decorum and common civility did not apply to us. In our space. And why such rank disrespect came over our doorstep without even having the courtesy of knocking.

But I promise you, you will come up short. Every time.

Just as we knew better you also know better. I don’t need your confession or your admission. But having read my words, the least you owe to yourself is honesty.

When my mother finished talking, she was depleted. She sat down, drained but resolute. Quaking with rage. Done.

I had watched my father as she told the story, and I saw a look on his face that I will never forget.

His intubation made him unable to speak, but as his wife shared what I had missed, my father looked at us both calmly, his eyes going back and forth between us as he monitored our discussion.

Then his eyes came to me, and stayed there. So calmly.

My father knew me best of all. And he knew that they raised me to call out and to fight against injustice, always. I looked into the familiar and steady brown eyes of this precious man, the father who had always been so strong, so powerful, and so quick to protect me from known threats.

This dramatic scene had played out within steps of his bed, but what I read there was resignation. A giving up, and giving over.

The very thought that nothing more would be said to these women who had so readily trespassed and violated our peace during his final days lit me with fury. That look in his eyes made it impossible for me to remain silent and ignore the gaping and infected wound these women had just inflicted. I was not going to let that stand.

This is the thing that has damn near broken me these many months.

Not knowing at the time exactly what I would do, but planning to do it nonetheless, I went to look into their room next door from the hallway.

They weren’t there.

When I returned, my children had come in from the other end of the hallway, surrounding and speaking excitedly to my father, handing him their medals and showing him videos of the morning’s skating performances. For them, the gleam and the laughter in his eyes returned.

For them, for him, and for me, all was right with the world for a moment. He was not the man too unimportant or undeserving for two strangers to show a bit of dignity, humanity and respect in his last days. He was once again the grandfather who loved to dote on my kids and who teased my daughter about growing his beard out more.

At one point the kids were enjoying themselves so much that they raised their voices animatedly and began talking over each other in their excitement, but when I tried to quiet them why mom said laughingly, “Don’t. It’s okay. He wants to hear them.” My dad laughed silently in agreement, his shoulders shaking, and smiled at them indulgently with his eyes locked on their faces, scanning them one by one.

In those same healing moments, my mother was all Grandma, smiling and encouraging her grandchildren and extolling their individual skating performances. Not the anonymous, invisible black woman whom two white women pretended not to see sitting next to her dying husband’s bed as they grabbed for the empty chair right next to her.

While participating in the fun and the conversation, I was multi-tasking and had not abandoned my mission. I was not ready to abandon my watch of the hallway. My husband, who loved my father as his own, learned the story and joined my vigil. Ironically, I sat in the coveted chair with a good view out into the hallway as I awaited their return, getting up from time to time to surveil the area just outside the doorway.

Eventually, the pair of strangers who had occupied my thoughts for the past 25 minutes appeared just as I was about to return to my seat. I quickly realized they were fully prepared to ignore me standing there in our doorway, looking straight at them.

Except I stepped out of the doorway and toward them. With slow deliberation and with as much disgust and disdain as I could muster in my voice, I enunciated distinctly what I knew I must say. “You had the gall to come into my father’s private room just now?” They faltered, looking neither left nor right, not even at each other, and with nervousness and discomfort I found intensely satisfying.

I felt the rage and the bile and the disappointment and grief of every black family who has ever been invisible and disregarded and disrespected and overlooked and threatened rising within me, and it made my voice ring even louder.

“I don’t know who you think you are, but if I catch you even near his threshold again I will call security and also the police to have you arrested for trespass.

You! Don’t! Run! US!” I clapped my hands forcefully after each word for added emphasis.

They retreated quickly and silently into their own room, eyes downcast, while my husband called after them with clipped anger, “Do you have a Bronze Star? Did you serve this country?”

The same Black nurse who had initially given us enough chairs for our family came on the scene just as the two women were hustling into their own room. She was solicitous and genuinely concerned and asked me what had just happened. I gave them no chance to speak as I explained my furor and described the hideousness incident, pointing towards them. With her face full of deep concern and contrition she gave us an earnest apology she herself did not owe for something the white women. She then went directly next door, where we could hear her talking to the duo sternly and in an authoritative tone.

The reactions of the nurses confirmed to us what a lifetime of being invisible and disrespected in America had already foretold: it was not, of course, our imagination that these women were racists. We later learned that these same two women had been rude to numerous Black nurses on the floor. One Black nurse described her daily actions with the women as “treating me like dirt.”

