I dedicate this work to my father, William Josia Turner, Jr., and to the city of Boston and the innocent victims at the Boston Marathon—physically, emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, or ones sense of pride. (I began writing this piece in mid April of this year.)
My father never spoke much of the hard life he surely must have lived as a young adult black man growing up in the 40s and 50s. In his twenties after serving in the military, he took off on a journey all his own.
He did say he worked menial jobs throughout the south. I’m sure in that environment his understanding of Man must’ve been influenced by some disrespectful characters. What it must have been like, to know that you are capable of learning much more than your country made way for you to pursue. By the time I was born, in the early 70s, we were well on our way to securing middle class status. But with his second wife, a Mexican women, my father lived very poorly in Mexico. Eventually they made their way back to America with their four boys, smuggling their two eldest in, settling for a spell in Arizona. The only story I ever heard about that time, was that they lived on a dirt floor, and my older brother Ruben had been stung by a scorpion and my father had to suck the venom out of him. My father didn’t talk much about his hard times, unless there was a general lesson to be shared. Maybe he told more to the boys as they grew older, but if he did, they’ve yet to share of those times.
When he did share of his experiences, waddled by one of his poignant life lessons, my father told it like a soldier recounting his stories of the battle field and camp life. It was just the way it happened, he could look back with pride, because he was here, in a much better place to tell his story. Like the time he came home to my mother (his third wife) late one friday night, having gambled and lost his week’s wages. So he says, he felt a pitiful man, not for his losing at cards, but for the empty fridge and the hungry mouths of six children for which he had nothing to feed them. He told his stories with dignity, he was honest about his failures as much his successes. Perhaps there was one man he spoke of with slight. It was when he was working in the south somewhere, and a man wouldn’t pay him what he and his work was worth, but even then, the story ends—my father respectfully parting ways with his employer.
My father worked hard his way up, the old-fashioned way. Not old-fashioned in values, but old fashioned compared to now-a-days when folks change jobs like they do their socks. It’s not the values of the individuals, but of a whole system. My father had values, like I’m sure other fathers had, but I wasn’t raised by them, so can’t tell you about them. To this day, my father’s world view perspective, was one I appreciated as much as I could a young boy. And as I marinate with my own experiences, I often hark back to his stories in amazement at my father’s brilliance when it came to matters of social and cultural understandings. Perhaps he was a tinge bitter but that was never the gist nor the feeling behind his lessons. He never shared a story with resentment or hate. He just told it like it was. And for that, I can only ever be forever thankful. Because to this day, whenever I do sense resentment in my thoughts, I sense it as a warning sign to pull back and get the most vast perspective on matters that I can.
Stricken by a recent massive stroke, when he came to, and was clear in mind, seeming like he would make a full recovery, he had nothing but glory to give. He must have seen God, for he was filled with glory, overflowing, and also with some sorrow. He showed courage, and determination, not a word of curse at the failing of his body; not one bit of damning for it being him stricken in such a way. Again, even with half of his brain covered in blood, the man expressed no resentment, not an ounce of hate. As the weeks passed in his healing, his mind grew weary from the recovery effort. But even then, when his mind was clear, and my Dad was present, he asked for forgiveness if he ever failed to express his love for me. Son, I just wanted to say, struggling to hold back his weeping, if I ever made you feel unloved, I am truly sorry. I’m sure he had some regret, that it took this thing, to encourage this expression, one that—yes I have—waited to hear all of my adult life. I used to resent him for this. What he may not have known, is that I forgave him a long time ago, having realized that resentment had no freeing qualities to it. Having realized that if I kept up resentment all I would ever have is sadness, disappointment, and perhaps even anger at how life was—it would leave me in a loop, replaying all that disappointment. But when I chose to let go, I could start anew. A fairy tale ending wasn’t what I was hoping for, what I wanted was my freedom.
When my mother died back in ’96, both my father and I fell into a deep depression. It was just he and I in that house, I would come home from work and lay on the worn out dark green and blue wall to wall carpet, balling my soul out, would clean myself up, and an hour later he would come home. We were awful bachelor roommates. I knew he was down because of the loss, and I know what was on his mind. He could’ve been a better husband to my mother. We were both very angry, we argued a lot, over little things, like me not putting my shoes away in the front closet soon enough. I reached out to my friends, to get me out of there. I was assisting in real estate at that time, and my dear friend and mentor Sharlene rented out to me, my first apartment on Yates Street in Albany.
