My main man, Wayman Harris, Sr.In the quiet, lush backwoods of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, there’s a little white rambler with red shutters perched atop a fairly steep hill. It looks like something cut and pasted from the front of a gift shop postcard, encircled by sky-high trees and surrounded by a sprawling yard that’s much prettier to look at than it is easy to mow. It’s the house my grandfather built, literally with his own hands.
Back when he was a young man with a gold tooth, a wavy conk, and a mischievous smile, he kept my Nana in the family way for five consecutive years. So after long, laborious days working at a steel mill, he would punch out and get to building a home. Just like that. No 5-hour Energy, no Red Bull, no jolts of caffeine from some fancy-pants Starbucks drink.
His motivation came from the fact that he had a wife, four little ones, and another on the way to take care of, and he wanted them to have a place of their own to spread out in.
The little house on the country road wasn’t anything big or fancy. And, because it looks the same way now that it did back in the late 1940’s, it still isn’t. But it means everything to our family, especially to me. It’s a physical monument to the kind of man my Granddaddy was: a man who provided, a man who was honorable, a man who worked hard and didn’t mind or complain about it, a man who preferred to show you how much he loved you rather than get his emotions all tangled up in words.
The memories closest to my heart about him paint a picture of his awesomeness, even for a perfect stranger. He dutifully monitored my first wobbly efforts to pedal my two-wheeler, even after I careened over the poor man’s foot, little-girl-shrieked all in his ears, and made him jog with one hand under the banana seat for my own comfort and security. He built me my very own swing, dangling from a favorite tree in that massive yard, and crafted a dollhouse for me that was an almost exact replica of the very one he’d constructed from the ground up decades before.
We danced to Charlie Parker in the dining room and watched boxing side-by-side on Saturday nights. I spent every weekend with my grandparents. Every single weekend. But I never minded. That’s how amazing they were, so amazing that a kid would give up sleepovers and school dances in the heart of the city to hang out with two old folks in the crux of the countryside.
I belong to that unfortunate fraternity of dismissed children whose fathers couldn’t be bothered to be daddies. But I never felt like I was missing out on anything because Granddaddy, just by being himself, showed me what I should and could expect from a man. He is the standard by which I measure the dudes I consider dating, though that is an increasingly difficult comparison to make.
I don’t know if that’s fair to a generation of guys raised largely on the waning standards that carved out men like my grandfather. They’re at an automatic disadvantage because the same values that made him and many of the other daddies of that time so honorable are all but the stuff of legend now. But I look for glimmers of their characteristics in today’s pool of single fellas. In their work ethic. In the manners. In how they talk about the women in their lives—their sisters, their exes, their own mothers and the mothers of their children, if they have any.
I wasn’t always so particular about demanding vintage courtship and being treated like a queen (or, at the very least, a respectable member of her band of merry maids). But that’s what my grandfather would have wanted for me. And really, what I want for myself.
How did you father influence the kind of man you choose to date?