Rebecca Walker



By Rebecca Walker, © Big Shoes: In Celebration of Dads and Fatherhood, 2005


I don't know if all fathers are unsung heroes, but mine sure is. For the last twenty-five years my father, Mel Leventhal, has been known in many circles as "Alice Walker's ex-husband," and a few weeks ago he told me people now refer to him as "Rebecca Walker's father." He laughed when he said this, claiming to love this latest twist in the identity game, but I know better. How can I not? I know what it's like to be practically invisible, a living arrow pointing to someone else.

My father, with a rifle and a German shepherd, fought the Klan on our doorstep in Jackson, Mississippi. My father, with a law degree and a lot of chutzpah, fought segregation in the Supreme Court. My father has fought on behalf of consumers, old people, disabled people, women. My father has worked almost every day of the week to support first his first wife, and then his second, and to put his children through college and beyond. My father has packed up the car with his kids' stuff and moved us into and out of more dorm rooms and apartments than I care to count. He has written more checks for root canals and bite plates, bar mitzvahs and baby showers, laptops and trips abroad than seems humanly possible. He has attended an untold number of plays, readings, lectures, baseball games, and even movie premieres to support his children and kvell.

Sometimes I feel like I am the only one who notices all this. Is it that these are things that fathers are supposed to do and so no one says anything about the amazing fact that they actually get done? Or maybe there is a medal I don't know about that is secretly awarded to men who give their entire lives so that their families and the rest of humankind will be better off. Really, I am serious. How come people aren't like, blowing horns or organizing tributes to these guys? I don't get it.

It has taken me thrity-four years to understand the way my father loves. To understand that for him fathering is about self-sacrifice, or as one friend of mine says, "dying into one's children." When I was a small child I missed my father when he went to his office, especially on weekends. As I grew older, I resented the fact that he disappeared into that netherland. As an adolescent I confronted him, accusing him of being a workaholic and trying to escape intimacy. Now, as a parent myself, I see more clearly his deep sense of responsibility, the integrity in his commitment to making sure his children start off with a solid foundation. He has put off so much of his own life for our development. I don't know that I agree with his choice, but I can't say I haven't benefited from it.

These days, my father comes from New York to visit me in San Francisco bearing gifts: a bag of my favorite chocolates and ten days of his time. He lets me sleep in the mornings and then picks me up in the big SUV I convinced him to rent. We go to movies, walk around mountain lakes, and eat at all my favorite restaurants. We talk about all the books we plan to write, and all the cities in foreign lands we want to visit. We talk about the importance of fathers and the many, many men and women who don't have one. We talk about his first grandson, still swimming around in my belly. We talk about how much I will miss him when this life is over, and how much more this makes me appreciate him now.



Rebecca Walker - All Rights Reserved 2007. - Rebecca @ MySpace