Many years ago, I asked my father to save my life, though at the time I didn’t understand what I was asking or what his response would mean for the rest of my life. I still dream about it today. I am very young. I stand in the kitchen and the sunlight streaming through the screen door is so bright that it hurts my eyes. But before I can turn away, the door opens and a figure begins to fill the doorway without introduction or a knock on the door. I know where everyone in my family is at this moment, and even in a less safety conscious, early 60’s Smithfield, I know something very wrong is happening. I run. I run for my father. In my dreams, I hear myself call out in a voice trembling with fear. “Daddy,” I yell. “Somebody is coming in the house.”
He was reading the paper on his bed. He never asked me what I saw. I guess he could just see the fear in my eyes. He rose from the bed, the paper falling next to my mother as he moved with purpose and speed. I saw that his face showed no hesitation…no fear. He brushed by me, his hand landing softly on my shoulder, as he passed by me to meet the unknown.
These days, I often wake up after that dream. I think about the meaning of that moment in time. How basically, I challenged my father. I asked him to show me how much I meant to him. I asked him if he would endanger his life to save mine. I asked him to show me how much he loved me. I asked him to save my life. Even though the threat was not to be a real one, he proved everything to me that day. Even if I was too young to really understand it.
Now that I’ve lived a few years and witnessed life on my own, I realize that not everyone is as lucky as my brothers and me. Not every father steps up to the plate like mine did.
When he would come home from a hard day of tending the farm and I would want him to help me fix my bike, I asked him to show me how much I meant to him. Don’t you know as tired as he was, he helped me fix the bike? Every time we asked him to do homework with us, when we knew there were a thousand other things that needed to be done, we wanted to know how much we meant to him. Don’t you know he always did the homework? When he had worked hard all year long and he had his three weeks of vacation coming and we asked him to take it all with us – to drive us here and there and do what we wanted, we asked him to show that he loved us. Don’t you know that he always took his vacation to be with us? When he didn’t have to, he added working/surviving in the meat packing plant to his life as a farmer to give us a better life and prepare to send us to college. We asked him to go to this place where I would later find out, people regularly were injured and lost body parts, got strange sicknesses like hog fever and over time, simply broke down mentally and physically. We asked him if he would endanger his life for our future. Don’t you know he went to work there every day and saw all three of us through college? He stretched himself physically, emotionally and financially for his sons. But in the end it wasn’t the things he did with us or for us that made the biggest difference. His greatest influence on our lives was a quiet one. It was just in how he lived. It was about strength of character, dedication, work ethic, treatment of your fellow man, common decency and finally and most importantly, it was about the ability to dream that even in the shadow of Jim Crow we could all be something special in this life. By the time I reached my teens, I knew the dream was possible because he had already achieved it. On an overnight at my grandparents, in a room he slept in as a child, I lay in the dark talking to two of my cousins. One of them talked at length about his life and at some point got around to his father…or the lack thereof. He said to me, “Man, you’re lucky. You’ve got Uncle Ed. I wish he was my father.” Or when I would be introduced to someone and they would say with a certain tone, “This is one of Edward Blount’s sons.”
I would be so proud and I knew how special you had become in your own life. How could the three of us lose with your example, with other people wishing you were theirs to tuck them in at night?
A common man – of uncommon grace.
A common man – of uncommon dignity.
A common man – of uncommon strength.
A common man – with an uncommon ability to love.
A common man – of uncommon faith.
A common man – of uncommon devotion to family.
I have found myself in many places that a farm boy should rightly never expect to be. And I have met many men that I would have never expected to meet. Powerful and famous with worldly influence. Role models to many. But in my life, I have had only one role model as a man, a husband and a father. He is, in my opinion, the greatest man I have ever known. And my brothers and I are lucky because we get to call him….Daddy.
Happy 90th Birthday, Daddy from the 7 year-old you saved so long ago and the 56 year-old who is proudly walking the road you have already paved.