When my father began dating Margaret, a women we knew from the past as a friend of my mother’s sister, that was alright by me. I could hear in my father’s voice, a happiness that had been amiss for some time. When he announced their engagement, she would be his fourth wife, not one of us was surprised. Maybe my older sister was, but she’s Dad’s little girl, so it makes sense that she be his most fierce guardian. It is all about love though, and when he packed his bags to get the hell out of Upstate New York, I knew my Dad was back in action. I can’t speak for my siblings, but I’m almost positive that we all supported my Dad and his next journey. I was the Momma’s Boy, to my sister’s Daddy’s little girl, maybe everyone thought I would resent my father remarrying. Couldn’t be any further from the truth, I saw in my father a happiness that I had never seen, he was freer than I’d ever known him to be. It wasn’t about Margaret, or my Mother—what they could give him, but rather what he could give out; what he could do with the rest of his time on earth. Moreover, he was filled with hope again as he awakened into his golden years, a new man. I was still living in Albany at the time, on Hudson Avenue, there was a gap of silence between us—I was twenty-five and bitter about his refusal to help me out financially. He told me to get out of town (meaning, New York State). Essentially he knew that the struggle of that town, wasn’t worth it. He perhaps knew what was just dawning in me, that Albany wasn’t big enough for me. I asked him if New York City counted, he said yes. I’d been plotting since an epiphany struck me on the New Year’s eve prior.
On one of my calls to the rehabilitation center, I happened to call at the right moment. My father was awake, alert, and able to speak what mind he could access. He had been hallucinating in the days prior. He thought people were at his bedside, who were not. He had thoughts that people were plotting against him, that his children were plotting against his wife. These thoughts of skewed perception seemed real to him, this caused him to be physically violent with the nursing staff. The only person that could calm him, really, was his wife Margaret and his best man, Brother Larry. He was lucid enough to remember his behavior caused by his mind, like a wild horse drawn carriage with no one at the reigns. But even then he thought retrospectively, speaking from the most magnanimous perspective that I have ever heard him express. Son, that’s how he always starts his life lessons, The mind can tell such terrible lies! He meant that with every bit of his being. I am my father’s son, and the lessons I seek in learning about life, that impetus in me, is seeded by him. The mind will have you believe that even your loved ones are your enemy. He didn’t really have to say more, I knew exactly what he was aiming for. And it hit, causing reverberations throughout consciousness. His God, God, Life, was speaking through him. Truth had landed, and rippled through the veins of, at least, my existence, with a notion of singularity. As he continued to struggle to express his realizations, I knew my father was awakening, just as his mind was failing. I knew he had a glimpse into an idea so naked and raw, that the common eyes of the busy daily life could not bear to look into. I began to respond to him, us going back and forth, but then I thankfully told myself to be silent and just listen. Just listen son, listen to what I’m saying to you. That’s not what he said now, but what he had always said when I was a young boy. I wasn’t always a good listener, couldn’t wait my turn to speak, had too much to say at only ten years old. But this time, I just listened. And he filled my ideas with an awesome sense of unity, enlightenment, love, and acceptance. Here my Dad was, knowing that there was the likely-hood his mind was soon to give out, and all that filled his conscience was good and love, hope and joy—not an ounce, I say, of resentment, not one drop of hate at how his life was at that moment. He had let go, and was basking in the glory of freedom.
He went on about how the mind makes us think that everyone is different, or how we’re better or not than the next, of how we are as soon to seek out our enemy, as we are our friend. He persistently spoke of how we need to work together, how we shouldn’t be angry in dispute with one another. He spoke of the ethos of forgiveness. In any situation, my father always aspired to be the better man. Not to better than, but to live by a gorgeous rule: Treat others, as you wish to be treated. This is how we humans simply are, we treat others how we wish to be treated. And sometimes how we wish to be treated, is strictly informed by how we have been treated all of our lives. Some people are masochists, and can’t see through their own darkness, and as such is how they treat the world at-large.
Even in times of peril, we have to choose some kind of higher moral ground. We have to! If we live by relating resentment and hatred, then what will be expressed of the generations that come of it? If we raise our world in resentment, with all of the things that are wrong, then what come of it can only know to relate to it in terms, taught to it. It is so easy to step into that space of darkness, it seemingly takes little effort. It is as if closing the door and walking away. Alas we are fooled if we think it that simple. That choice is effortless to make, yet you will suffer through the consequences of that choice for your lifetime, and your inheritor’s lifetimes, and theirs, and on, and on.
I’ll so happily be updating this story, as my father is making a tremendous recovery… he is home now!