A Tribute to Eddie Harrell, Sr.
What does a tribute to my father look like? It starts with a decade of love and relationship development to have the experience with your partner and culminates in a lifetime demonstration of fatherhood being the perfect reward.
My father’s parents divorced when he was very young. He grew up with his grandparents without both parents regularly present. As a teenager, his mother died tragically in a car accident just as his parents were attempting to reconcile. His upbringing created both a strained relationship with his father and a burning desire to have a family and children of his own where he would be present.
So what did he do? He met, loved, and married a young lady he met in college who was the oldest daughter of eight (8) children growing up that actively expressed her desire to not have children. My mom has told me the story of how this was one of her conditions on marriage. Needless to say this was not the norm for young black couples graduating from college and getting married circa 1972.
Simply stated, my father spent the better part of the next decade pouring into the wife that he prayed would one day be the mother of his child. He supported my mom as she earned two (2) masters degrees. He earned his MBA. He actively and openly rebuilt his relationship with his father. He supported my mom’s younger sibling in college and after graduation. He cosigned for my aunt’s first car. He instituted a policy on both sides of my family that all nephews and nieces would come stay during the summers and spend time with them. He mentored and volunteered in the city school system. He, along with my mom, would charter, maintain, and support several community and minority based organizations focused on education and child development. They danced, traveled, worked, played, learned, prayed, and built a home together. What is most notable is I did not live or witness this part of my father’s life. These are the accounts and stories of family members, family friends, past mentees, and most importantly my mother.
As a result, my mother tells the story of how beginning in the fall of 1980, she experienced a significant change. She decided she wanted to share the experience and gift of parenthood with her friend, husband, and partner, who she knew desired to be a father. I was born in September 1981.
To summarize the next twenty-three (23) years, six (6) months, and four (4) days of my father’s life is “a celebration of the reward of fatherhood.” While continuing to do what he had done prior to my arrival, he added everything I could even know to ask from him. His presence at my events, parent teacher conferences, games, meets, recitals, concerts, baptism, practices, 1st days of school, school/team trips, birthdays, dinner table, homework table, dorm room, and apartment move-ins were a given. To say he “gave me my wings” is an understatement. My father designed and inspected every feather; he hand constructed two wings; he built an adjustable harness; and he mounted the wings on me with unconditional love.
I left home for college in 1999. I was eleven (11) hours from him, yet somehow his love and presence still grew in my life. He spent the time during my college experience getting to know and pouring into anyone he identified as important to his son. He privately called roommates to check on them and give them advice. He would talk to and share intimate conversations with the young women I dated. He bonded with my best friend from college and directly impacted his approach to family, fatherhood, and marriage. My friend and I always talk about his private conversations with my dad; how they helped him gain perspective on his nuclear family growing up; and how they created space for him to pursue the eventual wife and family he wanted. Now, visiting my college friend, his wife, and their daughter, I feel, hear and see my father’s imprint on the world that surrounds me. It lives on outside of just what he placed inside of me. His love is reflected both in the people I love and the people they love.
Unfortunately, my dad passed from cancer in February 2005. The last big happy memory with my father was over the Labor Day holiday 2004. I had just started at Howard University School of Law two weeks prior. We, along with my mom, stood on the law school campus grounds with the sun shining. He smiled at my mother and me, as she asked questions about the law library. He would be gone five (5) months later. He spent a lot of that time telling people, especially my mother, I would be okay. I was not okay for a long time. However, now I can look back and see why he was so confident in his statement. My father poured into his wife. My father poured into his family. My father poured into his son. My father poured into the people and world that supported those he loved. He built the best in all things so those he loved could have the best in all things past, present, and future.
It is timely that a request to write a tribute was made during this Father’s Day season by the founder of On Fathering. We were newly minted classmates at Howard just as that last big memory with my father was created. Fifteen (15) years later we are alumni, colleagues, and most importantly friends. The thing I am proudest to say about my friend is I see my father in him. His approach and purpose with On Fathering helps me see and feel my father’s presence and importance still around me daily.
So my final words in this tribute are, “Thank you Dad for the days you spent with me. Every day I see your love all around me.”