There was no way that Father’s Day in 2015 in South Carolina could be celebrated in York County with cake and a card and a barbecue on the back patio. Not with nine black people dead because of a hate.
Not when your daughters, who wonder why some in South Carolina and in America who fly the Confederate flag and call them those awful names for black people, ache and mourn because one of those who hate would go into a church and sit among black people who share love and shoot them dead.
Father’s Day had to be in Charleston, in front of Emanuel AME Church, where the temperature reached 100 degrees Sunday afternoon and the sweat poured and the heat radiated off the old cracked concrete and tar, and where we hugged each other.
And we hugged strangers, too.
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That is what fathers do. Teach their children – and be taught by their children.
It did not matter that Charleston is almost four hours away.
After the church service at Emanuel Sunday, and after almost all the cameras had gone, what remained outside that church were real people and families. Fathers and children, mothers and children, all united and heartbroken. People of all races.
American Red Cross volunteers handed out water.
There were no Confederate flags flying on the blocked off Calhoun Street, named for one of South Carolina’s most famous men, and most avowed racists. Nobody despised blacks more than John Calhoun, and even though he died a decade before the Civil War, the congressman and former vice president was that war’s bastard father because Calhoun adored slavery.
Yet on that street, a block from where one of my daughters attends college, where she dreams of an America where she is not second-class by any measure, so many hundreds of people stood together and prayed. They sang. They held hands.
They were not all black.
They were white and Hispanic and Asian, too.
That is the America and South Carolina of my children.
To approach that church from Marion Square caused grown people, fathers, myself among them, to try to calm sea legs. Fathers grabbed children by their hands, their shoulders, hugged them tight, and walked slowly up toward the front of the church with the flowers and signs of love.
Strangers’ eyes caught, and instead of offering a nod or a quiet “hello” like on any normal day, strangers hugged each other. A Hispanic guy who said he was from Florida prayed in Spanish. His tiny children prayed in English.
A black pastor with a wooden cross hanging around his neck held hands with a white couple from Georgia, and these people prayed and the voices got louder.
A man named Reggie Jones, on a bicycle, had been to church in that building Sunday and had grown up in that church. He stopped for a minute, and said his aunt died in that church Wednesday. He waved his arms at the crowd and said he was so proud of all the people, white people and all people he said, who had come together.
“I thank them all,” Jones said. “This shows God is in all people.”
Not all people, I said. Not those who would hate and kill over skin color. Not Dylann Roof.
Jones was not crying. He said that, after days and days, he physically could not cry anymore.
“You owe no one any explanation,” I told him. “It is the rest of us who owe you.”
I introduced him to my family. Jones said that they were beautiful.
“They sure are,” I beamed.
My daughters and wife inched up toward the church and the board that said “Charleston United” on it, covered with tens of thousands of signatures and words written on plywood. The daughters wrote that the victims will never be forgotten and that those who believe that racism and hate are right will not win in this state where they live and go to school – and dream.
I stood in the back. I could find no prayer. I had no prayers in this place of God where the devil came to kill.
The wife stood there as the rock. In America, some would say she is not equal to others because she is not white. Still, she stood there a giant as great as any person to ever walk the land.
Then they prayed. They prayed together and they prayed with strangers. Their prayers were gathered by others and people watched as I watched with an unspeakable pride of being a father on Father’s Day, when your children are so much greater than yourself.
One daughter, the oldest, stayed in that hot sun so long she started to get light-headed. A volunteer came with water. We were led under a shaded tent.
The volunteer with the water was white. The person who asked me if I needed anything else for the daughter was black.
It was noticed because in South Carolina – where a white man shoots nine blacks just because they are black, and where he studies racism and hate with his like-minded cretins – the race of a person who offers help and love always is noticed.
We walked away after a long time of reflection, down the middle of Calhoun Street that celebrates hate by its very name, and I felt love as a father that was larger than ever.
And on that hot pavement that beat up through the soles of shoes, that made one sag, I felt something else for a state I live in and love so many people in, a state that does nothing about what happened to cause that church massacre by continuing to fly the Confederate flag.
The governor finally, Monday afternoon, called for that symbol of hate to come down. Coming days will see if that will happen, if politicians will have the guts to do what is right.
After so many thousands of fathers and kids of all races went to that church and wept.
Maybe, finally, South Carolina’s national shame will end.
Andrew Dys • 803-329-4065 • firstname.lastname@example.org