MY DAD MADE ME RESILIENT
Dad is an extremely complicated man. He grew up in the deep south, during the Jim Crow era, IQ of a genius, 1 Doctorate, 2 Masters & 1 Bachelors, fought for equal rights, was an administrator for the State of Florida, ran for public office, published books and articles and has many scientific patents. He would say that is his story. But there are many many more layers to him.
To tell the summarized version of how he impacted my life, I would have to go to my childhood. My dad passed on September 1, 2016, so writing about him is still very raw.
His name is Dr. James A. Scruggs. He raised 4 girls. He was not the kind of dad that babied his girls. He taught us hard lessons from his generation to carry forward to the next. He gave us enough strength to combat the injustices of living in a colonial European society that was founded on the backs of other cultures. That was just how he thought. He was preparing us for the fight. He never showed his vulnerable side until towards the end. I thank him for instilling that pride and strength in me. I have his best parts.
We never went to father/daughter balls, or a had a father/daughter date and he did not try to be my friend when I was a child. But I recall other activities and role modeling that made me know I was loved, secure and safe.
We had only two TV’s in the house that was “parent controlled” as it was in all households in the 60 -70’s. No child could just turn on a TV in the house and veg out on cartoons all day. So many times, I watched what he watched. I spent many weekends watching CREATURE FEATURE or Star Trek or some other SCI FI with him. I could say those were father daughter moments for us. Enjoying his favorite shows became my favorites too.
He was very family focused and every summer we made the trip from CT to AL to see his parents, cousins, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles, aunts, childhood friends, etc… He was like the GODFATHER and often joked about having a ‘compound’ where all his children and grandchildren would live and I would guess he visualized himself the tribal leader.
As a child I had everything I needed. I was not spoiled or overwhelmed with toys or clothes. I basically had exactly what I needed and never longed for anything. That gave me a sense of security.
I had the kind of dad that would clean his guns in plain view when we had boys visiting at the house. I am certain all the boys knew not to ‘mess around’ with any of the Scruggs girls. While my friends had minimal curfews and lots of flexibility, I knew my limits because when I got home I had a dad waiting with expectations and dreams for me. His mission was to make me resilient and not popular, social or marginal.
He taught me to try what seems impossible. He role modeled that to me by his actions and achievements. He pushed me to compete and strive higher. I never had fears about stepping into or trying things. I’ve done the impossible. When I look backwards I can’t believe what I have accomplished, coordinated or went through. I learned to never have limits on what I could do.
One time in high school the career counselor told me that I should not think about going to college. That was the customary advice that school counselors gave to Black American students in the 70’s. I thought, well if he says so then it must be so. When I told my dad, he had a meeting at the school. What happened in that room that day, I do not know. I imagined he used his big words, cited data, showed a few graphs and then for extra measures had a pistol in his briefcase. I am certain he put everyone in their place. I knew from that point on that NOT going to college was not an option for me. Thank goodness for his powerful presence.
He was funny. He didn’t tell jokes but he could look at a situation and weigh in on it to bring humor, intellectual humor, with a snarky flair and sometimes at the expense of others though. It was hard to match his wit. But he taught me how to use ‘snarkiness’ to bring humor to difficult situations or to defend myself when necessary.
He was a suave, captivating nerd and seemed to be the smartest person in the world to me as a child. He read all the time, he worked all the time, he was in school most of the time, he wrote all the time and he had a wide range of interests from science to making wine in our basement. He was always goal setting despite all the obstacles he experienced. He knew how to GRIND and CRUSH IT. His high esteem for himself strengthened my inner self. That’s the beginnings of mastering and cultivating resilience.
The following is from my journal on 2/1/2017. He was just out of the hospital for the 6th time in 3 years. He went from the hospital to rehab and then a nursing home and never returned home. This is 7 months before his death:
“He had a power that was bestowed upon us through his genes and through life. He had a big powerful personality and if you spent any significant time in his presence, you got a dose of that power. I feel proud for the pieces of that power that was planted in me. Brain power, black power, work power, muscle power, all the powers. If you got a piece of that power, feel blessed. He welded the power of generations of people, battles, of strive, of tears, all of this welded into one man. “
He lived life on his own terms from the beginning until the end. I plan to do the same. My resiliency is a direct correlation to his power.
What power did your dad give you?