I last heard my Dad’s voice when he visited my eldest sibling to say goodbye to his grandchild on the way to the airport en route to Jamaica. I was twelve at the time and my niece was his first grandchild.
The irony of Dad’s solitary return to Jamaica was that he had left Jamaica as a married man with a wife and kids. He arrived in America in 1953 with three children, to reunite with his wife, my mom, who had travelled previously to secure lodgings for the family. The family settled in Washington Heights, NYC, because Dad found a job as a Super in a large apartment complex. My parents saved money and eventually bought a three family brick house in Park Slope, Brooklyn purposely avoiding the West Indian community on Eastern Parkway.
I became his fourth child on January 11, 1964 and his place as a nuisance in our six person fragmented family became apparent as I began to dissect the relationships amongst adults. During my formative years, his contributions to my development were few and not substantial as his focus was on concealing his taste for Fleischman’s Whisky.
Dad lived in the finished basement while Mom, the siblings and me, lived on the first floor, 5-room apartment. When she was at home, mom ruled the first floor with a semi iron fist while Dad was a nod in passing. ‘Yes we know you’re here, not to our liking, but we have no choice but to greet you with a nod and an occasional grunt’. He worked as a plumber, repairing pipes and whatnot of buildings in the area and I’m not sure, if he was self-employed or company employed. He left in the morning, came home, ate, went to bed only to repeat the routine the following day.
Our father/daughter bonding took place at five o clock, Monday through Friday over a shot of Fleishman’s whisky, Dad’s method of relaxing at the end of the day and for me, nothing better to do. With the whisky filled to the rim and holding our shot glasses (thumbs and forefingers), our glasses met in an unspoken toast and consumed in one take. Our ritual afforded a drink and nothing else. The burning of the throat ceased some time ago along with the grimacing. As a dog that desperately waits for its masters’ approval, I too waited for the nod that approved of my emptied glass. Whisky was much better than Ovaltine chocolate milk in the mindset of a seven-year old trying to connect with her father through any means possible.
My siblings were the recipients of Dad’s verbal and controlling abuse in Jamaica-West Indies-not Jamaica, Queens. I was born in Brooklyn, New York in America and for eleven years, Dad the semen donor, was a figure without much substance; he took up space without any useful purpose.
Mom, my mom, sought refuge from the husband by way of her 9-5 job and Saturdays where outings with the “girls” (aka her sister) was spent at Roseland for ballroom dancing and socializing. Those Saturday nights would find me clinging to her high-heeled choice of the evening, begging for her to stay home instead of leaving me in the babysitting hands of my brother and sister who took great pleasure in torturing and teasing me while watching Creature Feature horror films. The oldest sister was always out on a date with a boyfriend who eventually became her husband.