Wednesday, September 23, 2015

My Father at 60

When I was in elementary school, sometimes I would walk places with my father. We might walk down the road to town, or walk down to the fish pond below our house. Sometimes I would look down and see his shadow. I would try to make my steps land within the shadow of his steps as we walked along. Though he died nineteen years ago, I still find myself trying to watch the shadow of his steps, as it were, as I examine my life to see how I’m doing. A couple of years ago, I wrote a poem about my father at 58 as I took time to evaluate my own life at the age of 58. This week I decided to do a similar thing since 60 seems to be a natural time to take stock of one’s life. I am sharing that first poem, “My Father at 58,” followed by a new one, “My Father at 60.”

My Father at 58

At certain times
I stop to check my life.
Where am I going?
How am I doing?
Where might I be headed?
Am I doing okay?

My automatic measure is to ask,
Where was my father at this point in his life?
Just as I walked in his shadow on summer days
Trying to match my steps to his
As we walked down toward the pond,
Even now I tend to automatically measure my steps to his
To see how I’m doing.

I count back the years –
Where was my father when he was 58?

Oh, but that was 1968.
A year of upheaval.
Our small community was frightened
By racial integration.
Our larger community was shocked by assassinations.
My father took one day at a time.
He did his best as teacher
To prepare one school for change.
He did his best
To provide for a family
And to see to our future
During unsettling times.

Turning my eyes to the present day,
I think I can be happy
Taking one day at a time.
I can keep on going
Because he made it through
Those unsettling times.

My Father at 60

The year was 1970.
He had successfully transitioned
From a career in the pastorate
To a career in education
Teaching in the public schools.
He shepherded a new flock
Serving as principle of the black high school
As we all transitioned
From segregation to full integration.
(Well, not all
There was that private school that opened up
To help the whites avoid equality).

He was also shepherding a family
At that late stage in life
With one son in college
One in high school,
And a son and daughter in junior high.
He continued to make his way
In the world
Which meant that he paved the way
For his own children
And for people of his community.
They called him “Preacher”
They called him “Teacher”
One friend always called him “Professor.”
And some called him “Brother Clyde.”

He navigated change throughout his life
And set an example for doing good
While navigating.

As I ask myself’
“How am I doing?”
And I look to see how my father was doing
At this stage in life,
The real questions become clearer:

Am I navigating change?
Am I doing good work?
Am I paving a way for others?

Photo by Jamie Grill (Getty Images)


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