As a child, I did not know what father’s day was. I simply wasn’t exposed to it.
So, as a teenager, when I eventually learned about Father’s Day I was reminded about how my biological father wasn’t a part of my life while I was growing up. I wasn’t sad when the holiday rolled around. (You can’t miss what you’ve never had.) But, as a child back then, I had no reason to celebrate.
Now that I’m older, I understand how multiple people have helped me develop into the man I am today. I see how through the years, people have shared their life’s experiences, helped me learn from their mistakes and stepped up to act in the stead of what we traditionally call a “father.” These people who helped me didn’t offer their assistance under the pretense of knowing I didn’t have a father at home. Still, no matter who they were, they played their part as a resident of the village coming together to raise a child. (You DO know it takes a village, right?)
My uncle Willard was one of those people. He lived out-of-town, but was back home visiting my Grandmother (his mother) one summer years ago. It was always exciting when he came to town, so when I opened the door to my Grandmother’s house, I was happy to see him and gave him a hug. He was staring at me awkwardly. I wondered why.
“Um, Darrick,” he said. “You need to SHAVE!” (I guess my teenager stubble irritated his face.)
“Didn’t anyone ever teach …” He stopped himself, realizing the impact of what he was about to say. Instead of finishing that sentence, he just decided to B-1 and dropped a knowledge bomb.
“Go upstairs, into my suitcase. I have some razors and a can of Barbasol in there,” he ordered. “Go into the bathroom; wash your face with hot water, as hot as you can stand. Don’t dry off, but instead, apply some shaving cream on your face from your ears down to the base of your neck. Then take slow strokes with the razor, pulling the skin tight under the tricky parts like under the chin and lips. You might nick yourself, but don’t worry. Just wash off when you’re done and put a little tissue on any nicks until they stop bleeding.”
BOOM! (To my uncle Willard: Happy Father’s Day.)
Will Meekins was one of those people. Well, back when I joined the Marine Corps, I knew him as “Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Meekins, SIR!” (It’s like A Tribe Called Quest, you gotta say the whole thing.) He was one of many experienced Marines charged with taking a diverse group of America’s boys and turning them into men.
During the three months I knew Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Meekins (SIR) I don’t think I said more than 5 short sentences to him. As with most Marine Drill Instructors, communication is predominantly one-sided. They speak, you listen. Occasionally, you could respond with an “Aye, Aye, SIR!” But that was about it.
Meekins didn’t really have a choice about whether or not to B-1 … It was his job after all. But as he and his fellow Drill Instructors dropped knowledge bombs, they impacted me. He taught me how to tie a tie (so I could wear my service uniform). He taught me how to fight (literally and figuratively). I learned how to overcome fear, and how to keep trying, even when it looks like I’m not succeeding. He instilled pride in me, and taught me to have confidence in myself.
The women who raised me, my mother, grandmother and aunts, did a heck of a job. But for the times when a knowledge bomb was best-delivered by a man, the Marine Corps delivered through Drill Instructor Staff Sergeant Meekins, Sir!
Watch the below video, and scroll to 11:53.
On the day of bootcamp graduation, Meekins approached me after the ceremony. My body tightened up, ready to receive the loud onslaught of yelling that I was conditioned to receive anytime he was within earshot. Instead, he hugged me. Instead of the usual yelling, he spoke in a soft tone. (My body was still at the position of attention, because I was scared to move.) He leaned in, with that razor-sharp Smokey-the-Bear hat just inches away from my face, and whispered to me something to the effect of: “I’m really proud of you. It was tough, but you stuck through it. You keep doing what you’re doing, and you’ll make a fine Marine.” He quickly shook my hand, and then just walked away.
BOOM! (To now-retired MSgt Will Meekins: Happy Father’s Day.)
My uncle Malcom was one of those people. When he fell in love with my Aunt Peaches, he made a decision to raise a family that was not his by blood. And he did so without skipping a beat. Uncle Malcom has never passed on an opportunity to B-1. I learned how to cook by watching him. And when I didn’t know the difference between a sport coat, a business suit, or a dinner jacket, I bought my first suit with his expert tutelage. (Happy Father’s Day, Malcom!)
This (and every) father’s day, I’ll be thankful for those people who, regardless of gender, help children navigate life’s challenges. Life’s hard. It’s even harder when you don’t have help.
The next time we feel the urge to rant about “those damn millennials” or pre-judge youngsters to be thugs, hoodlums, or bad hombres, we should try to restrain ourselves. We should think about whether or not they had the benefit of having adults take the time to drop a couple of knowledge bombs on ’em. Maybe they didn’t have a father at home … Maybe YOU need to B-1.
If I can B-1, just long enough to drop a knowledge bomb, I will when I’m able. Military life doesn’t make it easy. Luckily, I’m married to the best (and most beautiful) bombardier I know. When I’m away from home, I know Muna is seated prominently in the right seat as our son Taj flies his plane of life into adulthood.
When I return, I’ll stay focused on being the father I never had. I’ll keep trying to B-1 in our son’s life (even if that means nothing more than dropping the occasional Dad joke like the one in this blog post.)
Happy Father’s Day to all.