“A man I didn’t know, became a man I loved…”
In my blog “A Letter To My Daughter”, I wrote: “I hated my father. Not the man who raised me because he was great and I wish you could have met him, but the man who is connected to me biologically.” I wasn’t expecting to dive deeper into that statement because I don’t feel the need to explain my hatred for anyone. If I hate you, I hate you. But then I realized that in that statement I also mention someone I loved.. someone I would’ve introduced my daughter to as her Grandpa. And sadly, someone who is no longer with me, but I find myself thinking of almost if not every day.
My mother met Gary in 1994. She went out to a club with her friends and apparently her and Gary hit it off. Shortly after, there was often a strange man in my living room eating my dinner and watching my television. Granted I was 7 at the time and didn’t pay any bills but it was still my living room, my television, and my dinner. This strange man basically made himself at home and took over. He would be there all the time watching sports games on the tv, rooting for the Bulls, the Yankees, Syracuse. I was upset. I had no say and had to watch whatever he watched. To spite him I would root loudly for the opposite teams. I rooted the Knicks (at the time). Rooted for the Red Sox! For Duke. I could feel him side eyeing me. We didn’t get along. BUT, he did love my baby sister. She was only about two at the time he came into our lives but he made it seem like he was there the day she was born. He would take her everywhere, buy her clothes, show her off to his family and friends. I was the stepchild, Pourcher was his daughter. At a cookout once, Pourcher’s real father showed up and Gary wouldn’t let him hold her! Pourcher’s father had to visit his daughter while she was being held by another man. I remember watching that and thinking to myself that they should just fight for her. But to be honest, Gary would have won.
Not long after, Gary and my mother wanted to get another apartment. We moved to Franklin Ave because Gary thought we all needed more space. Here was this man who came into our lives and decided that we should all just get up and go! As the years passed, Gary tried to bond with me. He would take me outside to shoot hoops. Give me money for lunch. Buy me sneakers and clothes. And even still, I was stubborn in my ways. Me being the oldest, he wanted me to do more around the house. I was often expected to go to the laundromat alone. If I got my sneakers dirty, he would make me sit in the bathroom with a toothbrush and clean them. I had to run to the store for groceries. Had to mop. Had to do dishes. Had to clean. I felt like I was doing all these chores and he got to just watch TV. One day he asked me to take out the trash. I told him no. I asked him “Why doesn’t he do it?”. He smirked. Later that night I was playing my video game in my room and he came in and unplugged the system and cut off the TV in front of me. “I paid for this game and this TV”, he said. Then as he left, he cut off the room light and said, “I pay the light bill”. I could smell food cooking but I didn’t leave my room. I knew he’d be on some sucker shit and tell me that he paid for the food too, so I just sat in complete darkness the rest of the night. That morning as I left for school, I took out the trash. When I came home, my game system was on my bed. I didn’t challenge him anymore after that. If he told me to do something, I just sucked it up and did it.
Before I knew it, my mother was pregnant with July. July was Gary’s first son. Now before he had met my mother he had two other daughters for previous relationships, and with Pourcher, he would tell you that he had 3 girls. Overtime he considered me his son, but July was truly his. They look so much alike, especially that nose. July is also very much like his father, quiet but always planning and plotting. Hardworking. Strong. When it came to July, Gary didn’t use the word no. Spoiled him, never yelled at him, July was his pride. I think it was because of July, that me and Gary actually started building more of a relationship. Gary would always make me take him outside to play basketball, made me take him with me to do laundry, made me show him how to clean his sneakers, help him with his homework. Gary looked to me to do these things because Gary worked so much. He wanted me to instill in Juju, what he had instilled in me. And at first I didn’t notice what Gary had taught me. I thought he was trying to bully me. But as I got older and taught these things to July, I realized what he was trying to give me and make me understand, responsibility. And now that July was here, he would be my responsibility if Gary wasn’t around. Gary was teaching me so much, I never knew I was learning. Till this day I will sit in the bathroom with a toothbrush and clean my sneakers cause a man should take pride in the way he looks. I do and fold laundry every other day because a man should look and smell good, and have on clean clothes. I make sure every bill I have is paid because a man takes care of those closest to him, his family. I make sure there’s money in my pocket, because a man works hard and should have something to show for it. I learned all these things from a man who at one point was a stranger to me.
My mother will probably never admit this, but Gary was probably the love of her life. Even after they had broken up, Gary moved into an apartment on the same block and always came around. I’m sure he moved so close to keep an eye on her because in reality, she was the love of his. They split after 15 years together in 2009. Despite his pleas to get back in the house, even proposing to her, she didn’t let it happen. He still gave us money when we asked, came over for dinners, spent time with July. But the two of them (my mother and Gary), never saw eye to eye again. It made us all sad but, there was nothing we could do. Eventually they both found other people and went their separate ways fully. I talked to Gary on the phone at least twice a week after I myself moved out. We would spend an hour just talking about basketball or about something in the news. I would ask him for his advice about my job situation at the time. He would tell me about going over to my mothers to visit July and spending time with him. We talked on birthdays, All Star game weekends, Superbowl’s. But a few years after I had moved, Gary had a heart attack, and was gone. At first I didn’t cry. I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to react. Or even if I should react. But then I realized, I had just lost my Father. He would never be there to ask for advice. Never be there to talk sports. A man I didn’t know, became a man I loved, and then he was gone. He won’t get to meet my daughter. And again, she won’t get to meet one of her grandfathers. And yes, I’ll teach her to do the laundry, to work hard and keep money in her pocket, to clean her kicks… but I would’ve loved if Gary could’ve carried her around at a cookout and acted like she was his.
I can’t tell you how my mother feels, how Pourcher feels, how July feels.. this is just my perspective. What I can tell you is that Gary Slade was strong. It took four security guards to wrestle him down and drag him out of a BestBuy when we tried to return a microwave and they wouldn’t accept it. Gary Slade worked hard. He was the manager of a 24 hour supermarket and worked 10 hour shifts overnight, 6 days a week. Gary Slade loved the Bulls and Scottie Pippen was his all time favorite player. Gary Slade came into a woman’s life, raised 2 of her kids like they were his own, and had another. He kept us ALL in new clothes and sneakers, made sure we had money for lunch and school trips, and he loved us. He was there for parent teacher conferences, basketball games, karate tournaments, and graduations. He always answered his phone, always called to check in, and always made sure we knew he was there. And even though he’s not here physically, my Pops (I called him Pops because July and Pourcher called him Daddy and I was too old for that), is still with me. Still with us..
Happy Birthday Pops.