For the longest time, people thought he was a single dad.
The truth is my husband, Jimmy, was just a father who loved his daughters and his actions showed it in every way imaginable. When you saw Jimmy, Jamila and Asha weren’t far behind or in front.
He was the parent who accompanied them on school field trips. He was their chauffeur to Tuesday night choir rehearsal and Wednesday evening piano lessons. He began every birthday with pancakes served in bed and to the sounds of Stevie Wonder singing the Happy Birthday song. Without fail, every time they left for school and then college, he’d stand at the kitchen door leading to the garage and pray with them and for them.
The memories flooded my mind recently as we rounded the curve in front of River Trail Middle School during a walk with our older daughter, Jamila. I don’t remember now what prompted her comment, but I’m pretty sure she was throwing shade when she mused her father raised her and her sister.
They laughed, I said something or other and she kinda apologized.
“I was just kidding, mama,” she said.
Kidding or not, I have to admit Jimmy Staples was and is a stand-up father by any measure.
He has what poet Hank Stewart might call “It.”
It, in Jimmy’s case, doesn’t keep record of wrongs. It doesn’t look at his calendar when you need him. It loves at all times, hopes at all times.
From the moment he found out he was going to be a father over 30 years ago, he has been present. He was there when I miscarried our first and then coached me through two cesarean sections. To this day, he has been my constant companion, through feedings and diaper changes; kindergarten and college graduations, a wedding and medical school, pushing and cheering them on like a skilled coach, wiping tears and stealing their heart like he did mine. An ordained minister, he even baptized them.
It didn’t take them long to figure out that if they really wanted something, if they really needed a yes, to ask Jimmy. He wasn’t just their father. He was their genie in a lamp.
In those rare instances when they caused me to feel anxious, he’d always reassure me that “God’s got Asha. Just pray” or “we don’t know why God chose this path for Jamila but she’s going to be just fine.”
Whatever rough patch they were going through, he was always right. It always turned out just fine.
Looking back, I don’t know how he does it — keep me calm and them on the straight and narrow without ever uttering a harsh word or losing faith.
Jimmy grew up without a dad. My only memory of him even speaking his name was in 1989, soon after Jamila was born and he got news his father had only a few days to live. Without hesitation, Jimmy went to be with him.
When he returned, he didn’t talk about the visit, and I didn’t press him for any details. I just remember him saying, “I think I would have liked him.”
I liked my dad but by the time I was old enough to really appreciate him, he’d already succumbed to lung and esophageal cancer, the cost of having enjoyed too many cigarettes and shots of corn liquor.
And though he never told me, I’m pretty sure he loved me. Jamila and Asha will never have to wonder about that. For every day they’ve been in his life, Jimmy hasn’t just uttered those words, he’s acted on them and continues to do so.
If Asha and Jamila are his “little sunshine,” he’s forever their “super dad.” That’s what they call each other anyway.
I’d be lying if I said I weren’t jealous sometimes of their relationship. He can do no wrong and I’m wrong about everything.
In terms of life-changing moments, fatherhood often takes a back seat to motherhood. It shouldn’t.
According to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey, even though most say they spend too little time with their kids, U.S. fathers today are spending more time caring for their children than they did a half-century ago.
That same survey revealed that almost half — 47% — of black fathers are living apart from at least one of their children ages 17 or younger, and 36% are living apart from all of their children. Far lower shares of Hispanic (26%) and white (17%) fathers are living apart from one or more of their children.
Even so, contrary to popular belief, black fathers were the most involved with children whether they lived with them or not, according to a 2013 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey. When compared with white and Hispanic fathers, a greater percentage of black fathers fed or ate meals with children daily, bathed, diapered or dressed children daily, played with children daily, and read to children daily.
I know hundreds of African American dads like that. I have two brothers who easily fit that description.
They support their children financially, but more importantly, they give of themselves. They kiss the hurt feelings and skinned knees and hands. They love each child differently but the same. They remember birthdays and show up for school plays and the band concerts because they know they will be missed. Just like Jimmy.
But here’s what I love most about Jamila’s and Asha’s dad. He lives and leads with integrity.
Happy Father’s Day, Super Man.