My dad loved big cars but buying a used Cadillac limousine was an odd choice, even for him. Maybe he thought of it as a novelty purchase at first but soon he realized you could haul a lot in the back of that thing. On cold winter days, he’d pile in a bunch of swimmers and take us to practice at 5:00am. On snowy holidays he’d load it up with newspapers and help my brother with his route. He made great use of that car and I think he loved that people knew it was his.
I was too young to ever drive the limo which wasn’t a bad thing seeing most of the action happened in the back… OK, not what you’re thinking…. The preteen passengers like my friends and I would pretend to be movie stars riding to some swanky event, but when the limo was filled with teenagers, the back turned into a moving party. Of course, there were no seat belts which meant it could fit at least 20 people, 30 if some sat on the floor. This is probably a big exaggeration but trust me, at some point it most likely happened.
My older siblings loved that car and I’m sure it gave them some serious street cred. It was black, had a ginormous hood, and two huge fins shooting off the back. You were noticed when you were driving in the “limo” and even though it showed its age people couldn’t help but stare when it passed.
The limo drew attention to our family too, but when anyone except my dad drove it, it had a way of turning passengers into idiots. I’m not sure who busted him, but my brother closest in age to me was driving a load of friends home from somewhere when one of them mooned a passing car. Seeing everyone knew who owned the limo, word eventually got back to my dad and he was not happy about it.
That’s because he always told us that when we were out in public, anything we did, good or bad reflected on us and our family. It didn’t matter if you weren’t the one flashing your butt to the world. We were taught to act appropriately, so if we were associated with something or someone who did something undesireable, the whole family looked bad.
Like him, my dad expected his kids to take pride in everything we did. He sold personal insurance way before little reptiles or khakis made it cool. He was honest and treated his customers with respect, so much so that many of them became his friends. I mean yeah, it could have been the other way around but if you knew my dad, once people met him, they wanted to be his friend.
I’m not gonna lie, my dad had charisma but he truly loved his job and that helped him succeed plus, he was a man of his word. Those qualities combined with his hard work ethic was what got him transferred from Levittown, New York to Chicago way before the mooning incident occurred.
When we moved in 1969, the Midwest was just starting to go thru White Flight. Like so many big cities, as black families moved into Chicago neighborhoods, white families moved out. Whites headed to the suburbs where better jobs, schools and opportunities awaited while blacks were faced with navigating life in urban areas that had fewer opportunities and more oppression from white politicians, but that didn’t stop my dad.
Seeing his new branch was in Chicago proper on the far South Side in the Beverly neighborhood, he asked the realtor showing him properties to show him some close to his new office.
The realtor told him “Oh, you don’t want to move there.”
“Why not?”, asked my dad.
“Well that area is “changing”, and you don’t want to be a part of that. It just isn’t safe anymore.”
“Like hell!” replied my dad. His pat way of saying, you’re done here.
We were sitting in my dad’s senior living apartment when I heard this story for the first time.
It was the summer of 2008, 40 years after he’d bought that house and we were watching the news while we spoke. Obama was the Democratic nominee and knowing my dad voted Republican in the past, I asked him who he planned to vote for just to stir things up.
My dad answered, “I haven’t voted for a Democrat since Kennedy but, I plan on voting for Obama.”
Stunned, I asked him, “Really? Why?”
“Because I like his character. He’s smart, he’s young but he carries himself well, and I bet he can get a lot done.” I was delighted with his answer because it showed me he voted for the person, not the party and now more than ever, we should all be looking at our candidates that way.
My dad died in late August before he could cast his vote for Obama, but I think he would have been thrilled to have witnessed his win. Like the rest of us, he would have believed the country was finally moving in the right direction and hopeful we were becoming a fairer, kinder nation. It’s probably better he isn’t witnessing the toxic politics of today.
In a way I’m grateful neither of my parents are having to deal with Covid-19 either, but I think my dad at a younger age may have benefited from the experience. He really loved putting on a suit and going to work each day, but his job pulled him away from his kids and like most dads of that era, he wasn’t around a lot.
He confessed to me once that my mom and he had very separate parenting rolls. “I was always working but your mom was lucky. She got to be with you kids more. She really got to know each of you,” and he was right. My dad left the tears and hard knocks up to my mom, but in doing so, he missed experiencing a lot of the joys and successes we had too.
Covid-19 has slowed all of us down and in many ways it has helped us connect with our kids on a whole new level. There is nothing good about a pandemic but being forced to get to know your children and become closer to each other has been one of the positives of mandatory quarantine and something my dad may have ended up being grateful for.
I still can’t remember what happened to my brother after getting caught with his friend’s butt hanging out the window but I’m sure there had to be a lot yelling, and even some threat of being grounded.
I can guarantee my brother was not allowed to drive the limo for awhile and I’m sure he decided to never let that happen again or at least not while he was driving such a recognizable car.
After he retired to Florida, my mom and dad made a lot of visits back to Chicago because most of us were still living here. Even after my mom died, my dad continued those monthly trips. He would spend a few days with us and we always talked about the past and the current state of the world. I guess in a way, it was in his later years that we all got to know him better. He had more time to learn about us and we had a chance to learn more about him.
As adults, we realized that he only wanted the best for us. He wanted us to succeed be it working in music, law, sales, insurance or even apparel. He told me once that true success was finding joy in your work and happiness in the day to day. Something we could all use a little more of lately.
This Father’s Day, make a donation in your dad’s name to an organization doing great things. We support My Block, My Hood, My City and recommend donating to their Small Business Relief Fund. They put donations towards helping local black-owned Chicago businesses rebuild their communities/repair damages from rioting and offer volunteer efforts to get involved.
– Germaine Caprio, MAJAMAS EARTH Company Owner & Designer
Let ME know:
How has your dad driven you to see a different perspective?
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