'Growing Up King,' By Dexter King

I can still see him walking down the hallway at home in his slippers. He had a burgundy-colored satin-like robe he always wore to breakfast. Whenever he wore his robe, I was happy, because it meant he wasn't going anywhere for a while. That meant I could watch him or, if not that, simply be reassured he was there if needed. Every time I was in his presence, I felt deep compassion from him. Many times he felt like a playmate, like somebody who was Dad in terms of compassion and sensitivity, but was not so removed, because he enjoyed playing too, and could relate to a child's problems. We had fun playing softball. He'd pitch. If I swung and missed he'd be disappointed. "Aw, Dexter," he'd say, lobbing in another underhand toss.

When he'd come back from a trip, we'd hide from him, trembling with excitement; he'd find us, have us jump off the refrigerator top into his arms. He called it the Kissing Game. We'd take turns, starting with the eldest. Yoki would be first; she'd jump off into his arms, completely trusting that he'd catch her, and we would follow, and then he'd say, "Where's your kissing spot?" Hers was a corner of her mouth. Martin would have his spot — the forehead. Then I had my spot — the temple. Bernice had her spot — a corner of her mouth. We'd jump into his arms, take our turns; there were four of us, he divided his time equally — what little time he had left. He tried his best. The only one who may have felt he didn't was Yoki. Yoki and my father had a special bond, but he gave us all our specialness. More than just having a spot on his face to kiss, he had an intimate spot in his heart for everybody; we felt it, it made us feel special. He knew how to relate on our level. The memorable thing is that he knew how to relate to us. He was a universal communicator, even to his children, and he knew how to embrace you in a way where you felt a part of some greater plan.

The one thing Daddy didn't like was to be disturbed when he was in his study, writing down his thoughts, scheduling, composing sermons, reading and making notes in the margins of his books. There was a contemplative thought process at work in him. He compartmentalized it. If he was working, then he worked. If he was playing, then he played. He didn't mix the two.

"Now, Dexter, when Daddy's working, don't disturb him. Daddy will play with you soon."

Most people might think, because of the way he was projected as such a serious person, that he was always so, but sometimes he was the opposite of that, or the balance of that; he needed an outlet, a way to break the tension. He sought refuge in his children, his family. He became us.

It seemed we were always going to an event, a church for a meeting, a picnic — there'd always be a banner or a sign or something with the letters SCLC on it. I used to think the letters meant "King Family Outing." Whether it was a Voter Registration Project or a strategy session, they were all outings to us.

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