Color Him Father

I wrote this on Father’s Day a few years ago. It is a post that struck a chord with at least a few readers. I am taking the liberty of reposting it today in honor of the day.

My father was a thoughtful man in his own way. In the last years of his life he recited for me the things for which he was most grateful. In retrospect I can see he thought about gratitude a lot.

He listed the three things he was most grateful for in this order: 1) that his grandfather didn’t miss the boat from Russia to the United States, 2) that when his grandfather arrived in New York he kept on moving until he reached Minnesota (this although my father loved New York), and 3) that his father was born before he was. The last was his way of acknowledging his debt to his father. I join him today in all three thoughts.

I started thinking about my father and this Father’s Day when I heard the old Winstons’ single “Color Him Father” on the radio last week. I learn from the Allmusic Guide entry on them that the Winstons were a Washington, D.C.-based soul act led by Richard Spencer. Spencer was born in North Carolina, where he received some formal training on the piano.

In 1969 the Winstons hit it big with “Color Him Father.” The single was a top ten R&B and pop hit. Spencer wrote the song and won a Grammy for it. At this point it sounds like a story from “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” It might even be deemed hate speech where the multicultural police hold sway.

The father depicted in the song sets a good example for his seven kids. He works hard to support his family. He emphasizes the importance of education. He also has a big heart for the kids. As if that were not enough, Spencer loads an O. Henry twist into the last verse: the man is the kids’ stepfather. Their father was killed in the war.

I wonder if the father in Spencer’s life resembled the man in the song. Spencer followed one of the that man’s precepts, taking time out from show business to pursue his education in 1979. (First posted in 2010.)