Shouting Out My Sorta Father Figure

I'm softening on the whole "you should call your long lost father" thing because my greatest uncle just died.
Publish date:
June 11, 2012
abandonment, uncle willie, father figures

Was it Father's Day last weekend? Next weekend? I don't know because that's one holiday I don't have to worry about. Since my mother, the single parent super hero, doesn't really subscribe to the tired talk show line about being "the mommy and the daddy," we never celebrated Father's Day or marked its passage with anything resembling regret.

It was a Sunday (it's on Sunday, right?) like any other Sunday. BUT if there was one person with a penis who deserved some kudos on dad's day, it would be my uncle Willie, who died suddenly a few months ago.

My Uncle Willie the Hero

Funny thing is, Uncle Willie was not nuturing or fatherly in any conventional sense. My earliest memory of him was when he'd roll up to the family compound (yes, we had a compound) in something new and shiny and long. He'd park right in front of one of my aunt's house, which was in front of another aunt's house, which in turn was in front of my grandmother's house.

A mass of cousins, including me on the periphery, would be playing with either a bat or really big stick and maybe a ball of some kind. Uncle Willie would slide out of the driver's seat like buttah and yell in our direction, "Nobody better [expletive] bump any [expletive] thing up against my [expletive] car!" We'd scatter aimlessly like butterflies. He was scary but so damn cool.

When I graduated from high school, Uncle Willie showed up (late) in a pair of jeans and cowboy boots (did I mention he was a cowboy? In Compton?). At the reception after the ceremony he walked up to me and winked, "Good job, pee wee." He then reached into his back pocket, pulled out a wad of hundreds and peeled me off a few. "Um, thanks?" He winked again, then dissappeared.

Women were his weakness. If she was his version of pretty and could cook, then he'd propose. That was it. I've heard he once hog-tied a woman and drove around Los Angeles with her in the back of his pickup, only letting her go after my great-grandmother told him that was sorta kinda totally feaking illegal. He put another woman out on the highway and drove away because she'd pissed him off. His temper was legend.

He showed up (late) to a reading of my book in Los Angeles totally drunk. I'd saved a seat for him in the front. He sat down and closed his eyes as I read a few pages from my memoir. He wasn't sleeping, he was listening -- intently, deeply. He nodded his head with every clever simile and clapped like old men do -- cupped palms making a slow booming sound. Afterward, he hit on my best friend from high school and bought everybody a round.

I was desperate for my boyfriend to meet him when we went to visit my family for Christmas. They're a lot alike, my boyfriend and Willie. Strong willed, way smarter than their bulk would have you believe, and fiercely protective of the women they love whether they be actual lovers or neices. Describing my uncle to my boyfriend, that's when I realized Willie was a lot more to me than just my crazy ass uncle. He's the guy I'd been patterning my partners after. If someone wasn't good (strong, capable) enough to sit across the table from this man, then I didn't really want him.

Ike and my uncle met for just a moment in my cousin's kitchen. "I've heard a lot about you," he said with his hand out. My uncle winked, "A lot like what?" As if he already didn't know.

We lost him less than three months later. That was the last time I saw him, shaking hands with my boyfriend. Maybe that's why I haven't cried yet.