The news of what happened spread quickly across the 7th floor. Another Black nurse — one of several caring nurses who had been especially gentle and kind to my father — came into our room and did a gleeful little church “shout” while taking his blood pressure, having learned of our confrontation from her colleagues. Professionalism prohibited them from taking a stand, but nothing stopped them from collectively reveling in our brief victory with us.

Even so, this did not feel like a win. The die of racism was cast; the cut of indignity intruded on our intimacy and spoiled those final precious days with my father. It was not the same for us. Our sanctuary had been invaded and the stench of their encroachment remained in the air.

For the rest of our time there, I was still on high alert. Tending our borders. Unforgiving.

The very next day, as the two women were consulting with their relative’s medical team and their clergy outside their room, I noticed that the group kept inching closer and closer to my father’s open doorway.

Standing there in consultation, and well away from their own doorway out of deference for their own ill family member and mindful of not disturbing her. Yet, just outside our door, they talked somewhat loudly with their medical team, inapposite to the manner in which most families conducted themselves on the hospice floor.

Once again, our presence was being ignored and my father’s peace and boundaries breached.

It came to the point that the daughter stood virtually on our threshold, and raised her voice to add to the increasing din. I had had enough of her.

“Excuse me!” I said firmly, standing up and moving towards them to address them in a volume more befitting of the environment.

I looked directly at the doctor, not sparing so much as a glance for the two offenders. “Kindly move away from my father’s doorway to talk, please. Those two barged into his room yesterday and intruded on him and my mother. I’ve already told them very clearly to stay away from our threshold. She’s standing too close to it right now and needs to move,” I said, pointing directly at the daughter standing with downcast eyes.

Then I added, “and you all are too loud. My father is trying to rest.”

The doctor blushed, immediately apologized, and moved the group to the other side of the hallway, lowering her voice significantly. Only the rabbi had the grace and the decency to meet my eyes and to look embarrassed, contrite and sympathetic.

This is one of my final memories of my father’s last days. It is a bitter pill. I will never forget its metallic aftertaste, or the shrapnel left behind.

Daily, I think with deep love and limitless sorrow of my sweet and strong father, and all he gave of himself — to his family, New York, and to his country — now reeking of regression, white nationalism and blatant, unapologetic racism in its highest ranks of leadership.

I still feel hot rage burn within me when I remember how white supremacy personally came to call even in those dwindling hours, in the form of two disruptive and racist white women, when a short time together in private was all we had left with my father.

These white women and their arrogance in deciding that we Black people next door had “too much” for their liking, and so it was theirs for the taking. Their ridiculous presumption in trying to impose and enforce a chair quota on us. Their boldness in physically trespassing on the privacy of a dying man and his family.

Their sheer whiteness and presumption in purporting to call for backup from white professional medical staff to uphold them in their violent and dehumanizing behavior. And most of all the expectation that we would be silent in the face of their assault.

Yes, I said violent. That’s exactly what it was. So I will say it again for you.

Violent. These white women were violent.

Even in his final hours, my father was denied the basic human rights of a dying man. He was not allowed privacy, dignity and freedom from virulent white supremacy. This was during a time in his life when the only small comforts I could personally provide for him were massaging lavender lotion into his hands and feet, applying a cool cloth to his burning eyes, and to ask if he was in pain so I could go find our nurse to bring him relief.

It pains me to this day (and always will) that I could not stop the pervasive indignity of being a Black man in America, unable to speak for himself. I could only keep the monsters out of his room and away from his bed, just barely and with much watchfulness.

My father deserved far more than this. So did his wife. And our family, on what turned out to be one of his last days. I think often on the words of one of our favorite hospice nurses, who told us on what would be his next to last evening, “your dad is one of my patients I will never forget. He loves his family. And he knows you love him. You are all acting with incredible grace and dignity.”

This is the story you needed to know, the backdrop against which I replay my final memories on an endless, painful loop. This is what underscores my grief and highlights my trauma over losing him the way we did, and so abruptly.

This is the story you need to hear, to understand why I could not — until this was finally told — summon words to appropriately share the story of the man he is, the woman I am because of him, and the legacy of love and strength and hard work he leaves behind.

This, friends, is the open wound of hate and antiblackness that defaces and sullies even the beauty and intimacy of a man’s final, sacred hours with his family. This is the weight we carry as Black people. This is the heft. This is the permanent scar tissue, ripped open again and again.

