As I look out upon society today—as an African-American—I see a lot of young adult men and even younger boys without a father present in their lives. I sometimes wonder if those gentlemen feel the hurt of not having their fathers around and if the things that they do are really a cry out for their own dads. At the same time, I feel so lucky, so overwhelmingly blessed that I’m not in their positions. In today’s post to The 24 To 30 feature, I’ll cover my father, Willie Hardy…
THE BACKGROUND. I’m pretty sure I met my father at the same time I met my mother…at my birth on October 24, 1984. I don’t remember about him during my first 3 years except he drove trucks and bought me a Matchbox car set. He spent a lot of time on the road as he drove trucks nationally at the time. But, from what he and my mom often tell me, he always made time for his first-born son. As he and my mom never married, I mostly saw him on weekends or during summer vacations. For the vast majority of my childhood, he lived in this apartment on Tuscaloosa Avenue in Southwest Birmingham. I always relished the opportunity to spend any kind of time with him when I was little. Back when I was 5, there was a moment when I was out and about with my late great-grandmother and we crossed up with him as he was making a delivery. I remember him buying me a Happy Meal from McDonald’s that day and me sitting on his lap. I remember the time—back when he drove trucks for BellSouth—that he took me on a road trip with him to Jackson, Mississippi. I remember being incredibly excited about sitting in the truck and he even let me pull the horn switch…an awesome moment for a 7-year-old. He was the one who always picked me up and took me to football practice when I played for the Ensley Broncos. I remember his excitement when I scored my first touchdown. As I grew older and my father’s work schedule became much more manageable, I spent more time with him. He taught me a lot of things that became very beneficial to me as I grew into my teens and later into my 20s. Though he was often firm with me growing up, he was unquestionably fair. He didn’t treat me any differently than my brother and sisters. In 2000, ahead of my 16th birthday, we went through a couple of months of him teaching me how to drive. He wouldn’t allow me to take the state’s driver license exam until I passed his own test. In hindsight, that helped me out exponentially as I’ve guided myself through many different scenarios that weren’t in the little book the Alabama Department of Public Safety gives you. When I got my first paycheck from Domino’s Pizza, my father was the one who took me to cash it. He was the one who helped me open my first bank accounts. When I moved in with him full-time in 2001, he taught me a lot about responsibility and maintaining the home during times when he had to hit the road. My father was the one who spotted the 1994 MAZDA Protégé that would eventually become my first automobile. He taught me how to take care of it. Early on, I think he realized I was quite a bit different than my brother and sisters…more focused on school and exploring the world. He often encouraged me to chase my dreams. When I left to go to Ohio State and eventually join the military, he was proud. I remember his smile when I met up with him after my basic training graduation. Even as I progressed into my 20s, my father was still a very much important person in my life. From my first auto loan to my first apartment, I always consulted him for advice on how to proceed. He was the first one to encourage me to go to Tokyo…to see places I’d never seen before. As I’ve settled into this life as a 30-year-old (as I’ll be tomorrow), I still talk to him all the time. It’s a true father-son relationship.
THE MOMENT OF IMPACT. The moment of impact with my father takes me back to October 30, 2000. I was a fresh 16 and it was the first day I was working at Domino’s Pizza. My father gave me a ride to work but as I was about to get out of the car, he said to me: “you’ll have to find your own way home”. I was startled like this dude really isn’t gonna pick me up from work. Apparently, my father was teaching me the lesson that I had to start making things happen for myself. I got a ride home from one of the drivers that night but that lesson resonates with me. It was the moment where I started to really take charge concerning the direction of my life.
HOW IT GOT ME TO 30. Tomorrow, I’ll celebrate my 30th birthday. I’ll get a lot of calls, texts, and emails from friends and family all around. But the one person I look forward to hearing from is my father. He’s always had something profound to say to me as I progress into a new year of life. I’ll take the opportunity to thank him for all that he’s done for me in getting to this point. All the love, all the punishments, all the money he’s spent on me, all the times he’s given an ear…it means a lot to me. I certainly couldn’t have got to 30 without him.