I consider my relationship with my father unorthodox at best. It could be characterized as horrible at worst, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are moments that still linger and make me wonder what he could have been, had the dealer that dealt him his cards in the casino called life been less cruel.
My father wasn’t a free man. He was shackled by something. A tangible trauma. I don’t know the origin of this trauma, he never spoke of it, but it could be felt and if you stared into his dark brown eyes, it could be seen hiding behind his pupils, coloring his view of the world.
On special weekends, after sundown, my father found a diamond and told the whole neighborhood about his discovery. My parents’ bedroom had a set of windows that overlooked Patterson Avenue, just a few hundred feet from where it intersected with MacArthur Boulevard. There was a JVC stereo system: 5-disc-changer, dual tape deck, two speakers with a subwoofer that was optional, but allowed for a more bass-rich listening experience. On these very special nights, my father would place two ice cubes in his snifter and pour himself a glass of scotch, then he’d pour himself a few more. After downing his third or fourth round, the stereo was on and the sound of Neil Diamond’s music, completely in sync with my dad’s voice, echoed off of East Oakland’s scarred concrete.
The beginning of my father’s performance always started with something triumphant. “We’re coming to America, today,” he’d sing as he raised his glass out of our window into the cool bay air. I used to come out of my bedroom to watch him. I stared in awe as his body would move wildly to the rhythm of the instruments and his face would match the emotions suggested by the inflection of Neil’s voice.
All of our neighbors got a front row seat to my father’s show, but I was one of the lucky few who was blessed with a backstage pass. Not everyone in the audience were fans. His renditions of Neil’s greatest hits also attracted their fair share of hecklers. Sometimes the neighborhood hustlers who sat on stoops or gathered in front of liquor stores would loudly laugh at my dad or they’d scream “shut the fuck up,” but my father didn’t listen. He wouldn’t lower his voice or turn off the music. He just continued to pour his soul out into the void…