An Ode to My Father: The Lessons in Love That He Taught MeJun 18, 2021 04:00PM ● By Candice Stewart
My father passed away when I was 18 years old, on June 22, 2008, after a long battle with colon cancer. If you check your 2008 calendar, you will notice that he passed 6 days after the celebration of Father’s Day that year. He also passed just after I took the last exams of my high school career, and two weeks before I was scheduled to embark on my undergraduate journey. This year, the anniversary of his death comes two days before the celebration of Father’s Day.
He and I were not exceptionally close, but, in the weirdest way, I was a dad’s girl. He was my ironer. He tried to smooth the rough and crumpled patches of my childhood. He ironed out the wrinkles in my clothes, and fixed all my damaged books with crumpled pages and torn covers.
He was my also protector. As a teen, I was physically assaulted by a stranger, and he took me to the hospital for medical attention, all the while fuming over the situation. He made it his mission to find the person who hurt me, but unfortunately, he never did.
My dad coined my nicknames, most of which have stuck to this day, and up until I was too heavy to lift, he would take me from the sofa and into my bed to tuck me in at night. He had a habit of shagging my hair whenever he walked past me in the living room, and he knew how to mend my aching tummy or my aching back. I would watch him, and sometimes join him on Sundays as he danced and sang along to the music of the 60s and 70s. Music had a euphoric effect on him. It was almost as if all his problems melted at the sound of his favorite musicians.
That was part of his demonstration of love. He rarely told me he loved me, and for a long time, I wondered if he did. But, he showed me he loved me in the best way that he could. Though I hypothesize based on my experience, I can confidently say that my father’s love language was acts of service. He did everything he could for everyone he loved, and he appreciated reciprocity. In my eyes, he communicated his love language well.
Life with my father had the common thread of love. In addition to what he did for me, the love was shown in the familial activities we took part in. We cooked Sunday dinner together, we took family road trips, we cleaned the house together, we celebrated wins together, and we comforted each other in times of loss. All of those moments were moments of love.
About a month before he died, we had a long conversation. He indirectly told me that the time was coming to say goodbye. His words were, “Are you going to be okay? I want you to be okay. No matter where you end up in life, always make sure that you are okay.”
The last 2 weeks of his life were spent in hospice care. Though we continuously surrounded him with love, hugs, and kisses, we all felt that the inevitable was coming. As much as his passing was expected, we were not mentally prepared for it. After all, no one is ever really ready to say final goodbyes to their loved ones.
Since his death, Father’s Day has been a sore spot for me. I dwell on the fact that he isn’t here for me to celebrate with him. My dad didn’t get to teach me how to drive, how to change a tire, or how to deal with young men and their ulterior motives as I maneuvered my young adulthood. If I should ever get married, I won’t get to do the father-daughter dance and my future husband won’t get to ask my father for his blessing to marry me. If I should have children, they won’t get to meet my father. His passing stripped me of those luxuries.
Don’t get me wrong, I have mentors and father figures, but they’re not him, and no amount of time, attention, or new “father-daughter” experiences can compare to what I want. In fact, I will never have it again, so I must come to terms with it. However, thirteen years have passed and I haven’t come to terms with it, and that may never happen.
I will always need my father, and sadness will engulf me in moments when I need him the most. In the words of Maia Niguel Hoskin, Ph.D., in her piece, A Love Letter to Black Fathers Everywhere, “Black daughters need their fathers.” I agree with her wholeheartedly.
With that, I reflect on lessons my father taught me directly and indirectly.
Learn the love language of the people in your life. Understand that though their demonstration of love may not be what you expect, they do love you. Consider as well that Black men are often pressured by society to show their love in unclear ways. Society says men, and especially Black men, ought not to show signs of weakness, and in some odd way, weakness is showing how much you love someone. So actually saying the words, “I love you” may be difficult or even unheard of because of societal conditioning. Again, it does not mean that you’re not loved.
Love unequivocally and unapologetically. Though he was a man of few words, my father gave all the love he had to give, and he learned how to give love to us as individuals. He was never afraid to tell the world about us and show how much he loved us. In sickness and in health, daddy loved us.
A Black Girl without her Black father is not always an example of the stereotypical views that Black fathers don’t exist. After my father died, I felt lost and from time to time. I continuously encountered discussions about deceased Black men leaving their children to traverse the world alone. I still do. Yes, it’s true, he passed away, but he did not leave me without guidance. I had 18 full years of love and learned lessons. Even though the relationship was not the TV-cut father-daughter relationship, he gave me all he could. He never raised his hands to hit me, he never led a life of crime; he was a family man and he embodied many traits that are said to be lacking in the Black man.
The love of music can heal and soothe the soul. My father was a music lover. To be more specific, he would dance to and sing the musical stylings of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Freddie McKay, Dennis Brown, Toots and the Maytals, The Temptations, Earth Wind and Fire, The Isley Brothers, Beres Hammond, Alton Ellis, Gem Myers, The Four Tops, The Supremes, and many others. In the words of the great Bob Marley and the Wailers in the hit, Trench Town Rock, “one good thing about music, when it hits, you feel no pain.” That was my dad. Whenever I listen to music these days, I can feel my dad’s presence with me, and I feel like I connect with him in another realm.
Love yourself and never allow anyone to mistreat you. My dad loved himself and he was never arrogant about it. He protected his space and would respond directly or indirectly to persons who tried to mistreat him with their actions or deeds. I replay the countless examples where he taught me to love myself and I try to apply those lessons.
My father was not perfect by any measure, but he was a good man. He taught me love in his language and I have since adopted those lessons. I give love and I receive love accordingly. Much of my relationship with love and its variations started with what I learned from dad.
Candice Stewart is a storyteller: a writer, blogger of life lessons, a philanthropist and a nature lover.
She holds an MA in Communication for Social and Behaviour Change and a BSc. in Psychology from the University of the West Indies (UWI).
Follow her blog at thesuburbangirl.com where she shares stories and life lessons through real-life experiences.
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