Happy New Year! Welcome to 2015!
For the first time in my life, I am excited to start a New Year. No fears and worries that this year will be just like the last. No resolutions, broken the minute I write them down.
Just a hope and a dream. A promise only to myself, to do the things I love and to love the things I do.
I took a giant leap toward this promise, just by starting this blog 5 days ago.
Today I embrace and give honor to my past, present, and future in this threefold post.
I want to establish and illustrate the purpose and scope of my blog. [I invite you to read the About section of this page for a more detailed explanation.] To make it short and plain: I want the World to know that Black Lives Matter; that ALL Lives Matter; and that these two statements are not mutually exclusive. They are, in fact, inclusive and dependent on one another.
Embracing My Past
First, I honor my father, who passed away on this date in 2007, by sharing the tribute that I wrote for him and delivered at his funeral.
JOFO (“Jack” Oliver Fitzhugh Oldham)
(December 5, 1928-January 1, 2007)
January 2, 2007
My grandmother gave him her family names, Oliver and Fitzhugh. But because she didn’t want him nicknamed Ollie, she called him Jack which, among his cousins, turned into Jackie. I am his firstborn, Jacquelyn Olivia. I’m known as Jackie–and sometimes as Jack! This could be very confusing at family gatherings, both of us answering to Jack or Jackie. JOFO is the moniker he gave himself.
Dad was my #1 teacher, my guardian, protector, and friend. He taught me, first and foremost, what love means. In photos–which are just frozen moments of real life–it is clear that he adored my Mom and she adored him. Together, they were a golden band of love in raising me and my brothers.
Dad taught me the love of ideas. As early as age 5 I was learning from him about the Great Books of the Western World, about the great philosophers of the ages. Early on, Dad taught me new words like “antidisestablishmentarianism.” Not just that it was (then) the longest word in the dictionary, or how to spell it, but to look up its meaning. He did this with my brothers–and cousins–as well. Dad and I talked about religion, theology, politics, psychology, all kinds of things, with an openness to understanding. Looking for life lessons in everything from Star Trek to Star Wars to Chariots of the Gods, exploring the possibilities of other life forms and intelligences “out there” while still maintaining a foundation of belief in God, Dad taught me that it was Okay to question.
We went everywhere as a family, often with aunts and uncles and cousins–to the park to have a picnic and play baseball, out to Friendship Airport to watch the planes come and go, to parades on Pennsylvania Avenue, to the corner drugstore for a fountain Coke with a cherry or lemon in it, or to some little street carnival. He’d take me on the Ferris Wheel, and when we were stopped at the top and I was scared, he’d sing “I’m Sittin’ On Top of the World” and hold my hand until we were back on the ground again. Only last year did he tell me he hated the Ferris Wheel himself!
Dad often took me to work with him when he was a computer programmer for Social Security, at a time when the Social Security headquarters seemed to be the only building in Woodlawn. One computer took up a whole room with huge reels of magnetic tape spinning and lights flashing. When I bought my first PC in 1987, Dad told me that the capacity of his big flashing computer would fit on one of my floppy disks. In time, Dad came to enjoy playing card games on the PC. Dad was a real math whiz, doing problems in his head and, for fun, translating letters to their binary equivalents and back again.
Dad also took me to community meetings: Lauraville Improvement Association, Third District Citizens for Good Government, HARBEL. I watched him working with the likes of John Carroll Byrnes and Jody Landers and Paul Sarbanes; saw him leading the PTA of Garrett Heights Elementary and Northern Parkway Jr. High. I was proud, and I eventually did my bit, volunteering in several political campaigns over the years and finding my own understanding of government, politics, and civics. Even though Dad was very sick last year, he insisted that I take him to vote in the primary. He could barely walk, then, but I helped him in, got him a chair, and stood behind him as he voted on the electronic voting machine.
Dad was never really into music, although there were little songs he would sing to me over the years. But I will never forget how he took to “Jesus Christ, Superstar.” He sat on our living room floor with the libretto in hand, and immersed himself in the words and music.
