One of my absolute favorite childhood memories is of a perfect summer day in 1991 when my father took me and my brother, Thomas, to Kennywood Park in Pittsburgh, Pa. For those of you unfamiliar with the awesomeness that is Kennywood, let me just say that it is THE best amusement park in the country with THE best rollercoasters EVER.
Early that morning, we stopped off at the local grocery store to buy deli meat, bread, chips, and juice for the day (because there wasn’t no way in HELL Howard Lakins, Sr. was going to pay for us to get in the park AND eat their overpriced snacks!). When we returned home, my brother and I made our “lunchmeat” sandwiches and packed up all our goodies in the cooler.
About an hour later, we had all washed up, got dressed, and were ready to go to the park. My brother and I were waiting in the living room, and in comes my Dad dressed to the nines in a navy, three-piece suit with his good church shoes. My brother and I, who were 16 and 12 at the time, looked at each other and then looked at him again like, “Is this joker REALLY going to take us the park in a SUIT???” (Notice this was ALL optical and internal dialogue between my brother and I. Had we verbalized any of our displeasure about our father’s wardrobe, I wouldn’t be here today to share this delightful story with you.)
Well, the only thing standing between us and Kennywood was this little 5’9 man and his poor choice of wardrobe for the day. He told us to come on and we loaded ourselves up in the van to go to the park. There was only one appropriate word for the mountain of attention we were about to receive: embarrassed.
Once we got to the park, there were certainly stares in our direction. My father did not seem to care or be fazed by the added attention. My brother and I were DY-ING to get on the rides to get away from him.
We made an agreement to meet with my father every two hours to eat, check-in, and just to make sure we were OK. I remember my father saying something like, “Don’t forget to look for me over here.” Again, my brother and I looked at him like, “Seriously, Daddy. How could we miss you? You’re the only one here with a freakin’ suit on!!”
After my brother and I broke away from my father, the next eight hours were AMAZING! It was a quiet, mid-week afternoon at the park, and my brother and I rode almost every ride in the park and got on all the major rollercoasters at least three times. As promised, we met my dad every two hours to check in. As the day wore on, that three-piece suit became a little less embarrassing and little more comforting. It was great to be able to easily spot my dad in the crowd and to know that we had someone there who loved us enough to bring us out for a day of fun, even if his wardrobe choices were questionable.
In the 26 years that I had my father, I can’t remember ONE material gift that he ever gave me. But I do remember that THE biggest thing that he gave me and my siblings was HIMSELF. Whether it was a day at an amusement park, a graduation, or one of my brother Buddy’s numerous concerts, my father was ALWAYS there. The TIME that he invested into his children is what mattered the most, and it’s the ENDLESS gift of love that we can still hold on to.
Now that he’s been gone for almost seven years, I would give ANYTHING to see that navy, three-piece suit, sitting and waiting patiently for me in Kennywood Park. At age 12, that suit was embarrassing with a capital “E.” Now in retrospect, I can see that he was a proud black man who was honored to be able to take his two youngest children to the park with his own dollars. Why not break out a three-piece suit to celebrate that?
On this Father’s Day, I proudly celebrate the legacy of man who truly honored his role as a father with the utmost love, respect, dedication, and, as needed, with an impeccable three-piece suit.