A Long Overdue Open Letter to My (and your) Father: The Standard Bearer


A Long Overdue Open Letter to My (and your) Father:

The Standard Bearer

It must have been cold there in my shadow
To never have sunlight on your face
You were content to let me shine, that’s your way
You always walked a step behind

So I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all the strength

There is a popular axiom that states ‘with hindsight we have twenty-twenty vision’. Generally speaking, life experiences provides each of us with the tools to look back, sometimes fondly and other times sorrowfully, over the ground that we have traversed, the experiences that we have had, and to reassemble all of these memories in a desperate attempt of making sense of it all. Life invariably causes all who experience it to learn certain lessons and execute sometimes minute’ alterations regarding a world that they are continually navigating. The alluded to process facilitated my growth to ‘grown man’ status, meaning a person who does not rely upon anyone; or at least that is the lie I like to tell myself.

‘Although life for me has been no crystal stair’, it has been relatively good, if not great. I have been provided opportunities that my parents could have never imagined for a son who has written about and delivered lectures concerning African-Americans on several continents. During my extensive travels abroad, I have learned that African-Americans are a topic that person from Asia to Amsterdam are curious about.

Invariably, any lecture that I give not only focuses upon some facet of African-American culture/people, but also invariably turns toward a discussion regarding ‘the plight of African-American males’. Audiences around the globe are curious about the failings that seem to doggedly follow Black males in the ‘land of plenty’. They can not understand the socioeconomic struggles that so many African-American males experience.

It is at this moment that I do my best to explain the various factors — racism, institutional racism, unemployment, the prison industrial complex, etc. — that serve as impediments to African-American males’ success. Although such explanations are sufficient for my audiences, the truth is, such statements are partial truths.

I always hesitate to speak upon how I was able to avoid what statistical studies would lead one to believe was my, and every Black males, socioeconomic destiny; meaning the typical hard-knock, nihilistic, listless, and directionless life that so many of my peers have become ensnared by. I hesitate to answer inquiries regarding ‘how I made it out’, because the answer is so simple and basic that most do not believe it. To the chagrin of those I lecture, I do not have a long drawn out explanation that pivots upon my sheer brilliance or some lucky break to explain my current station in life. The primary reason behind my success is that I followed the example set by my hero; my father, James Thomas Jones, Jr., aka Buck, aka Jimmy, aka Daddy.

Audiences always appear a bit disappointed and dejected when I relate that I became the man that I am because of a phenomenal father who mentored me through his actions/activities and not through meaningless words that he discarded when it suited him. Although I was a mama’s boy, I like to think that my mother pointed the direction that I was to go, while my father was ‘the wind beneath my wings.’

My father, like so many other African-American fathers, is a rather stoic strong-silent type of man and the epitome of the song ‘Wind Beneath my Wings’. I always smile when I hear the following verse of that song,

You were content to let me shine, that’s your way
You always walked a step behind

So I was the one with all the glory
While you were the one with all the strength

Now, my father was not a perfect man. However, the list of his character flaws and personal failings is actually not very lengthy. Fortunately, for my sake, the things that he was (provider, stern disciplinarian, present in my life) far outweigh his shortcomings (moodiness and a bit of sullenness).

My father hailed from a period when men were not particularly affectionate toward their male children, hugs were a rarity, words of affirmation were scarce; however, my father belonged to a class of men who communicated their love through a steely resolve that was hell-bent upon providing their offspring with every opportunity that had been denied to them. As a man, I now understand that my father was expressing his love when he woke to work a twelve-hour shift at the local steel mill. Although he never articulated this all important lesson, his never ending drive to provide for his family taught me that LOVE is an action, not merely an emotion that can be changed according to one’s mood swings.

So today, I salute my father, as well as all the other fathers who have served as ‘the wind beneath’ their children’s wings. It has been their example that has served as the ‘North Star’ paving the way for future generations of African-Americans, male and female, along this dangerous and often desolate road that we call life.

I want to take this occasion to tell my father that regardless of where I am soaring on the planet earth, regardless of the topic I am lecturing upon, there are a few undeniable facts, (1) I am a representation of you, how could I not be as I know of no other way to be other than like you, he is the marker that I strive to emulate on a daily basis; my WWJD is ‘What Would Jimmy Do’, (2) I would have never soared, not even once, if he had not provided ‘the wind beneath my wings’, and (3) I pull on the example he set every waking moment of my day, trying my best to remember how he reacted in certain situations, what he said in others.

I must state to my father, and the innumerable other father’s who should be celebrated every day, that although we do not always acknowledge the invisible, yet highly powerful and influential, wind that allows us to soar, rest assured that we are aware of its presence. Quite possibly our failure to acknowledge your contribution on a daily basis is due to the fact that your contribution is to your children more certain than the laws of nature; those of us with great daddy’s know that not even a perfect storm could interrupt that ‘wind beneath our wings’, our daddy’s know that we need it soar and they will therefore move heaven and earth to ensure that it is there for us to effortlessly glide upon, twist, turn, and dive when need be.

And for that reason, and a host of others, I celebrate my father on this particular day. Although others do not see the wind, I feel it, rely upon it, often take it for granted, and rely upon it with the faith of a religious zealot. And why would I not be totally dependent upon it, my daddy provided it and he told me that there was nothing in the world that would ever make him abandon me. So I continue to soar without ever considering that the wind will one day disappear and no longer sustain me; givens that are solely attributable to my daddy.  Thank you fathers for all that you have done, do, and will do in the future for all of those who have soared to great heights, even when we forget to acknowledge the gust of wind that carried us.

 Dr. James Thomas Jones III

2 thoughts on “A Long Overdue Open Letter to My (and your) Father: The Standard Bearer”

  1. Some of us were fortunate enough to have a father present in their lives but for me it was a power struggle. I had to compete with another person he was involved with and I lost the battle years ago. And with that experience I shut a lot of people out of my life that loved and cared about me. But now I realize the importance of having a father figure present in my children’s lives. Everyday I’m thankful to the blessings that have come forth in my life, and also greatful to my husband for being the strong individual he is. I still a working process and look forward to healing the scars that are still visible on me. Happy Father’s Day!

    1. Sister, I have heard your story far too many times. And honestly, it is one that bewilders me; and then I remember that even our parents have many of the same battles and scars that we battle as a result of how they were treated as children. It reminds me of Malcolm X’s admonishment that he was all that he, his father, and his father’s father had experienced. Meaning that the injury done to our parents or even grandparents has a way of impacting their offspring even after they have left this world.

      I sincerely applaud you for working on yourself and choosing to allow love to enter into a place that is all too often desolate and dark. Trust me when I say that the brightness that LOVE brings with it, will go a long way towards vanquishing that darkness that others have put on us. I pray that you celebrate your father, for your sake, on this day and love that man who is your husband every moment of every day. PEACE

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