Tonight, I washed my stepfather's hair for the first time in my life.
I know that sounds like a "Yeah...AND??" statement, but you have to understand, my stepfather and I have had a relationship that could be described as tumultuous at best. We never really got along with each other when I was growing up. I didn't like him and I believed he didn't like me either. My parents, as I now call them have been together since I was about 6 years old. At the time I was still waiting for my birth father to notice me and I resented my stepfather's presence in my mother's life and I didn't try to hide it in the least. To his credit "Freddie" (as I have always called him) did try to fill in for my dad. When my father promised to do things with me (like take me to a "Father-Daughter" dance at my school) and I sat in our kitchen dressed and waiting for him to show up....As the hour for the dance neared, Freddie realized that my dad (who by the way is named Fred also) wasn't going to show and volunteered to take me. I refused. In my adolescent mind he wasn't my daddy and I wanted my daddy to take me. Needless to say...I didn't attend that dance or any others like it. There were many more events like this in my life and my stepfather was always willing to fill in...and I never allowed him to.
Freddie was like most fathers back then, he was a strict disciplinarian. He would not tolerate disrespect from his children or ANY children for that matter. Quite frankly, he scared the shit out of most of my friends...lol. He wasn't one for pulling out the belt...he left that distinct honor to my mother. But he could be VERY creative with his punishments. Because I was older and very active in school (and probably because my mom was aware that we didn't really get along), my younger sister and brother were mostly on the receiving end of this creativity. If they misbehaved (and they misbehaved A LOT!) he would make them stand in the corner..for hours...on one foot. Or like the time he caught my brother smoking and made him smoke an entire cigar. My brother was sick as a dog and I don't think he touched a cigarette again until he was damn near grown. At one point my mom was working a second job at night and he would baby sit us, we already knew what we having for dinner if he had to cook...Franks and Beans...He LOVED that shit! I always tried to eat at my friend's house if he was cooking...lol. Oh..he was tough and he would punish you for the slightest transgression. Lol...I can remember my sister and brother spending ENTIRE SUMMERS in the house on punishment...But my sister and brother were always doing some shit they had no business doing. He was good at doling punishments but he was never really big on bestowing praise...and I am guessing that he tried to raise us the way HE was raised and perhaps showing affection may have been a sign of weakness in his mind. Most people back then raised their children the way they were raised...you do what you know. No matter, he did his job well...we made it adulthood safely and without too many speed bumps. We respect our elders and the words "please" and "thank you" are in our vocabularies and we use them on the regular.
Freddie was a tour and road manager for some of the most successful groups of the 60's, 70's & the 80's. Because of his job, he wasn't home a lot (and for THAT...lol..we were grateful). I was a budding musician myself and because of Freddie, I got a healthy dose of ALL kinds of music. Our house was filled with music, he started his career as a singer and in the early days there were always people in our house, singing and harmonizing acapella. I absolutely loved those times in my life. Because of Freddie, I acquired a really good ear and a fond appreciation for really good singers and really good music. On Saturday mornings we could be found cleaning up the house to the sounds of Sam Cooke, Jackie DeShannon, Dionne Warwick, The Impressions, The Swan Silvertones, Clyde McPhatter, The Moments, Jackie Wilson, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight, The Coasters and of course...ANYTHING on Motown. Freddie used to play a song by Al Green called "Back Up The Train"...he played this song so much that I grew to detest him..and even now I don't particularly care for Al Green's music. To this day the song "Get On Up" by The Esquires and their follow up single "And Get Away" (Yeah...I KNOW...I am really reaching in the back of the crates with those songs!) are two of my all time favorites. He even recorded a single with my mom's best friend, Miss Gigi, called "Daddy Love"...The song did really well in the local markets in the south. I have always loved that song and I swear one day I am going to record it as my own personal tribute to him.
He DID travel a lot, he was a great tour manager and thusly...always in demand. He toured with The Crown Heights Affair, BT Express, Ray, Goodman & Brown and even Rob Base at the height of their careers and because he was so successful at what he did, he took very good care of us. I remember as a teenager, sometimes he would take me backstage to some of these shows and introduce me to these groups. He was a sharp dressed man and he and my mother made a very striking couple. While we weren't wearing name brand anything...we were still poor...we were always clean and he and my mom made sure we were always well dressed and well nourished. He made sure that we always had the Merriest of Christmases and I can't recall a single Christmas that we got up and there WASN'T a ton of gifts under the tree. He took us on summer vacations to his hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. While he wasn't vocal with his love but as I became and adult I understood that his taking care of us the way he did (especially, since I wasn't his child), was his way of showing us that he did love us.
