Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Man Who Raised Me

I realize that I've been more blessed than many of my friends throughout my life.

I've written about my father, Rev. Gerald Britt, Sr.,  who passed away last year. But I was blessed to have a man who raised me, who was loving and generous to my mother, my brother and I. His name is Paul Mayfield and most would commonly refer to him as a 'step-father'. I only make that distinction because many people would get confused when I refer to both my biological father and my father who raised me in the same sentence. But, my dad, when he spoke of Paul in public, always spoke of him with respect and gratitude. He refused to call him a 'step-father'. "My boys",  he would say, "didn't wear 'step clothes', eat 'step food', or live in a 'step' home. I thank him for the job he did in raising my boys." 

No words could be more true. 

My brother and I grew up with one of the hardest working men I have ever known. He is a devoted Christian and he raised us in the church where my grandfather served as pastor, and where he was a deacon. I used to covet the opportunities that I got to ride with him to church for deacons meeting, or choir rehearsal (he sang in the choir as well). He reinforced the love for church instilled in me be my grandfather's example, by his example. Paul was also a trustee in the church and in those roles he cleaned the church, cut the church lawn, brought home the receipts of each Sundays offering to count and record for deposit. 

But more than that. More often than most of us knew or talked about, what we took in on Sundays was insufficient to cover expenses. Paul made up the difference out of his own pocket (a little secret he tended to keep from my mother). One of the proudest moments of my life happened after my grandfather died when he and my mother joined the church I served and I was able to become their pastor. 

Paul took us hunting and fishing. And when neither my brother or I showed much of an affinity for either, he never complained or scolded us. He co-signed for our first cars. He taught us about love by showing us how deeply he loved our mother. Anniversaries and birthdays are special to me now, because I saw that he never forgot or failed to celebrate an anniversary of birthday. As we grew older it's been almost charming to hear how he stopped referring to our mother as 'your mother' and started saying 'my wife'

As I mentioned previously, my biological father taught me how to understand the civil rights movement, but it was Paul who exemplified the courage by our family to restaurants and stores that black people didn't frequent.We didn't understand it then, but we that's because he managed to make being the only black people in a restaurant or in a department store the most normal thing in the world. We had no idea that we were quite literally testing the limits of civil rights legislation!

Paul encouraged us in the sports we played. Gave us dating advice. And, yes, disciplined us when we needed it. We took family vacations: California, Colorado, Illinois, Missouri, Michigan, Detroit, Canada - all road trips, all whetting our appetites to know more about this country and the world. 

I don't know that I've ever adequately explained to him what I've done beyond my more conventional roles as pastor and preacher. But I know he's never expressed anything but pride and never given me anything but encouragement. Even when I've failed, I've never been known anything but support.

At this point in my life, I still have several ambitions that I am trying to fulfill. One of those ambitions is to be a good father. I think I've done fairly well so far. But then again, the man who raised me set the bar pretty high.

Happy Father's Day!

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