Dad had a flair for the dramatic–reading “The Raven” and “Green Eggs and Ham” with equal “hamminess.” He had a wry sense of humor, and when he laughed, he laughed with his whole body: face crinkling up, shoulders hunched and shaking, body doubled over. Over the years of illness, he gave nurses a fit. Even this last time, he’d yell “Ouch!” when the nurse would insert a needle–not into his arm, but into the I.V. line that was already in his arm!
And then there were the spoonerisms. For most people, these are accidental; slips of the tongue. But Dad raised them to an art form that we all aspired to master. We had strange dinners such as boast reef and chaccaroni and meese. On his last birthday, just a few weeks ago, I called out to him, “Bappy Dirth Hay, Dad!”
Dad was steadfast, loving, curious, smart, strong, gentle, fun-loving, and stubborn every day of his 78 years. Towards the end, love was still the overwhelming force in our lives. He could no longer talk, but he would hold my hand so tightly that sometimes I’d have to pry his fingers away and give him my other hand to grasp. But I’m so glad I felt that strength, even near the end. I miss Dad so much already, but what wonderful memories he gave me to miss him with.
Goodnight, Dad; so long, Pops, see you later, Old Man. I love you.
Your daughter, Jackie
Embracing My Present
This is my reality. This is my life’s foundation. I maintain that this portrait of my Black father is more typical of The Black Experience—more the norm, if you will—than all the horror and pain and violence and subhumanity ascribed to us and promulgated by the 24-hour news cycle, the uninformed, misinformed, and refuse-to-be-informed. Although I will grant you that what I call normal is now an endangered way of life. For everyone. Not just the Black community.
I know that the world has changed. It has changed radically since I was growing up, in countless ways: socially, emotionally, economically, politically, morally. Without many of those changes, I would not be sitting here, writing this post in this fashion. In my lifetime, I have moved from a party-line rotary phone to a Princess phone to a cell phone with which I text more than I talk. A tablet used to be a chalkboard. Now it is, essentially, an electronic chalkboard on which we write and draw and express our thoughts with all kinds of fancy, magical bells and whistles
But a tablet is still just a tool!
In this instant, digital world—a world that my father helped develop—news travels at the speed of light, and bad news, even faster. We have so many tools at our disposal. So many that we are on the verge of letting these tools take over us instead of us controlling the tools.
Time moves so fast, now, and there is so much to be done and too little time. We complain about having to juggle our work and non-work lives, our care-giving and “me-time” selves…. News Flash: Our parents juggled everything we are trying to keep afloat, and more, without all the bells and whistles! They didn’t need to count their daily steps or take their own blood pressure three times a day or even to diagnose their own illnesses!
No! They simply lived their lives, day-to-day, and did what they needed to do to survive and thrive. Both of my parents worked. It was no big deal, because there was no other option. My grandmothers kept me during the day and my parents kept me the rest of the time, so I was never a (gasp!) “latchkey” kid! And I never ran the streets without somebody’s supervision, whether it was my grandmother or a neighbor.
Somebody, please stop me! Help me down off this soapbox!
Embracing the Future, Supported by the Past and the Present
One point of this rambling post is to simply say: Parents, it is still your job to teach your children well. Because if you fail, our entire society is going to Hell. Your children or your grandchildren have their faces buried in their tablets, phones, pads, etc.? And they won’t come to the dinner table until they’ve been called five times?
Take. the. device. out. of. their. grubby. little. hands. Yell if you have to. Spank, if you must. But you brought that little angel/monster child into this world! And it is your job to teach him or her how to get along in this world. I survived the age of television, the transistor radio, and the stereo; bicycles with no helmets (and yet I had to have a licence plate on my bike!), skates with no knee pads.
And, for God’s sake, teach your children the difference between reality and fantasy, truth versus a lie, fact from fiction.
The Big point is this: Times and technology change, but people are still people. And people still need each other to lean on, learn from, and grow with. No matter how much we believe that we are different from or better than somebody else, we are more alike than we want to admit.
My New Years “promises” are as follows. (1) As a blogger, I will keep reminding folks of the Big point, in as entertaining and informative a way as I can. (2) I will laugh (at myself and with others), love, and be forgiving as often and as much as I can; and to cry, hate, and hold grudges a lot less often. (3) With the help of you my readers, I will grow and learn.