When I was five and half years old, Norman Stewart, my father, was the only real family I had in Jamaica.
He was a 6 foot tall, slim, well-dressed, bald man, in his fifties with beautiful white teeth and an eye for the ladies. Norman was a married man with five children who had an affair with my mother. He met my mom when she sold him lunch outside his place of
business. Their relationship turned into an affair that produced my mother's only child. I don't remember ever seeing my mother and father together, but I build a relationship with each of them at different times in my life.
When my mom left for
New York, the agreement they made with each other was that my father would pay my boarding expenses and look out for me. I think my dad offered to have me stay with his family, but my mother did not want that because she was worried that his wife might mistreat
Over the twelve years, I was in his care; I saw my dad almost every day from about seven p.m. to around nine p.m. At dusk, I would climb on my fence and looked down my street until I saw his felt hat come bobbing up and down amidst
the crowds on the street. During those precious two hours, we talked about a variety of topics. Sometimes he used the time to correct me and dole out punishment for misbehaving. My highlight was going to the movies together on weekends. I remember watching
the cowboy movie, Shane with my dad. I loved this film so much; I named my dog Shane. I don't know how he pulled this off since he had a wife and a family. I can't imagine the story he had to make up to explain his absence from home every evening for hours
on the weekends.
Norman was a self-made man with little or no formal education, but he was able to work his way up the ranks of the Daily Gleaner, the leading newspaper in Kingston, to the manager of the typesetting department. My dad
was the kind of person who would stand out in a crowded room because he always carried himself in such a way that demanded your respect. I always wore a suit, a tie; a felt hat and when walking along my avenue, the locals would say that Norman looked
like a man on official government business. He was also a very thoughtful man who taught me to think for myself. He would make an effort not to indoctrinate me with his point of view. During our years together, I would come to look forward to our conversations.
I remember him describing himself as a good soldier who kept his commitments and, for the most part, he did. He was also a man with a real rap. He would say to me as he left at night, “If you can't be good, be careful.” As I grew up, I think those
words kept me safe.
However, his weakness for women would eventually supplant his commitment to me. After a few years, my father became sexually involved with Mrs. Irene Maxwell, the woman who managed the boarding house where I lived.
I never liked Mrs. Maxwell maybe because I did not feel she wanted me. We had a relationship of convenience and duty. I was part of her labor force who rubbed the butter and sugar together when she was making Christmas cakes. I was part of her delivery service
that took lunch to people at the factories nearby. I fed her chickens and occasionally killed chickens for Sunday dinner. As a young boy, I feared and resented Mrs. Maxwell. So, I was heartbroken when I noticed that my father would disappear into Irene's room
at night and stayed there for hours. I had lost my time with him which made me dislike Mrs. Maxwell even more. One night after my dad went to Mrs. Maxwell’s room, I needed to ask him a question. So, I went to her door and knocked softly. The door
was not shut completely with a small space remaining which allowed me to see what the mirror behind the door reflected. My father was busy pulling down Mrs. Maxwell's dress as the sat at the side of her bed. When I entered, I asked my question without comment,
but that image stayed with me.