Happy Father’s Day, Dad

By Dr. Harold A. Black

My dad died on August 13, 2002. He was terminally ill and in the hospital. He knew he was dying. He said that he had wanted to make it to his birthday on November 19 but had changed his mind. Now he just wanted to live until August 30, the due date for my daughter who was pregnant. My daughter delivered the morning of August 13 and twelve hours later Dad died. He saw pictures of his new great-granddaughter, Haley Savannah. “Haley” was for Alex Haley and “Savannah” was a tribute to my father who graduated from Savannah State University. Dad died peacefully knowing that he had a healthy, beautiful great-granddaughter named “Savannah.”

Dad was strong, forceful and strict. But he never exercised corporal punishment. He never struck us in anger. He did not tolerate excuses. He said to never apologize. Just do better next time. He said that envy was an empty waste of time and to make others “envious of you.” He rarely showed affection and almost never offered praise.

I was a very good student but not straight As. Dad was visibly disappointed with me when, unlike my brother, I was neither the valedictorian or salutatorian of my high school class even though I graduated with high honors and as a member of the National Honor Society. I was two years ahead in school and never had a date in high school. I was often miserable at home and looked to leaving for college even if that college was the University of Georgia in 1962.

Dad said to shut out the noise and focus on my objectives. He said to work hard and find my limits and then find someone to help me push through them. He warned me that at Georgia I had to be prepared for any adversity. After my first quarter where I had endured my room being set on fire, my windows broken most nights, firecrackers dropped down the slats in the door and other incidents too numerous to name here, Dad got my grades. He balled them up, threw them on the floor and pointed his finger at me saying “Never bring grades like these again into my house.” Puzzled, I unfurled them and saw an A, a B+ and a B. I cried and told my mother to take me back to Athens. When I made all As a couple of quarters later, Dad said “Don’t they give A+ at that place?”

He never said he was proud of me or that he loved me. Yet when I would go to church, people would come up to me and tell me how proud he was of me. That he boasted on me and my accomplishments. I used to say, “Are you sure you are talking about Eldred Black?” As a matter of fact I used to tell my friends that Eldred was Spanish for “the terrible.”

Dad retired from two full-time jobs. He taught high school biology and later became a principal while working as a postal clerk at night. He was powerful, demanding and commanded respect. His students loved him and would call him “Daddy Black” to his back and told me how lucky I was to have him as a father. Again, I used to say “Are we talking about the same Eldred Black?” Dad was a powerful role model to all the hundreds of students he touched. There are now men named “Eldred” because of him.

Dad and I had our “come to Jesus” moment when I told him how deeply I resented growing up in his house. I was then a tenured full professor with a presidential appointment. He simply said he was just trying to be a father. He offered no apology. But I did not expect one. He still never said he was proud of me. He still never said he loved me. He just could not bring himself to do that. He did not ask for forgiveness nor would I ever forgive him. Yet somehow we grew closer as we both aged leading my mother to ask why we two did not get along as well as I got along with him. His death was not a surprise. My nephew was there and said that Dad died peacefully, undoubtedly contented with his life and the accomplishments of his two sons and his grandchildren. Well, I love you. Happy Father’s Day Dad.