Fall 1985. I was 6 ½ years old and my world revolved around very simple things—my Daddy and my big brother, Thomas, my first-grade teachers, Ms. Kaib and Ms. Koone, my twenty-five classmates at Lemington Elementary School, watching “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” eating cornflakes and whole milk for breakfast and fried bologna sandwiches after school, and my nightly treat from my father if I was particularly good during the day—a Golden Audio Book. For those of you who didn’t come out of the womb wordy, nerdy, and quirky like me, Golden Audio Books were books on tape (or sometimes on 45s!) that kids could listen to and follow along with a hard-copy book as they learned how to read. I now fondly refer to those magical nights listening to audiobooks beside my father’s record player as the Howard Lakins Sr. Dream Academy. Those little golden tickets of imagination would eventually lay the foundation for my life.
My brother and my bedtime was 8:30, but somehow I managed to convince my father at least three nights per week to stay up past my bedtime to listen to an audiobook. By child number nine and daughter number six in particular, I’m pretty sure that my father just gave into whatever I wanted so that could eventually go to sleep. Thomas always went to bed on time, so my normal position by 8:40 was sitting on the floor beside the record player in my father’s bedroom and having a perfect view of my sleeping brother in the bedroom we shared across the hall.
My father would cue up the selected audio treat for the evening and give me the corresponding book to follow along with as the words began pouring out of the speakers. He would then settle in to his nightly reading of his beloved Bible or the daily news, and I would sink into a little piece of heaven as I began falling in love with what would eventually become my life’s purpose—the written word. I remember listening to and reading everything from Dr. Seuss to The Bernstein Bears. These words were my joy and I couldn’t wait to partake in a new adventure each night.
I believe in my heart that my father understood that there was some divine connection between me and the written word before I even recognized it for myself. He always kept a steady stream of audiobooks and hard-copy books for me, and there was no better way for him to discipline me than to threaten to take away my books at any moment. With me and all of my siblings, my father was always the first investor in our dreams and always made sure that each of us knew that we could do ANYTHING that we set our hearts to.
I was blessed to have a nightly classroom in the art of my choice where my mind and spirit were free to soar. It was there that my father set the stage for me to always know my life’s purpose as a writer and to have a solid dream for a life based on the written word that would take me far beyond what even he could imagine for my future.
Today would have been his 85th birthday and it’s been 10 years since he left this earthly realm. With almost everything I write, I’m always silently checking in with his spirit and saying, “Daddy, I hope this is OK.” or “Daddy, I pray that I’m making you proud today.” One of the hardest things in the world is live out my dream of being a writer in New York but not having him here to share this experience with me.
I know he’s proud of me, and I look forward to the day when I release a golden book of my own and dedicate my words to him. It takes a special man to nurture a child’s gift, and I’m beyond blessed that there was a sacred nook on my father’s floor where I was honored to be a student of the Howard Lakins Sr. Dream Academy.