I think that because I was so reluctant to embrace him that he stopped actively trying to win my love and just accepted the situation for what it was. But he always made sure that I had everything that I needed and for that I will always be grateful. He was my family's protector and we were ALWAYS safe. My mom always said he was a tough one...mean if he had to be. He was good with his fists and could roll with the best of them. He took shit off of NO ONE and if you were gonna dish it out....you had better be prepared to take it as well...my brother learned that the hard way.
My brother had grown up to be a tall, lanky young man...and you know the time always comes when we as children...moving into adulthood..start to smell ourselves and think we can push up on our parents. Well, one day my brother decided to take a swing on Freddie and got his jaw broken for his trouble. I think it broke his heart to have to do that to his only son...but by brother never stepped to him like that again.
As I grew older and fell into my life and my career, I watched my stepfather soften a little with age and the advent of grandchildren and I grew to love him in my own way. With each and every successful step in my career, he would strut around like a proud peacock...my mom would tell me stories about him walking around with magazine articles about me and my pictures in his briefcase bragging about his daughter.
My stepfather, the man I spent half my life hating...came by to keep me company when I was bedridden for three months recuperating from foot surgery. He came when my own father and my friends didn't. It was an enormous gesture of love on his part and one that I will never forget. He was at my mother's side beaming with pride at my screening party for Mo'Nique's Fat Chance..The biggest success in my career to date. He was so proud of me that he was grinning from ear to ear, and he watches the DVD of the show whenever my mom pulls it out. A few years ago when I felt like my music career was on a treadmill...he pulled me to the side after watching me perform and told me point blank...you have an enormous talent..but you are squandering it. I took his words to heart.
A few years ago when he was around 60, Freddie was mugged by three men in the subway station at 14th Street after he cashed his paycheck. A proud man, he refused to give up his wallet and proceeded to beat the shit out of two of the three attackers...they managed to overtake him and brutally assaulted him before taking his wallet. When my mom called me and I rushed to their home, I barely recognized this bloodied, beaten and swollen man that I had known all of my life. I was instantly filled with rage and I wanted his attackers dead...and I still want them dead today. My mother was hysterical because he would not lodge a complaint with the police department..and he refused to go to the hospital for treatment. As a result of these actions...these three motherfuckers got off scot-free. It was at that moment that I not only realized that he was no longer a young man but I finally understood just how much he means to me...he IS my father...always has been. It broke my heart to see him vulnerable like that ...just broke it to pieces.
After that incident, I realized that I had never told Freddie that I loved him. Today, I make it my business to say it to him as much as possible. Because of the head trauma sustained from his assault, Freddie had to retire from his job and is now in the mid stages of Alzheimer's disease. Alicia Keys called my mother's house and begged him to manage her first tour for her first album...because of his illness he had no choice but to decline, but the fact that she called him personally is a testament to just how good he was at what he did. I believe in my heart that the beating he took in that subway tunnel accelerated the progress of the disease. It affects his memory but it really affects his speech. He is very gentle now, almost docile at times and he is always telling me how pretty I am and how proud he is of me. He constantly tells me how much he loves me too. We are closer now that we ever were when I was a child. He laughs a lot more now and still ever protective, he clings to my mother. He has good days and bad days and I know that inevitably at some point he may not even remember who I am, so I try to see him as much as possible.
One of the effects of Alzheimer's disease is that sometimes it's victims will not bathe as frequently as they used to, often believing they have just bathed a little while ago. So tonight, when my mom asked me to wash his hair for her, he was very resistant...but in the end he allowed me to do it and wound up enjoying his scalp massage. By the time I got home my mom called and said he was very relaxed and had gone to bed.
I don't know why this made me happy but it did.
Today as his disease progresses, I realize that I am very protective of Freddie. I take him to his doctor's appointments and afterwards we have lunch together. He gets a big kick out of it when people recognize me on the street. I desperately want my career to blossom both financially and creatively so that I can take care of the two people in my life who have always taken care of me. I want to do it while he can still remember it because I know that eventually the time may come when he may not. I realize now that God will always step in and give you what you need...even if YOU don't know you need it. I needed a father when my birth father didn't have the time or the inclination to be one and God gave me Freddie. For that I will always be thankful. I want him and my mom to know that I appreciate all that they have done and sacrificed for me to become who I am today. I want to thank him for the beautiful gift of music that he unknowingly gave to me and I want him to be here to share in my success and all of the fruits that come from my labor. Most importantly, I want him to know that I love him with all of my heart.
I really do.