Memory of My Fathers
In my lifetime the idea and image of father has changed. I’m of that generation in which Daddy was the feared disciplinarian, a mysterious but strong and dependable source of stability and safety. He wasn’t my confidant or comfort. So, the memories of my dads that I treasure the most are those as an adult which happened just months before their deaths.
First, I am one of those special people who was an only child but had two dads – a situation more common now than when I was a child. I am the only child of the union of Ann Elizabeth Glenn and Tommie Walker. Even though Tommie had proposed to Ann and gave her an engagement ring, he was not yet divorced. Despite his separation, he visited his wife, after Mama was pregnant with me, and as a result of that visit I have a half sister just six months younger than me. My mother could not handle that betrayal and ended up marrying her high school sweetheart, Willie Alexander. I grew up calling him Daddy and was raised with my three sisters, the daughters of Mama and Daddy.
When I was in third grade, my mother asked me if I wanted to change my last name from Walker to Alexander. Not only did that name change move me from sitting in the back of the classroom to the front of the class, it also meant that my sisters did not know my father was different from theirs . They did not find out until we were all grown and had left home. When I was 24 years old my other sister and three brothers, Tommie Walker’s other children, met me for the first time.
My two fathers had two things in common, both loved Ann Glenn and both were attractive light skinned black men. Growing up, my mother always thought it was funny when people said I looked like Willie, solely because I was light skinned compared to his daughters. But, I look like my father and even though not raised with him, inherited a lot of his characteristics.Tommie Walker was a creative, athletic, and reserved man. He was a lifelong photographer, worked at TV stations, and was a mechanical engineer. His last career was as a teacher. He was athletic, playing tennis into his early eighties with a wall full of trophies. Willie Alexander was very different. He was a partier, drinker, storyteller, womanizer, career Air Force sergeant, and retired from a job in juvenile detention.
Tommie was active, vibrant, and healthy until he got shingles. After that he had one medical problem after another and suffered from a traffic accident. The last time I saw him, he still was not speaking, but he was up, alert, and aware of my presence. Before he went to bed he looked directly into my eyes and I felt a lifetime of love.
I visited Willie after he had recovered from a bad illness. He was up and about, driving, talking, the man I had known all of my life but with a softer edge. We visited my mother’s grave. There, I asked him about the wedding and engagement ring I wore. They were in the box of photos and papers Mama had left for me. I did not receive the box until after she died. Daddy told me Tommie had given the rings to Mama. After that visit I talked to Daddy more often on the phone and we grew closer. He died, unexpectedly, about six months later.
Now, I hold equal fondness in my heart’s memory for both of my dads, Tommie Walker and Willie Alexander.