When I was five and a half years old, Norman Stewart, my father, was the only real family I had in Jamaica.
He was a 6-foot tall, slim, well-dressed, bald man in his fifties with beautiful white teeth and an eye for the ladies. Norman was a married man with five children who had an affair with my mother. He met my mom when she sold him lunch outside his place of
business. Their relationship turned into an experience that produced my mother's only child. I don't remember ever seeing my mother and father together, but I build a relationship with each of them at different times in my life.
When my mom left
for New York, the agreement they made with each other was that my father would pay my boarding expenses and look out for me. I think my dad offered to have me stay with his family, but my mother did not want that because she was worried that his wife might
Over the twelve years I was in his care, I saw my dad almost every day from about seven p.m. to around nine p.m. At dusk, I would climb on my fence and look down my street until I saw his felt hat come bobbing up and down
amidst the crowds on the road. During those precious two hours, we talked about a variety of topics. Sometimes he used the time to correct me and dole out punishment for misbehaving. My highlight was going to the movies together on weekends. I remember watching
the cowboy movie Shane with my dad. I loved this film so much; that I named my dog Shane. I don't know how he pulled this off since he had a wife and a family. I can't imagine the story he had to make up to explain his absence from home every evening for hours
on the weekends.
Norman was a self-made man with little or no formal education, but he was able to work his way up the ranks of the Daily Gleaner, the leading newspaper in Kingston, to the manager of the typesetting department. My dad
was the kind of person who would stand out in a crowded room because he always carried himself in such a way that demanded respect. I always wore a suit, a tie, and a felt hat, and when walking along my avenue, the locals would say that Norman looked
like a man on official government business. He was also a very thoughtful man who taught me to think for myself. He would try not to brainwash me with his point of view. During our years together, I would come to look forward to our conversations. I remember
him describing himself as a good soldier who kept his commitments, and, for the most part, he did. He was also a man with a real rap. As he left at night, he would say, "If you can't be good, be careful." As I grew up, I thought those words kept me safe.
However, his weakness for women would eventually supplant his commitment to me. After a few years, my father became sexually involved with Mrs. Irene Maxwell, the woman who managed the boarding house where I lived. Maybe I never liked Mrs.
Maxwell because I did not feel she wanted me. We had a relationship of convenience and duty. I was part of her labor force, who rubbed the butter and sugar together when she made Christmas cakes. I was part of her delivery service that took lunch to people
at the factories nearby. I fed her chickens and occasionally killed chickens for Sunday dinner. As a young boy, I feared and resented Mrs. Maxwell. So, I was heartbroken when I noticed that my father would disappear into Irene's room at night and stay there
for hours. I lost my time with him, making me dislike Mrs. Maxwell even more. One night after my dad went to Mrs. Maxwell's room, I needed to ask him a question. So, I went to her door and knocked softly. The door was not shut entirely with a small space,
allowing me to see what the mirror behind the door reflected. My father was busy pulling down Mrs. Maxwell's dress as he sat at the side of her bed. I asked my question without comment when I entered, but that image stayed with me.