Dedan K. Bruner
A Tribute to Alfred Clayborne
You have just received what is possibly the worst news of your life. Your incredible and devoted wife of 21 years, mother to your 9 children- 6 boys and 3 girls- has been given a few months to live due to a fatal pancreatic cancer diagnosis. In this moment, your faith is being challenged in ways you never expected. How do you respond? My father, Alfred Clayborne, Attorney at Law and former Air Force Intelligence Officer, received that devastating news 17 years ago.
I was 12 years old and could barely wrap my mind around the life altering change of losing my mother. Each of my siblings processed her passing in contrasting ways. It was an arduous time for everyone. So how does one navigate their own life being turned upside down at a moments notice and maintain the well-being of nine others? It is certainly a multi-stepped process that requires deep faith, resilience, determination and knowing when to ask for help.
My Dad displayed those qualities as well as great strength and courage when he asked his parents to move in with us after losing my mom. My grandfather, a retired pastor and grandmother, the First Lady of a Pentecostal church, were, living examples of how to serve others by their legacy of community service. I love that my father asked them to live with us. They provided prayer, laughter, and unconditional love. As products of ‘The Greatest Generation’ they knew how to persevere through adversity and scarcity. Also serving as an example for my entire family how faith would keep us through our grief.
While I may not have known the extent of my father’s faith at the time, looking back, it was evident in his actions. He found spaces where the 9 of us could grow and thrive. This included most prominently bible study. It took some time to notice, but this group of young teenagers led by a close family friend, shared one thing in common- we all had a parent that had died. This bible study group impacted me in ways that I will always carry with me. I learned how to strengthen my own faith, the value of community and volunteering, collaborating with peers, and doing work for a higher purpose. This experience nourished my heart. I deeply appreciate my father, for through this, I learned that works follow our faith.
Resilience is the ability to withstand or recover quickly from difficult conditions. My father was a living and breathing example of this very definition. A few years after my mother passed away, I faced my own life-threatening illness, which would land me in the hospital multiple times as a teenager. My father was right there by my side. He advocated on my behalf, showed up to every appointment, made certain I received the best treatments and prayed for me. It was his continuous encouragement, emotional support, and determination that let me know I was going to be okay. Even more than okay, with his support and confidence in me, I graduated from high school a year early and was on my way to college- ready and able. He was present then- emotionally, physically, financially, mentally and continues to be present to this day.
During this entire period, he excelled in his career and made great accomplishments, including being appointed to Senior Executive Service for the Federal government. It was his work in government with the Illinois State Legislature that exposed me to the importance of professional determination that cultivates an environment for success. Watching him achieve such an incredible amount of success while weathering such personal hardships inspired me to always continue to actively be my best self.
A man of character and high morale, he met his responsibility of parenting with courage, vigor, discipline, and sacrifice. He continues to lead with his values and principles. He showed me that I could achieve anything as long as I believed in myself. He put his children first and still does. He groomed my interests and kept me close to God. He invested his time, money, and energy in me. Growing up, he encouraged me to read, explore the world, and to stretch my thinking. He taught me how not to abandon others and my responsibilities when life gets hard.
As my first and arguably most important relationship with a man, my father continues to be my rock and guiding compass through life. His relentless courage and support are the reasons I am where I am today- a behavioral therapist with my own business. In moments of despair, I'll always remember the encouraging words he once told me. He said, "Life is full of unforeseeable circumstances, most in which you have no control over. The way you respond to those challenges is where your character lies. It's your perspective that will make or break you." I suppose it is these sentiments helped him successfully navigate some of the most challenging times in life. I can’t thank him enough for the invaluable lessons he taught me. The amount of self-sacrifice he displayed cannot be quantified.
Thank you dad for your shining example of loyalty, integrity, devotion, love, and so much more!