As Father’s Day approaches, I recall that my father, Randall Keith Benjamin Sr., never sat my brothers and me down when we were kids and told us his entire life story. The memories that he shared with us about his childhood were more general summaries than detailed accounts.
But he’d offer occasional moments of exposure. In those times of vulnerability, he’d, seemingly by accident, allow once-suppressed nightmares from his younger years to seep out from his mind and inspire words of wisdom.
My dad dedicated every ounce of himself to the growth and uplift of my two brothers and me. But he didn’t have much to go on. To this day, he has no idea of the identity of his biological father. His high school diploma displays the last name of “Graham.” Yet the man purported to be his biological dad has the last name “Shannon.” And just a couple of years ago, he went through the court proceedings to certify his last name as “Benjamin” because that was the last name of the man who was in the house the most when he was growing up.
His younger years, as he describes them, were “a basket of confusion” that he eventually just became comfortable with. And somehow, despite the circumstances, he has managed to be a daddy not only to the ones that came from his loins but also to a host of other sons and daughters. For some reason he felt a level of responsibility to fill roles left empty by other men. It was almost as if he refused to see his life’s story repeated.
One summer in particular, my father gathered the family to take a trip to Colonial Williamsburg. I only remember visiting one place: Bassett Hall, the two-story, 18th-century frame house that was the home of John D. Rockefeller Jr. and his wife, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller. It was there that they raised their six children and instilled the disciplines and traditions that set a precedent for their family that exists to this very day. I remember the comfort of the home, its simple luxury and the warm atmosphere.
But as beautiful as the home was, what I remember most was the hollowed-out stump left at the site of the “Great Oak” that once oversaw the 585 acres of grassland. It was here that my father gathered his wife, my two brothers and me around the remnants of that tree and proclaimed to us that where we were standing was no longer unfamiliar.
Source: The Root | KEITH BENJAMIN