Patrick A. Howell

Lessons I learned when I buried my father

Burying one’s father changes yourself, the rest of your time and the meaning of what remains.

 

 

“I can see clearly now, the rain is gone. I can see all obstacles in my way. Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind. It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) sun-shiny day.”
—Johnny Nash, I Can See Clearly Now

I almost don’t believe it. Daddy passed away at the end of Winter. Was he really mortal? Just as Spring was about to renew all of us, he departed from this earthly realm.

When you are a little boy and the sky and the sun reach out to you in the form of a handsome bearded man who is as tough and determined as he is gentle, so sweet, and handsome, you become a little one protected by a real giant in this crazy world. It never occurs to you that the sun and the sky will one day pass from this realm. They are permanent, right?

I remember sitting in the back seat of his sky-blue Monte Carlo when we lived in Land Park, Sacramento, and feeling that fierce sensation of “protector.” I also still feel that gentle incandescent glow, a current sensation of his immense love and life force. His energy is unmistakable. It was always there beneath the exterior of bravado, confidence, and gallantry that was his Caribbean swagger. And it is here now. Always. There aren’t a lot of men like Daddy. In fact, there are none. He is distinct. His own creation. We are all creators made in the image of our fathers.

He raised all of us the best way he knew how and that is to be the very best that we can be. The art form and practice of parenting is one of several disciplines he absolutely mastered in his lifetime. He was a genius awarded degrees, teaching assignments, and designations by some of the most illustrious academic institutions on the planet. He was an avid reader and a published author. He was for the spirit and love. He was against the system and the disenfranchisement of the spirit. He fought and won battles. And we all take not only a quantum of inspiration but see the magnificent example he set for us as a father and human being making his way through life. We are all making our way as he did, determined to be the best version of ourselves. Or as he loved in Frank Sinatra’s classic, “I did it my way.”

Some of his earliest accomplishments in life are engraved in the NCAA record books, ten different times during his two-year track and field career. He was an athletic talent who took that currency and turned it into academic gold as a doctoral candidate in history. Daddy was a visionary and manifestor. A spirit in this material world. And this means that he spent time mastering himself as well as spiritual principles.

Now, I feel aged; somehow matured (miraculously). His last words to me were, “Patrick, I love you, baby.” He knew precisely what he was doing. He told my son to listen to his mother and father, to be guided by our wisdom. The tactical and strategic deployment of his intentions was another area of mastery in his life. He knows how to have a vision and put real-world energy into its manifestation. He is a magic man, practiced and proud of his craft. Long before the world was introduced to Anthony Robbins or Deepak Chopra, we had a personal self-made master of self-motivation, boundless optimism, and the application of spiritual principles into equivalency of real-world currency.

The sun is bright today and there is a calm everywhere. Chimes singing in a gentle breeze. Spring is casting her spell and singing her song. And we are all enchanted. A perfect blue sky. Different birds singing, chirping, and cawing. Trees are rustling and shimmering. So, I can know all of these things with startling clarity and permanency. In a way, he lived his life hard. Passionately and fully. Always told us to be better than him. I’m trying. (I’m confident that assertion “try” annoys him.) It’s hard to follow in the rather large footsteps of a giant calypso man who came to the land of opportunity only as a determined young man (really, just a teenager). And I will keep trying because one of the fifty or so edicts he engraved on my heart and in my spirit are, “The race is not for the swiftest but for he who has the endurance to endure and endure to the end.” My God, Daddy endured.

Another one of his classics? “Life is strange. Strange, man!” And I, a little boy, was like, “What?” He would look at me with neither pity nor derision and say, “One day you will find out.” And, know what? I’m okay. He prepared me. He prepared all of us to be the manifestation of his dream for us. We. Are. All. Prepared.

To be sure, there is a Hell to be had in this earthly realm. Look at this silly, silly world these days. But Daddy’s peace is as expansive as any peace I have known. I believe he would like to hear me say that. I know he does. The grass is still, barely rustling, and the wind blows wave after wave of a bright undulating light that is his energy. His final accomplishment is not my full maturation as a man. We all must finish raising ourselves.

Daddy teaches me determination (“If you never give up, you never lose,” or “The race is not for the swiftest but for he who has the endurance to endure and endure to the end!”) and fearlessness (“When God is near have zero fear.”). He teaches me how to battle with the entirety of my spirit (“Fear nothing. Fear no man. They all have ten toes and ten fingers just like you!”). Be brilliant (“Be the best at whatever you do! Or, don’t do it at all.”). And take “no” from no one, but God. Then, there is the timeless classic, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” A legacy fa’sho.

But it is the peace I feel that will be his parting gift. A final lesson from a brilliant professor, mentor, intellectual, and man. I have had my share of victories and successes in this lifetime. And I have had some wonderful mentors. But the best teachers I have ever had, by far, are Mommy and Daddy. They were my first fans, cheerleaders, and motivators. Their words never end. They are source.

Ancestors. Finally, his space is now bigger than his body. It is expansive. Giant. Released into the heavens. Into the sun. So now he walks the earth as all his children. Roots. And I am receiving the force and clarity of mission. It is beautiful. My focus with purpose.

Love you, Daddy, PAH.

 

Patrick A. Howell

Patrick A. Howell is an award-winning banker, business leader, entrepreneur, and writer. His first work was published with the UC Berkeley African American Literary Review and Quarterly Black Book Review. At Cal Berkeley, he co-founded Diatribe - a People of Color News Collective. Mr. Howell, is a frequent contributing writer to the Huffington Post, Tishman Review's Craft Talk series, Into the Void, and is a Good Men Project Blue Box Columnist. He has interviewed Nnedi Okorafor, Ishamel Reed, and Nikki Giovanni. He has been cited in national platforms as equities.com, NBC BLK, Opportunist Magazine, and The Grio. Howell’s integrated book of poetry-design, “Yes, We Be" was published by Jacar Press in February of 2018 and debuted at the Los Angeles Festival of Books. This summer he graduated the Leopardi Writer's Conference in Recanati Italy to complete work on Quarter 'til Judgement Day, a coming-of-age experimental fiction work.

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