Andrew Dys

Best dad he can be

James Moore is pictured with his daughters Celita, 20, center, and Jamecia, 8, in their home Wednesday. Moore has raised his daughters alone for nearly two years after his wife, Audrey, died. Some relatives refer to Moore as 'Superdad' because of his dedication to his children.
James Moore is pictured with his daughters Celita, 20, center, and Jamecia, 8, in their home Wednesday. Moore has raised his daughters alone for nearly two years after his wife, Audrey, died. Some relatives refer to Moore as 'Superdad' because of his dedication to his children.

The father the world has called "Chick" since he was a skinny rail of a kid on Rock Hill's Barnes Street works nights -- 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. at the York County jail.

The corporal in charge during the deviling hours, where for 15 years James Moore has seen so many of the people of his youth in the Sunset Park neighborhood arrive in leg irons.

"Proud of you," say some, as they wait for a future that is bleak or worse. Most do not make eye contact. "Officer, umm, Chick."

Moore tells them all, "Call me Officer Moore."

On all days, especially on a day like today -- Father's Day -- he thinks of all the fathers gone behind those metal doors.

He is not one. He is 42 years old, and has two daughters to raise.

Alone.

Mornings after he works, if school is in, Moore first stops at his mother's Rock Hill house, picks up his younger daughter who sleeps there, and asks about the homework he helped with the afternoon before. He quizzes 8-year-old daughter Jamecia about the coming day, then drops her at school.

He'll call his older daughter, Celita, 20, a star student at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, preparing for pharmacy school, once, twice or even three times a day. She says he might call three times during the night, too.

During school time or summer, he goes home to do laundry. And house cleaning. And grocery shopping. And a kitchen table filled with bills from tuition to the mortgage with just his name on them. He'll catch sleep when he can.

James Moore does all this because he has no wife and his daughters have no mother. His wife, their mother, is dead.

July will be two years since Audrey Carter Moore died far too young at 42. More than two decades since the couple had been together during their York Tech days. An enlarged heart the only known cause of death other than natural causes, James Moore said. Audrey was home with the girls, Moore was at work, and Audrey just collapsed. Drinking a ginger ale one minute and paramedics rushing to save her the next.

At the hospital that day, Moore was so despondent. After death came, he punched the wall.

"I lost it for a minute," he said.

But Moore could not break.

The daughters needed him.

So, Moore began a new journey in his life, where he must be both parents. Immediately, and with willing hearts because that is what terrific families like these do, his wife's people and his people stepped in to help.

Martha Moore, James Moore's mother, lost her husband to death 32 years ago when her four children were small.

"I worked two jobs to raise my children, I know how difficult it is," Martha Moore said. "This man, and I say it not because he is my son but because he is a man, has been a very good father. A complete father. A man."

Audrey's mother, Mamie Carter from Lowrys in Chester County, described her son-in-law as, "SuperDad."

"Those girls are his life," Carter said. "Whatever they need, what children must have and more, he gives it. After my daughter died, I offered to help take the burden off of him, and asked if he wanted me to raise the youngest. James said to me, 'No. I am going to raise my own baby. I am their father. It is my duty.'"

So, the duty remains.

Celita, the oldest, was just out of high school when her mother died. Now, Celita has made it through that rigorous admission to USC pharmacy school.

"That costs," James Moore said. "Twice as much. But this is her dream. And mine, too. And her mother's. We will find a way."

Celita, a tall, beautiful girl who danced and modeled as a child, was recently named the 2008 National American Miss South Carolina. She might be Miss America some day.

But her education comes first. She describes her father as strict, loving caring. He calls from work "all the time" during the nights he isn't home, she said, and he is home for her and her sister when not working.

"My dad wants to protect me, I know that," she said. "He's tough. I love him for it."

Celita and her sister have their grandmothers, and their aunts on both sides, to help with the girl stuff.

"I am so thankful, and proud, of all the people close to me," James Moore said. "We are a family."

Lolita Fourney, Audrey Moore's sister, is the closest confidant for Celita, and her own daughter is almost the same age as Jamecia.

"I knew James was a good father before my sister passed, but it is even more apparent now," Fourney said. "My sister would be pleased and proud. He has never said, 'I give up.'"

James Moore, formerly in the military, acknowledges that he's not a great cook, and wasn't so outwardly affectionate before his wife "passed."

"But he has shown that he can do that, give these girls all that they need, be more affectionate," said his mother, Martha.

Moore's late wife worked in a medical office and was a pastor, too. In the Moore home, then and now, God comes first.

"I admit it, at first, I was mad at God," James Moore said. "I thought for so long, if anyone was supposed to go first, it should have been me. Girls need their mother. But I have learned not to fuss, fuss, fuss all the time, expect perfection on all things. I'm not perfect."

But it is clear that James Moore's life is his children. He does his best.

I know now what to call as good a father, a man, as I have ever met. Don't call him perfect.

Call him Chick.

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