The story of learning to drive and a father’s love.
When I was a girl, my dad would pick me up with his car, and I remember those rides were always so quiet; no radio, and we didn’t talk much. Once I may have asked him what he was doing as he drove, he said “thinking.” So I started thinking too. Frankly, I’ve become very good at overthinking; I got that from him, no doubt.
During those rides, we’d often end up at some indie grocery market or deli – he loved a Jewish deli. We’d load up with fresh rye bread, heaps of fatty sliced corned beef, a tube of mustard and tomato. We’d be on our haul home, and he’d show me how to assemble my own corned beef sandwich. I can make a direct connection for my love of a specialty grocery shop and farmers markets to these excursions with him.
Connecting through Advocacy
When he had an audience, he would talk about his march with Dr. Martin Luther King, and the time he desegregated Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. In the 1970’s, discriminatory hiring and promoting practices led him and his men to file against the company to highlight the need for more opportunities for African-Americans.
I was young; my memories are watery. Among my two images are that of my dad and his men in our backyard, sawing 2×4’s, hammering, and making signs. I knew the basics, and I was excited. I wanted to help, and my Dad made me a sign, I was six years old. We held our picket signs; we chanted and marched. My other memory of that day was my Mom pulling splinters from the picket sign I’d held. In college, I was unafraid to help protest the lack of diversity and push for increased recruitment and enrollment of people of color (sound familiar?).
The federal lawsuit and the protest had their desired effect. The suit settled, and the terms included a commitment to provide better recruitment, hiring, and advancement opportunities for people of color. I was older before I understood that the victory came with a price for my Dad – he was unofficially blacklisted, and he watched as the men he fought for were promoted instead of him.
A Special Touch of Love
Dad continued to inspire me. Out of what must have been a disappointing experience, he left his beloved insurance industry; and, he and my Mom became entrepreneurs. Mom’s successful cosmetology clientele and Dad’s business acumen grew the beauty salon Special Touch. They never looked back, innovating the industry with radical ideas such as operating 7 Days a week, 9 am to 9 pm, 12-6pm on Sundays, with cosmetologists working on commission.
My Dad had me right there with him. I learned to answer the phone; book and manage the appointment book for 20 cosmetologists; and accounting, banking, and bookkeeping. Today, I fill my world with an affinity and affection for the small business owner, and I give a thumbs up when the children work there too.
When I prepared for my driving test at 16, Dad had me drive along the busiest boulevards near us. Driving, I thought it was routine practice when out of the blue, he said “Park right here,” a quick flick of his wrist gesturing to a parallel space, yards ahead. Thinking “here? now? no time…not expecting this,” I signaled, and I tried. My attempt wasn’t fabulous. He had me try again. Cars waited behind me, cars whizzed by me, “Ignore them,” he said, and he talked me through a foolproof way to parallel park. We drove along the boulevard for an hour, each time he’d gesture without warning, and I parked.
Saying Goodbye, Remembering His Legacy
Dad eventually made his way back to his beloved insurance industry, retiring just before his 80th birthday. Shortly after he was diagnosed with cancer and six months later, I said goodbye to my hero. Knowing that my time with him was finite, I was occupied with a panic that I wouldn’t know what to do, how to handle life, and how to make decisions. I knew that the moment it happened, it would be an explosion, with the ground cracking open and falling in. Instead, on August 24, 2012, it was so still and quiet, it was the most deafening silence I’ve ever experienced. What was I going to do now? I’d started my period that morning, my head was pounding, and I contemplated canceling the re-financing of my house scheduled later that day. Numb, and for reasons I didn’t know, I kept the appointment.
Weeks later, I found myself referencing him in conversation, like “My Dad used to say, blood is blood, but business is business.” In fact, I’ve never had a sense that he isn’t here. Dad was progressively sick in those last six months, and for all of my panic, it occurred to me that I’d been handling things all along. I see what you’ve done there, Dad. Now, when I see a frustrated driver abandon a parallel space they couldn’t fit, I ease in and blow a kiss up to my Dad.
Millicent Sherman is a graduate of the University of Michigan and University of Detroit-Mercy School of Law, working as a button-down attorney in Detroit, Michigan. When Friday comes around, she is the “weekend Bohemian,” who loves her local Eastern Farmer’s Market, and can’t pass up a specialty market, roadside fruit stand or boutique. She enjoys cooking and travel, and given a chance, would steal Anthony Bourdain’s job.