Editor’s note: One year ago on this day my dad passed away. The letter below was sent to my friends because I felt guilty about my relationship with my dad. He put in a lot of work to get me to this point in my life and I wish that I could have been there for him at the moment that he needed me the most. Although I had repaired the strain that my teenage years put on that bond we had it can never make up for lost time. If you have a family member or a friend that you truly love please take a minute today to tell them that you love them. Do that for my dad and me.
I have some sad news to relay to you all. My dad died yesterday morning. He passed away due to a massive coronary failure and this was a shock to the immediate family since he has had no history of heart problems. I am more likely to have a heart attack than he was. He had been in the hospital recently for a pancreas condition but there was no inkling that he was having any heart issues since his EKG and blood pressure tests both appeared normal. On tuesday morning as he prepared himself for work he felt chest pains. He continued with his prep until about an hour or so later when he realized that he needed some help. He phoned the ambulance service and he was rushed to the hospital. Inside the hospital as he has undergoing treatment his heart stopped and the doctors could not revive him.
I am sad for his passing, but what compounds this feeling of sadness is the fact that I have never been one to accept the responsibility that is usually reserved for an eldest child. I did not have any concerns for anyone other than myself and I lived my life without the cognizance that there was someone else that was watching me and heavily influenced by my actions. I spent time in and out of jail and other troubles and everytime that I needed someone to bail me out he was always there. He certainly didn’t have to be because he wasn’t my father, and one day I told him so to his face.
CLARENCE PENN married my mom after meeting her at NYU night school. She had divorced my father, DALLAS ELLIS, two years after I was born because of his habitual drug use and his physical abuse. Mr.PENN knew that my mom had me and he accepted the responsibility of being my father. He worked hard to put me through prep schools and provide the experiences for me that would help me excel in life. In my teenage years I began to resent him because I felt that he was too demanding of me. I left my parents house at 17 after being thrown out of Brooklyn Technical High School and quitting the work-study program at City-As-School.
I spent the next ten years in a virtual detente with my father. Not speaking more than a hello and not offering more than a good bye. Even though we used my mother as a conduit for communication, we never shared a conversation. When I needed money for college because I refused to take any loans, he would send me a check for tuition through my mother. This situation may have have continued up to his death but when I was 27 he gave me a phone call.
My dad asked me to help him out with my kid brother who was falling prey to the same demons that attack most of us middle-class Black kids. The peer pressure to affirm your Blackness through criminality. Its sometimes as if our skin color doesn’t satisfy that confirmation, so then we must go into the world and perpetuate a stereotype. That my dad turned to me at this moment was a profound revelation. He could have called on so many other people that were close to him, but that he came to me for help was so humbling to me. Ten years prior I had broken his heart to the core, but here he was before me on bended knee asking for my assistance.
All I can say to you is that from that point forward I learned more about brotherhood, fatherhood and manhood than in the 28 years prior. One thing for certain is that getting someone pregnant is the most miniscule part of fatherhood. There is a value system and a dedication to principles and community. Then there is an unconditional love for family and friends. Unconditional love requires the courage and heart of a lion. This is probably why I took it for granted that Mr.PENN’s heart could last forever. I owe my father now more than I can ever repay him and that is the saddest part of his passing.
I thank you all for allowing me this moment to cry on your shoulders and for lending my family your prayers and your support.