The Broken Man: My Father and I
I started to write this about 2 months ago, but I put it on hold, as I knew that it may be meant for a different time when it all felt right. I started with a draft of a paragraph I wrote.
Today, is Father’s Day 2020, and I like to be very intentional and wanted to give my father something impactful and meaningful to celebrate him. I decided to write my next blog dedicated to him and make a smoked brisket… he’s been talking about it for a while. I did not go through the typical editing process that I truly enjoy. I did not look for the feedback from others. I just wanted to share what my soul, heart and spirit were feeling. Sometimes, the imperfect gesture of kindness is the absolute perfect gift for others. For anyone who knows me, I’m super analytical, overthinking and I like to process everything, but it’s good to stretch out our arms away from our comfort zones. I couldn’t think of a better occasion to do that then to honor my dad.
My Father, William Farrell Ragsdale Sr. and I, have a lot in common. We are self-less, compassionate, empathetic, have a dorky sense of humor and most definitely are emotional men. Most of the males in the blessed family tree of Anna Ragsdale are. That’s probably because, we all grew up in a family that was comprised of 75 percent females that are emotional, strong, independent, loving and yes… all of the guys were very afraid of them as they would gang up on us if we got too bold. And I don’t mean fuss at you, but they would be ready to fight you in a heartbeat.
I was born in 1978 and my father had turned 18 a few months before that. He shares a story with me of him sitting down outside of the University of Kansas Medical Center having a conversation with himself and God about what kind of man he was going to be. He was determined to always be there for his son and was going to love me as much as he could. My father unfortunately did not have that feeling growing up. He didn’t have that male figure during his childhood, his father left my wonderful grandmother to be a single mom with five kids. He moved to California and started a new family and didn’t look back. I believe my grandfather may have seen his son a few times in his lifetime and me, I can’t ever remember meeting him. So, you could imagine the determination my dad had at that age to be ever present in my life.
Like many people who have kids way too early, my parents’ relationship endured abuse, overwhelming hurt and hard times back in the late 70s and early 80s. My mom is white, and my dad is black… interracial marriage and kids were frowned upon, which put a strain on their marriage as well. They did not make the wisest choices for themselves or for each other and needless to say a few years after my sister was born, they were divorced. I was five and she was three.
My dad endured a significant amount of suffering and trauma growing up. The education system completely failed him. My dad was beaten by teachers in school which distorted his love of learning. He enjoys discovering history and is quite the debater when it comes to his passions. I imagine sometimes, what if they gave a damn about my father when he was in school. He could have been a successful lawyer or inspirational speaker with a leaning towards helping those in need. My dad has a keen mind and always figured out how to take care of us no matter what life through at him. He made a life for us by learning the construction trade. There would be days when he would come home aching from the tough day. He’d ask us to remove his boots and I would pitch a fit sometimes, I was unaware of the strain his body was under. I know now that was a way to say thank you and I appreciate you.
My father decided to move us out of Wyandotte County to Johnson County. He shared with me that he didn’t want us to be caught up in the same system he experienced. I also think part of it was to move away from the place that hurt him so badly. Once he established himself, he helped my Aunt Shirley and Aunt Darline and their families move closer to him. We still had my Aunt Linda’s family and my Uncle Dan in Wyandotte County. We would visit them regularly for church, family gatherings and visits to just say hi. They all played an important part in my development. My dad wasn’t just a father for me, he was also a father figure for my cousins as well and made sure they were supported.
As time went on, my dad met a wonderful person, Sharon Mariland who has been in my life for about 30 years now. She has been a great influence in my life. She and I have the same birthday, so we connected immediately. She has been there for my dad through so much and I knew she always loved me because of the example my father set. Her and I can always talk, even if it was times when my father and I had a disagreement.
Another important foundation my father was determined to set in place was education. I can remember days when my dad would bring home workbooks during the summer. He’d check in with teachers when I wasn’t aware just to see how I was doing. Most kids have parent teacher days, but my dad would just popup and check in. He wanted to make sure his children were being treated correctly and were being respectful. This was another product from the abuse he was subjected to as a young kid in school. If anyone was mistreating us, my dad was not afraid to make a very loud statement. And if I was misbehaving, I knew what was coming… that belt or the dreaded switch. My father is not a small man, so tears would flow before anything happened, LOL.
I remember an occasion in middle school… I had stolen hall passes from a teacher’s drawer and my stepmom found it in a jacket that I had left at his house. She has super OCD about cleaning, and I left my jacket somewhere and yep you’ve guessed it… she picked it up. Mind you, I was at my mom’s, but my dad was not waiting for me to return. He showed up to the school with my stepmom, the hall passes and the principle. Let’s just say, I did not take anymore hall passes, if you catch my drift. My dad had a very strict mindset of not getting into trouble and was adamant about doing the right thing. It didn’t matter if it was the law, the school or the neighborhoods we lived in.
I could talk endlessly about all the wonderful lessons I’ve learned from my father’s experience and wisdom. One of the best is his relentless support for me through my divorce. He was there when I would be so toxic to myself. One of the traps I put myself into during that time was that I was letting everyone down. I didn’t want my father to be embarrassed by my inability to be perfect, which is quite foolish. But when you’re trying to live your life for everyone else, it’s easy to come up with reasons/excuses of why you should stay in a toxic relationship. He encouraged me and said that he was proud of me and that a new beginning was a great opportunity to heal, learn and grow for myself, my kids and when the time is right… a person to share my love with. His ability to listen, hear and provide advice when needed helped me on the road to where I am. The unconditional love is all I could ever ask for. I’m sure that’s why I have such a high sensitivity towards empathy. My father’s examples of goodness are really coming to light as I get older and see how great of a grandfather he is. I see now how much more alike we are then I thought.
We have great conversations about the past and he speaks about his reflections on discipline, his behavior, love, truth, dreams and goals. He has no problem apologizing for his past mistakes and I share with him things that have hurt me from the past. He shares with me, things that hurt him in his past and if I’m a part of those, I apologize for them as well. I can not say that I regret any of my life experiences as it has helped mold me into who I am and continues to shape my perspectives on this awesome journey I’m on.
At 41, there has always been an undeniable feeling I can remember growing up… my father has a never-ending amount of love for his kids. Even to this day my dad will hug me, kiss my cheek and tell me how much he loves me. I never had to wonder if I was loved and he still calls me to just reinforce his feelings. That is the kind of father I strive to be. It is who I’m becoming. I hope to provide that level of passion for my kids and for them to say that one of their biggest memories of their dad is knowing how much I love them… just like I can say about my wonderful father. I thank God for the love you’ve shown me every day of my life and that I have you near… literally next door, lol. You’ve always filled my soul with encouragement and love. You’ve never spoken a degrading word even when speaking truth to power. For that, I’m ever so thankful. I hope my sons and daughters will have a great relationship with their dad… just like my father and I.
Proverbs 23:24: "The father of a righteous child has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him."
Luke 15:20: "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him."
Happy Father’s Day Daddy,
Love Your Son, William Farrell Ragsdale Jr.