The first time I saw my dad cry was the day my little brother was killed. I stood there in shock, watching and staring in disbelief, as my 42-year-old father went crying to his mom.
I didn’t judge him! I didn’t think any less of him as a man or as a father. I just never thought I’d see the day my dad would go crying to his mother!
During June and July of 1990, my dad’s heart began to fail dramatically, a result of the major heart attack he had miraculously survived on December 4, 1988.
At age 27, I had no idea what was happening to him. It started when he, Nana and Big Daddy (my Dad’s parents), and his girlfriend, Claire, took a road trip to Florida.
I was concerned because I thought the thousand-mile trip would be too much for him. My concerns grew deeper once I saw all the crap my grandparents were stuffing around him in the back seat of the car. How’s he supposed to breathe with all that shit you’re packing around him, I thought.
I kept my concerns to myself. This trip was a big deal for the Knight family. My grandparents were moving back to the South. In 1938 they had moved from the South to New York City. Both grandparents were born in one-room shacks in the segregated South in 1913—Nana in Florida and Big Daddy in Georgia.
Nana’s fruitful 30-year real estate business and Big Daddy’s working two full-time jobs allowed them a lifestyle that they could only dream about when they were children. They did well for themselves. The road trip, in part, was for the unveiling of their new home to their son, which was very far from the one-room shacks they grew up in!
Dad was eager to get down there and see the home his parents had built. The excitement on his face was something I’d never seen before. He was like a little boy again, taking a trip with Mommy and Daddy. Once again, I found myself staring at him, only this time I was capturing the moment through the eyepiece of my camcorder as they packed the car, backed out the driveway, and drove down the block and out of view. Off they went.
My wife Tracy and I took our kids across the street to our home to start our day.
In less than a week, my grandmother called to say they’d had to put dad in the hospital. I could hear the fear in her voice. It reminded me of a night in 1974, when she called the house in a panic, looking for my parents, because my uncle Keith had been severely burned.
Thank God Tracy worked for Pan Am airlines. We were able to fly him back home using her employee ID.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this was the beginning of the end of my dad’s life. The events that would unfold over the next five weeks would challenge me to the core of my being. They would forever change me in ways that continue to affect my life to this very day.
In preparation for his death, life began showing me signs. The unspoken words between my dad and me were loud!
The frustrating part was that I could participate only as a bystander, as his body shut down one day at a time. Finally, at midnight on August 6, 1990, my dad’s body said, “Hey, let’s go home.” His spirit said, “Okay.”
And just like that, he was gone.
Later that morning, my mom came to the house. She walked into my studio, where I was sitting in shock and disbelief on the sofa. She called my name: “David?”
I jumped up and ran to her! “Mommy! He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone, Mommy! I couldn’t save! I tried everything, but I couldn’t save him!”
“I couldn’t save him!”
She grabbed me tight, pulled me close, and put my head on her shoulder. We stood there, crying. My mom kept repeating, “I know, I know, I know,” and at that moment, I realized something. I’d done just as my father had 14 years earlier: I went crying to my mommy!
That day, I lost the biggest challenge in my life. I lost my mirror. I had lost the very Earth that held me up!
I’d lost the one person I wanted to punch in the face, hug, hold, kiss, and lean on, all at the same time.
I lost my dad …