I have found myself unable to get my groove on with a song that does not reflect my existential reality (continued reflection may soon find me detaching from a number of songs that I hold dear, both religious and secular).
“Papa Was a Rolling Stone” does not speak to the father experience of my life. My father, the late Reverend Orenzia Bernstine, laid his hat at his home. His home was always where his wife and children lived. As I reflect upon the legacy of my father, I am drawn to the title of Barack Obama’s autobiography, Dreams of My Father. Barack Obama, the first African American to serve as President of the United States of America, wrote passionately about his journey to self-discovery in the absence of his father.
The dreams of my father, however, are musings made on the presence of a wonderful father. It has been three years since I watched my father’s physical remains being lowered into the ground at the Veterans Cemetery at Half Moon Bay. Although my father’s physical remains lie within the belly of terra ferma, his spirit is alive with me. Recently, I have encountered the spirit of my father within a series of dreams. He was not the primary actor in the dreams, nor did he do or say anything noteworthy. I really can’t recall the fine detail of the dreams, all I know is that he was there. His presence was known, felt, experienced. My Father was in my dreams.
This short writing does not allow for any academic treatment on the validity of dreams. Yet, suffice it to say that dreams are very much a part of the fabric of the primary text that shapes my life – the Bible. If the Bible considered dreams as noteworthy, I am bound by faith to consider the value and validity of dreams. My father’s presence in my dreams speaks profoundly to where I am in life. I am, in fact, living out a “dream” existence. I have been able to do more than I ever dreamt. I have traveled to places beyond my wildest imaginings, and I have had experiences that far transcend my humble beginnings. I currently serve the church where my father was licensed to preach, preach his first sermon and his last, the Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church. Such experiences represent the amazement of my dream existence. I suppose that in all that I have experienced my father has been in my dreams.
My father was not a rolling stone he has been a cornerstone of my life journey. As I continue living out my “dream” existence, Daddy showing up in my dreams was a reminder to me that he was yet with me. He reminded me of the legacy of integrity that he bequeathed to me. On this Father’s Day, three years after his death, I want to celebrate the integrity of my father. An example of his integrity was that as a father of then eight children, I vividly recall our encounters with difficult financial struggles. Our family had days when the cupboards were bare many days before the next check came (by the way, the checks were $255 bi-weekly). We had some days when utility services were disrupted, and we lacked the wherewithal to turn them back on. Please note that in the midst of severe economic challenges, Daddy never called any of his brothers or friends to plan a robbery. Daddy never concocted some slick scheme in his head, in the name of taking care of his family, whereby he could justify doing wrong. Daddy never contacted the dope man to secure a “bag” in order to feed his children and wife.
Moreover, Daddy never got drunk or drugged to anesthetize himself from the pain of not having the necessary resources to care for his loved ones. Even with the church resources at his disposal, Daddy never considered stealing from the church. Daddy showed up in my dreams to remind me that although we might be experiencing some severe economic challenges, we don’t need to do anything desperate, slick, or disingenuous to make it. Daddy showed up in my dreams to remind me that integrity and faith in God will do for a family what big houses and full plates can never do. Daddy showed up in my dreams to remind me that even when the family has to suffer, and the church struggles, the one thing I must maintain is my integrity. He was almost Job-like in his faith, “Though he slay me, yet I will maintain my integrity.”
I offer this short vignette into the life of a great patriarch, my father, the Reverend Orenzia Bernstine. Yet, I also offer it to encourage some brother who may be severely challenged during these difficult economic times. I have six sisters and four brothers as living testimonies that we made it. Instead of being rolling stones, let’s be cornerstones. Our families will be the better, and our communities need this kind of witness. I pray someone is encouraged by the dreams of my father. HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!