When I was growing up we did a few projects at school where they would ask you to name what you parents did for a living. Answering about my Mom was easy, she was a therapist. I always new that. Heck anyone could figure that out just by talking to her for 5 minutes because invariably you would start telling her your life story. She just has that way about her. But my father, well that was a little more difficult. You see, what I knew about my father’s job was that he got up and went to work early in the morning, and came home fairly regularly around 530 at night. Usually I only saw him fleetingly for dinner just before I would rush out the door with my mother and sister to an evening dance class or rehearsal. But nevertheless I did have an answer for people who asked what my father did. He gave away the free cheese! See in Wisconsin there was this program that gave away free cheese to people in need. And though I didn’t know much else about my father’s job, I did know that he had something to do with that program. As I got older I finally got a real title for my father. He was the Regional Director for Health and Social Services for the State of Wisconsin. I still didn’t know exactly what that meant, but it was a great title!
That was his present while I was growing up. His past was something a little more colorful, but truthfully still elusive. From 1952-58 my father was a Harlem Globetrotter. Yes, you heard me right. He was a Harlem Globetrotter. And the only reason I have the dates down pat was because he had this award from the organization that hung in our house and it had the dates in raised characters on the front. I memorized them. I had to, because that was about as much detail as I ever really got about his experience. It’s not his fault totally. I don’t remember if I have ever really asked for detailed memories, I’m embarrassed to say. Amazing how we take the people close to us for granted. Their histories.
Last week I learned something more about my father that I didn’t know. Not from him, but from a newspaper article. You see, two weeks ago, while we were in Florida at the Disney Social Media Moms Conference, my mother mentioned to me that my father was going to be receiving an award when we got back to town. “What kind of award?” I asked. She said she didn’t know exactly. Some sort of award, and he would get it at a dinner on Wednesday night she thought. “Uh oh, a week night. I’m not sure I can swing that,” I said. “But let me know the specifics.” Well, we got back to town and I called her that Monday to inquire about the award. She said it was some sort of Alumni award and the event was in Green Bay. “Oh man, I really can’t make that happen. Maybe I could have the kids make him a card and we can mail it to him,” I said. “Sure,” she said. “I’ll let you now as soon as I get the info out of your father.” Well, my mom called me back less than 15 minutes later, breatheless. My father wasn’t getting an award at all. Noooo. The St Norbert’s College Multicultural Center was being named after HIM. Say what!? He is having a center named after him. In Green Bay! On Wednesday night?!!! Why the heck didn’t anyone tell me! We should be there. His family should be there, but there is no way we can be. Ahhrgg! So, after getting my blood pressure back down, I ask my mom to get me an email contact for the event. Maybe I can edit a quick congrats video and send it to the College to be played during the ceremony. Well, my parents have been without their ATT internet for almost 3 weeks now, so that wasn’t going to happen. (They finally got internet hooked up yesterday. Whole ‘nother blog post on that one!). So the event took place, in Green Bay, without us. Without any real cheering section actually. My father was fine. He’s always fine. He said it was nice. Jeeez. Nice.
But it wasn’t until days later when I read a few articles in the Green Bay newspaper that I even came to understand how NICE this event was, not just for my father, but for so many others. You see, the Multicultural center at St. Norbert’s was not being named after my father because he was a former Harlem Globetrotter, as I had mistakenly assumed. It was being named the Charles Holton Multicultural Center because my father, in 1952, was the first African American to graduate from St. Norbert’s College. The very first. I had no idea. And I never would have known if I waited around for my father to tell me. It’s just not his way. No, my father is a quiet trailblazer. Which is probably why he was so successful at it during those volatile times. Very different from the loud, bull in a china shop, activist daughter he raised. (Who me?!). My father, a shy young man from a family of 7, quietly walked the white on white halls of St Norbert’s College, alone, for four years to earn a degree in Economics. And doing so he left a traceable path for young African Americans to follow in the future. Nothing short of heroic.
What’s the lesson here? Well, there are a lot. But the most pointed one for me is the importance to look beyond the present and ask about the past. Ask. Because everyone has a story to tell, but you won’t get to hear it if you don’t take the time to ask. And your parents were people before they became your parents. (No way!) See them. Hear them. Know them. You may be surprised to find out that that man who you grew up with, who made you frothy orange juice to wake you up for school everyday, was actually a National Hero, disguised in daddy clothing.
Miss Lori can be found Musing from her Minivan at MissLori.TV , Wearetherealdeal.com , YoungChicagonista , and ChicagoMomsBlog. She is also the new Chicago Family Entertainment Blogger for Examiner.com and a Discussion Leader for MomsLikeMeChicago. You can also see her Activating to Be Great at Miss Lori’s CAMPUS on Youtube, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.