I suppose it is possible, but I submit to you it is highly unlikely, that the immediate repercussions they experienced in their interactions with us will impact how they move through the world to try to cut other black folks down. At a minimum, maybe now they will at least think about crossing clear lines of physical demarcation marked out for Black people, if only out of fear about being called out openly, confronted directly and embarrassed loudly, and publicly by “angry black women.”

I am doubtful.

But at least now that you know how my father’s life ended I can now begin telling you who my father was while he lived.

To know my father, you must know that this was hardly the first indignity he experienced because of racism; rather, it is the last and final one. As a child, a teen and a young adult, my father was not allowed to live free, growing up as he did in segregated Greer, South Carolina. As he put it, they were told where to go to school. Where they could eat. Where to drink water. And where to go to the bathroom.

He and I talked often and honestly about racism and biases in the criminal and civil justice system, especially when I became a criminal defense Fellow and adjunct trial advocacy professor at Georgetown Law right out of law school.

He would listen carefully, ask pointed questions and offer helpful, practical insights from his 22 years of policing and from simply living in America as a black man for scores of years. Often, as I prepped for criminal trials my first year practicing law, he gave me specific pointers on cross-examining and impeaching police officers. He knew his criminal and constitutional law quite well and was proud of that fact, and he stressed the importance of legal limits on police interactions with the citizens they are supposed to protect and serve. He understood the disease of white supremacy, because it affected him, too. And he called out prejudices he observed in his fellow officers.

As an indulgent, protective and realistic father of a Black woman, he worried greatly about my personal safety during depositions and highly contested, high stakes court appearances in locales like Arkansas, Kentucky and Mecklenburg County, VA and Cattaraugus County, NY. He understood what it meant that I was black, confident and argumentative by profession while traveling alone to and from those places. He understood what my position as an attorney (particularly one from Washington, D.C.) and my self-assurance and assertiveness would communicate, especially when resulting in wins in court. And yet, because he was thoughtful and hopeful enough to believe that things could change, he encouraged me to keep moving the needle.

Listening to my courtroom war stories, he would say to me “I’m just so proud that you know you don’t have ‘a place.’ When we grew up we had a place, legally, y’know? And they made sure we knew to stay in it. But you? Your place is wherever you say it is.”

Observing my children and my niece and watching them figure skate and play soccer and frolic and swim in the Atlantic Ocean at Martha’s Vineyard while talking excitedly about mathematics and robotics and thriving, he would often remark optimistically, “By the time these kids come up they will be able to do anything they want. Nobody will be able to tell them anything, or make them feel like they don’t belong.”

I dearly hope he is right.

My father and my mother grew up together and graduated from Lincoln High School in the legendary Class of 1965, in the shadows of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education ruling.

Argued by the great Thurgood Marshall — then a practicing attorney — he succeeded in convincing the Court to strike down the concept of “separate but equal” schools for white and Black students. Integration was slow. It did not come with the “all deliberate speed” the Court suggested, consciously leaving the door open for the predictable, inevitable delay.

My dad was an exceptional athlete at Lincoln, excelling in basketball and football, lettering and serving as Captain in both. In 1962, he was named MVP in basketball and Rookie of the Year. In 1964, he was on the South Carolina State All-Star Team and was also named MVP in basketball at the Greenville County Tournament. In recognition of his outstanding athletic achievements, in February 2011, during Black History Month, he was inducted into the Piedmont Athletic Association Hall of Fame in South Carolina,

He was smart, and though self-effacing about his own intelligence following graduation he was offered a scholarship to attend Catawba College in North Carolina, then a racially segregated institution. Instead, he volunteered to do a 3-year stint in the United States Army, where he spent the final year in active combat in South Vietnam, including Huế Phú Bài and Biên Hòa.

It surprises no one he has touched to know he earned a Bronze Star for valor as a paratrooper in the elite 101st Airborne Division (“Screaming Eagles”), attaining the rank of Specialist E5.

Enlisted. Not drafted.

Honored by the United States of America for “Meritorious Achievement In Ground Operations Against Hostile Forces.”

Our hero then returned home to the segregation that was the prescribed way of life in his hometown of Greer, South Carolina in 1968, following honorable discharge for having served faithfully an ungrateful country that never loved him back.

A retired NYPD officer dedicated to community building and mentoring youth in Brooklyn, he received 16 commendations and made Homicide Detective over the course of his career, receiving a Perfect Attendance Award for never having had a sick day over his 22 years of service.

