In the past, I haven't given September 16th much thought at all. It came and went without much notice. (Most of the time, it was during a work week anyway.) But this year, the date holds a significant milestone for me. As much as I tried not to think about it, it kept poppin up in my head, and I even had to remind my brothers about it. For it was on this day, 20 years ago, that the man we knew as our father went into eternal rest. I was only 9 years old at the time. And like anything else traumatic that happens to you when you are a child, it is a day I will never forget. But first, a brief overview of my father....
William Howard Brunson was fun to be around and seemed happy to all those who came in contact with him. (My brothers and I never called him Dad; we always called him Bucky. I never knew why, and we never questioned it.) But he was also a man who was battling some serious demons in his life. He had spent about 15 years of his life in prison from the time he was about 19. After being released from prison, he met my mother, had my brother, got married, and had me, all in about a 4-year span. (My oldest brother is from another man, but Bucky raised him as his own.) I remember my father having only 2 jobs: one was at Consolidated Laundries, where he would ship towels, sheets, etc. to various companies, and another at Biase's Restaurant, where he worked as a cook. Both were located in Newark are no longer in existence. He was hard-working man, but he also battled a serious alcohol addiction, something that started when he was young. I would remember times when he would drive me around and drink, or times when he just plain forgot to take me somewhere cause he would be too drunk to remember. At times, my brothers, mother and I tried to curb it by pouring out all his liquor one day. My mother even took him to rehab, where he stayed for a few weeks. But it wasn't all bad times. I also remember good times at beaches, amusement parks, and even home. He loved to cook, dance, and just plain have a good time and always enjoyed the pleasure of company. He was a fun-loving man, but I can't really say he was loving. I don't ever remember a time when he said he loved me, or even displayed some type of emotion. This sometimes confused me, because I couldn't understand why. And like most black families, my brothers and I got a big-ass helping of ass-whuppins and punishments whenever we did something wrong. At night we would lay in our beds and say, "I hate Bucky! I wish he was dead!" That wish proved prophetic.
On that previous Friday before this date, Bucky spent most of the day vomiting and laying in the bed. My brothers and I did not know what to do. When my mother came home from work that day, we told her that he was in really bad shape, so she rushed into the room and immediately took him to the hospital.
That was the last day I ever saw him alive.
A few days later, I was told he had slipped into a coma (I didn't know what it was back then). And then on Tuesday night back in 1987, around 6:30PM, my mother came home from the hospital devastated and told us, "He died. He didn't make it." The years of alcohol abuse had finally taken a toll on most of the organs in his body. First she hugged my oldest brother (15 at the time), then my middle brother (12 at the time). I ran into the bathroom to wipe my tears on my towel, then came back to hug my mother. Contrary to what some people say, KIDS UNDERSTAND DEATH! We knew that our father was gone and was not coming back.
I remember his wake (sooooooo many people were there), but we could not go to his funeral, which was located at a church. At the time, my mother was a Jehovah's Witness, and they do not deal with churches in any way. So my mother, her friend, my brothers and I stayed in the family car while the funeral was taking place inside. It seemed like forever, but the people finally came out hugging and consoling each other through their grief. We got to the gravesite, and I stood in the front with my grandmother's (father's mother's) arms around my shoulders. One of the Jehovah's Witness elders make some remarks, then they lowered my father six feet below to his (final?) resting place. As we drove away from the cemetary, the thought of not having him around once again hit me, and tears slowly came to my eyes.
Now that I'm a grown man and had 2 decades to reflect on this day, I've discovered one thing that I either kept hidden or just plain didn't realize: my father inadvertently passed along his trait of not allowing people to get too close to him. He tried to shield himself (with alcohol) from what he didn't want to face (life?). Don't get me wrong, I'm a chill, down-to-earth dude with quite a few friends. But I do not allow a person to know everything about me. At times, I find it difficult to fully convey what I am feeling, especially to a man. Hell, that's most likely the reason why I have never been in a serious relationship. I'm scared to let my guard all the way down to let someone in. Am I angry for what my father may have done? No. I don't hold long grudges against people, and he wouldn't be able to see or feel my anger anyway. Madonna made a song years ago called "Oh Father," and one of the lyrics read, "Maybe somebody/When I look back I'll be able to say/You didn't mean to be cruel/Somebody hurt you too" I'm sure there were many things my father was hurting about (trying to make something out of his life after serving time in prison, trying to provide for his wife and children, just trying to be a responsible man in general). Even now whenever I hear this song or "Dance with my Father," the words hit hard and deep. Somtimes I can't even hear the entire songs without tearing up or just turning it off. Guess I realized I love and miss my father more now than I ever did before.
December 8, 1939 - September 16, 1987