Thursday, January 31, 2019

Dad's Birthday

Today is my father's 90th birthday. Happy Birthday Dad.

90 years. That's a long time.

I lost my Mom almost twenty years ago. There isn't a day that goes by I don't miss her. My twins, her grandsons, hear me talk about her all the time. "Your grandmother, who's not here anymore, would be so proud of you." Things like that.

They've seen plenty of pictures of her but never met her.

Now my daughter is a different story.  I have photographs of her and her grandmother but she was a little girl in them. You know how it goes with grandparents, sometimes you barely remember them. But she knows my Dad well and my twins know Pop Pop well too.

When people look at him today they see something different than what I see. They see a nice old man, I see the man who was the most important person in my life. Someone who had a huge part in shaping who I am today.

Too much? Don't think so.

Dad's father, my grandfather, died when he was four months old. He never knew him. His mother raised him and then she passed when he was just 14. Imagine having no parents in the 40's. Now throw in being black and as they say there you go. When something like that happens it's easy to understand how someone could go over to the dark side but my father never did.

He was special.

He had his own radio show at 16, one where he sang, see Dad always had this great singing voice.  He went to Xavier University in New Orleans on a full ride and starred in many operas there.

Here's a story I've never told before.
Richard Gumbel

After my mother's funeral Dad and I were at the house going through boxes and came upon his old college yearbook.

At the time I was at the tail end of me being on CBS and was about to work with Bryant Gumbel. Dad leafed through the pages, stopped on one, pointed, and said, "The president of our class was Richard Gumbel, Bryant's father." I was shell shocked, I didn't know that. And then he turned a few more pages and there he was and he casually said, "And I was the star of the class."

I didn't know that either.

Okay the memories are too many to mention but here are a few.

What kids don't know but parents do is that it's harder to be a parent than a kid. My father thought it was his job to prepare us for the cold world. We had to speak correctly and had to say please and thank you, yes m'am and no sir. Sound trite? Those things have gotten me further in life than just about anything. When he called to us we answered with, "Yes sir."

Had to and boy it payed off.

He was an officer in the Air Force, we were stationed in Germany twice and he retired as a Lt. Colonel. We had moved to Maryland and you would think I'd be a Baltimore guy. You'd be wrong. Dad's next job was in Washington so I grew up reading The Washington Post and was a Redskins and Senators fan.

Music? I never could sing that well but I had 9 years as a rock and roll disc jockey in big markets-Baltimore, Detroit, Chicago, New York. To this day I know my tunes and although it's not opera it's still music. That's the influence of my Dad.

The college of musical knowledge.

One of my memories is funny. He had come to Detroit to visit and we went to a mall to do some shopping. In one of the stores I reached up to get something and he said, "Uh oh." Let's just say his son was, ahem, odoriferous. When he told me I was mad and upset. "But Dad," I said, "I use Right Guard everyday." "You need something stronger." He gently steered me towards Mitchum deodorant and the problem was solved.

Thanks Pop.

When I got on television he told everybody.  He was so proud of me then and still is today. Afterwards I suffered a massive stroke. Being a stroke survivor is a hard thing but he sure has made it easier with his loving understanding, his loving advice, and his loving attaboys.

He's now in an Assisted Living home. I see him as often as I can but it's hard when you live in Florida and he's in Maryland.

I talk to him on the phone almost every day and one more funny thing. He now suffers from Alzheimer's and since I repeat myself we're a match made in heaven. I can tell him stuff I told him yesterday and it's as if he's hearing it for the first time.

But here's the thing.

When we talk the clouds move aside and the sun comes out and he's my Dad again. And I am the son sitting at his father's knee.

Talk about heaven.

They say that memories sweeten through the ages just like wine. So has my love for him.

Today is my father's 90th birthday.

Happy Birthday Dad.

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