He earned special recognition for his work with the Children’s Educational Fund, his special efforts at community policing in his Bed-Stuy Precinct, and his volunteerism with the Police Athletic League. As a child, I was most proud of a program he helped institute that encouraged neighborhood kids to come to the 8–1 for homework help, bike repairs or anything else where they needed assistance. It soon came to pass that Black parents would bring their children in as witnesses to unsolved homicides, insisting that they would speak only to my father, who took great care to protect his sources who had to still live in the neighborhood.

Off-duty, however, and just like other Black men everywhere, my father was racially profiled and verbally assaulted by officers from his own precinct — officers who weren’t meaningfully punished even when my dad formally complained. This happened to him again after he was retired, despite identifying himself as a former officer.

Some of the wives of his fellow officers would pull their children closer to them protectively — i.e., firmly away from me — whenever we tried to play together as young 11 and 12 year-olds at summer precinct events out on Long Island during their precinct baseball league events.

When I was accepted to Dartmouth College at 16 years old on a partial academic scholarship, I had no idea how on Earth my parents would be able to afford the remaining tuition. But somehow they did, in part because my dad worked three jobs.

In addition to being a police officer, he also worked as a cab driver in Manhattan, making pretty good money in treacherous weather, and especially on rainy and icy nights.

I noticed that he would go out even more and stay out later in bad weather, the closer he got to the deadline to pay my tuition. All the while, the bulletproof vests he had hand-washed in the bathtub hung up on hangers, drying on the neck of the showerhead, and he would reach for one before going out in the cab.

Once, while working as a private bodyguard for a very sweet, good-natured Brooke Shields he told her that she reminded him of his daughter. Me. I was embarrassed mightily at the time. Now I am so amused by him.

How can I help but revere and grieve deeply and forever for the loss of a dad like mine?

All that I am I owe to him.

I thought of these and so many other facets and contours of my father and his quiet strength, as he lay there, living his last days with his wife. Black people do marry, too. Some stay married for 48 years.

Black people love fully, and fiercely and joyfully, and we are loved deeply in return.

Every day, and everywhere, Black fathers are present for and accountable to their children, shaping and molding them into the change they want to be and to see in this world, as best they can.

And every day we — their loving Black children — want for our parents exactly what they have always wanted for us.

Happiness.

Long life.

Peace.

As I grieve for my father, I also have to exorcise the memory of what these miserable, invasive, racist women did to him. To my mother. To all of us.

It is my hope that writing it all down here will help release some of this weight I have been carrying and that compounds by sorrow.

I will not indulge speculation or alternative facts or suppositions about their reasons, nor will I suffer gladly any “whataboutisms.” I don’t care at all about their life story or personal circumstances and it doesn’t matter what shaped and twisted them into the type of soulless creatures who would undertake such repugnant actions and go to such selfish extremes, fighting with the soon-to-be-widow of a dying Black ma.

This, however, I do know — and it brings me comfort. Wherever those harridans are, they now know that nobody was going to put my dad “in his place.”

Not on our final watch.

I am comforted in knowing that my family held space for him, firmly and insistently. For as long as he needed it. For as long as he needed us. And that we reclaimed our time. There was so little we had left, you see. No more to waste on them, or for him to watch us squander.

It does bring me some degree of comfort that towards the end he knew we would do for him whatever it was he could no longer do for himself. We played Motown. And laughed. We laughed so much.

I am grateful to have had the opportunity to tell him one afternoon when he seemed particularly down and sad, “I hope you know it is an honor for me to be here and do things for you, after all the things you did for me.” I saw the emotion in the face and the tears that sprang up quickly. We sat there silent for a long while.

I picture him closing his eyes and the last, long breath he took. It was a privilege to be there in his presence and at his side, but it is also a recurring memory of eternal heartbreak.

Daddy, as you take your rest, it is my heartfelt belief that you have found peace.

That you are finally free. Free at last.

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Mom. Trial Lawyer (Torts/Insurance Defense, Plaintiffs’ Wrongful Death/Catastrophic Injury, Criminal Defense, Global Corporate Ethics/Compliance).

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Sandy Broadus

Sandy Broadus

Mom. Trial Lawyer (Torts/Insurance Defense, Plaintiffs’ Wrongful Death/Catastrophic Injury, Criminal Defense, Global Corporate Ethics/Compliance).

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