Recent news has been chronicling the loss of the “Greatest.” With respect and taking nothing away from Mr. Ali, the “Greatest” passed away when my daddy, Benjamin Franklin Bland, died November 22, 1999. My dad was a bear of a man with a booming baritone voice and an incredible sense of humor. Think Cosby before all the drama. He was a man of character and held that same expectation of character for his two daughters and four sons.
While filling the roll of the ultimate disciplinarian of the family, my daddy was loving and nurturing in his own way. He raised and managed us with expectations, not fear. Those expectations were simple and very clear: do the best you can, be honest, and act like you have some common sense. Actually there was fear; disappointing Daddy and Mamma by not meeting expectations. Now that doesn’t mean that whippings didn’t occur, but that was a rarity.
In the worst of situations, which usually boiled down to issues of disrespect, I remember my Mamma’s mantra, “I am not going to hurt my hand on you, I am going to let your daddy handle this.” Words that struck terroir in our young hearts but more often than not resulted in discussions of issues and loss of privileges rather than corporal punishment. With that said I do remember some epic, well-deserved whippings. The thing I remember most vividly about Daddy was the way he taught us lessons with and/or without the aid of leather.
My two older brothers and I were at the neighbor’s house playing. Their job was to look after me and not let me run out into the road, something I thought was great fun. Well they failed in their task and I ran out in front of a car. It was my daddy’s car. He collected my brothers and me, taking us home to meet out fate. To this day, I don’t run out into the street.
He was always present at every ball game I ever played growing up. I was so bad and rode the bench so much, it had to be just as painful for him as it was for me. If I struck out or got a hit, he was there to cheer me on and was more often than not good for a hotdog after the game.
Regarding to things and actions of questionable moral values he would say, “You can find that on any street corner,” I say that often.
The last summer I spent at home, I came in late one night with the odor of alcohol on my breath. I rushed by my Mamma as I entered the house. She thought this was a job for my daddy. The next morning, he called me into the garage for a talk. He reviewed the situation and made sure I was aware of the dangers of my actions and alcohol. As for the upset I caused my mother he told me, “next time chew some gum before you come in the house. “
He taught me on pay day to always fill your car with gas and pay yourself twenty dollars. I follow his advice to this day.
My most precious memories of my dad are of the last year of his life. Even though he had stopped smoking 30 years earlier, he developed lung cancer. We came together as a family and did the best we could as caretakers. I spent a lot of time just sitting and talking with him during the last summer of his life. I would listen to his lungs with my stethoscope for fluid build-up: he would always bark before and after my check-ups. He would give me fatherly advice, tell me how proud he was of me, and often told me he loved me, something I knew more through his actions than words. After every visit, we would hug and I would squeeze the big toe of his right foot and he would wiggle it in response.
The last time I saw my Daddy alive he was hospitalized, in the process of succumbing to his disease and treatment. He was comatose and on a ventilator. Despite my mother’s and siblings’ optimism, I realized this was the end. I hugged him, said my good bye, and squeezed his big toe as usual. He wiggled his toe.
Intellectually, I realize his response was likely an involuntary response to a noxious stimuli. Emotionally, it was him saying “I love you too.”