I am blessed.
I hadn't spent Father's Day with him in many years. He'd get the obligatory phone call from me. Or a card. But I really cannot remember the last time I hung out with him on his special day. You see, my father and I weren't all that close. At times I feared him, thought I didn't like him and I didn't really understand him. That's changed now.
Last week my parents, Rudolph and Lucille Redding, who live in Atlanta, came out here to California to visit me. And I am glad they did.
Rudolph Pershing Redding was born to a working-class family of seven sons and three daughters during a time when folks had big families. It was the thing to do. And the more sons you had, the better. That's just the way it was. Mr. Redding spent about three decades working at Inland Steel, near Gary, Ind., and retired as a welder. It was dirty work, but the money was good. And the steel mills of the Midwest provided a good living. My dad, always thinking ahead, spent the last several years of his stint at the mill taking classes at Purdue University, where he got an undergraduate degree in education. He taught as a substitute in the Gary school system before moving to Atlanta, where he received a master's and taught special education for a couple of decades before retiring yet again. Now, he's into real estate.
Some people just can't sit still.
My dad, as my brother, sister and I were growing up, always had something going on the side job wise. Cab driver, moonlighting at other steel mills, selling Amway. Something. So he wasn't always the most patient person. I didn't understand it then. I thought he was just being mean. He was tough. His brothers were tough. Granddaddy Albert, my dad's father, was tough. That's the way it was back in the day. All the Redding men had a reputation for being mean. Tough. Hard on their kids. "Spare the rod..." was an understatement at our house. At all my cousins’ houses, too. We used to compare notes, trying to figure out whose fathers were the meanest. The only real arguments that I can recall my parents having during their 50-year marriage was about how my mom didn't always agree with how stern my dad was with my siblings and me. But they stuck it out and hung in there. Still together. None of this "He doesn't wear the kinds of clothes I like" or "I don't like his friends" or "It's about me, not him ... so I want a divorce." (But that's another story, for another time.)
One time, I must have been about 6 or so, I stole some toys out of some lunch-size potato chip packages. It was my best friend, Terrel, and me. We got caught and our mothers were called. My mother was the first to be contacted, so she picked us up from the grocery store and paid for the open packages of snacks. We walked Terrell home — everybody knew everybody in those days — and Terrell’s dad and mine both were at the mill. Terrell’s mom split the cost of the snacks and began whupping Terrell in front of us. I knew I was in for it. When my mom and I got to our place, I got it. But my punishment wasn’t over by a long shot. My mother has asthma, so when she’d whup us, the whuppin’ didn’t last too long before she’d start wheezing and stop. Besides, she’d only whup us for major transgressions: lying (or telling “stories” as she called it), stealing or disobeying. My dad, however, wasn’t as discriminating with his use of the belt. And he didn’t have asthma. After I’d gotten my punishment from my mother for stealing, I got sent to my room … and was awakened by my father whuppin’ me after he’d gotten home from his 3-to-11 shift at the mill.
So you can imagine my surprise when my mother told me that my father was teaching. Teaching!
I remember thinking, "Who would let him around their kids?"
Time has a way of chilling you out, I suppose.
Now, my dad is cool. Maybe he was cool all along. Maybe I just couldn't see it.
That's what my cousin Mark used to say all the time. Mark moved from Indiana to Chatsworth a couple of decades ago, and he'd been trying to get me out to California. I used to be jealous of Mark because it seemed as if my dad was more into Mark than he was into me.
“You know, your cousin Mark …” I was so tired of hearing that. But to my surprise, Mark told me during a family reunion that his father, my Uncle Albert, seemed to be more into me than he was into him, his only son. He’d grown tired of hearing “You know, your cousin Radcliff …” We laughed about that one. Mark and Uncle Albert have since passed on. But Mark’s widow, Belinda, a nurse who has worked at Cedars-Sinai among places, still lives in Chatsworth.
So, Father’s Day, we met up at Belinda’s and presented my dad with a truck. It wasn’t new or anything. As a matter of fact, the pickup is more than 10 years old, with about 140,000 miles on it. But to our family, that truck is special. It was Uncle Albert’s. After he died, Mark took it over and drove it from Indiana out here. When Mark got sick with cancer, he made Belinda promise to keep the truck in the family. She offered it to me, but I thought my dad should have it. So Sunday, we surprised him with the keys. My dad's first truck.
The tears flowed that day.
Years ago, Uncle Albert had given my dad his first bicycle.