March 4th 2021 and I say Happy Birthday to my father and Happy Anniversary to my parents in Heaven. Charles and Frances Cooke were not just my parents; they were my heroes. For the first 22 years of my life, I had a front-row seat to their beautiful, loving partnership, and today, I have no doubt they are dancing together in the clouds, holding each other close and shouting, ‘I love you!’ for all in Heaven to hear. To my father, what can I say to you other than what is self-evident in the way you lived your life – you were a remarkable man. You taught me how to throw a ball. You took me to my first ball game. You showed me how to live my life the right way, not by your words but through your actions. You taught me how to be a man. Yes, dad, you were indeed a remarkable man. To my mom, when I look at your life, I think to myself, you must have been the inspiration for Maya Angelou’s phenomenal woman. You read to me when I was a child. As a boy, you picked me up and wiped the blood from my knee and the tears from my eyes when I fell. You encouraged and believed in me when I was a teen. You were always there for me even after I grew into a man. Through it all, you put up with my nonsense and loved me unconditionally. Yes, mom, you were a phenomenal woman. To my Mom and Dad, I say thank you for everything. I love you, and you will always be in my heart.
As Father’s Day draws to a close I look back on this picture. I am too young to have any memories of this moment but as I look upon it I feel the love that my father always had for me as he holds me in his arms. Protecting me from danger as he would do until the day he left this earth. Now years after his going home to be with the Lord I can still feel myself being protected by him as if I was still being carried in his arms. I still feel his love and while I miss him every day I have no doubt that whenever the need arises in my life he is there for me spiritually. Guiding me and protecting me.
Over the past few weeks, my Facebook feed has been filled with pictures of my friend’s children graduating elementary, high school, or college. Going to the junior prom or the prom. All of them are accompanied by posts expressing pride in their children’s accomplishments or lamenting the fact that the years have gone by so fast. I admit that I look at these posts with both jealousy and regret. Jealousy that I don’t have what they have. Regret that I made so many wrong turns in my relationships that I screwed up any chance of having it.
Growing up, I believed that I would live the fairy tale, marry the love of my life, have two children of our own, and adopt one to provide a loving home to a child in need. But life, more often than not, is not a fairy tale. The character Sonny in Bronx Tale said – You’re only allowed three great women in your lifetime. I have had three long-term serious relationships in my life, each of which started with the thought that this might be the one, my soulmate, the woman I start a family and grow old with. Each ended with a broken heart and me thinking, well, here I am again. Each one was devastating in its way, but none more than the last one.
She was the first and only woman I asked to marry me and when she said yes I thought finally I had found the one, my soulmate, the woman I would grow old with. The woman I would post pictures of our children’s accomplishments on Facebook with, she came into the relationship with two children, and she was upfront that she wouldn’t have another child. Despite that, as time went on, I started to feel more and more as I finally had found the family I always wanted. I knew I could never take their father’s place, who was still very much in their lives, but still, it felt like a real family. Only weeks before the breakup, the oldest child drew four pictures. Her mommy, her sister, herself, and me and put them up on the refrigerator. Looking at those pictures brought a huge smile to my face because it was confirmation that not only did I see us as a family, but they did as well. When only a few weeks later, my fiancée informed me that she was now my ex-fiancée; it wasn’t just breaking up with her; it was breaking up with my family. I won’t lie; it was my lowest point. I had never been so depressed, and it took me a while to find myself again, but I eventually did. Despite that, I still wonder if my window has closed that I will never find that woman to grow old with. That I never will be able to post with pride pictures of my children’s accomplishments on Facebook. Not that I’ve given up hope, and I’m still out there swinging, but I still wonder and hope that my window is cracked open just a little bit.
Saturday morning October 1, 1977 the sky is not blue in fact it’s very very grey and the rain has already started to fall. 11 year old Carl looked out the window sadden after all today was the day he was supposed to go to the big ballpark in the Bronx to see his favorite team the New York Yankees clinch the American League East. But my dad was not about to let a little rain ruin his son’s day. Let’s go he said and we headed out. We waited for the BX55 to 161st Street in the rain and while we waited and again on the ride my dad assured me that a little rain wasn’t going to ruin our day. We got to the Stadium and the tarp was still on the field, the thought that they would play a game was looking bleaker and bleaker. But then my dad said look at the scoreboard. Suddenly thousands of rain soaked fans were mesmerized by the scoreboard. Baltimore was playing Boston and if Baltimore won the Yankees clinched. It was starting to rain harder and my dad could easily have said we’re going home but he didn’t instead he said look at the dot (indicating which team was batting) it’s been on Baltimore for a while, they must be having a big inning (this is how we did it before smart phones) and when the scoreboard confirmed just that we would smile at each other and high five. Baltimore would eventually win 8-7 and the Yankees were AL East champions. My dad and I sat in the rain bonding over scoreboard updates and celebrating the Yankee winning the division without the Yankees ever taking the field. They eventually played the game, Yanks lost 10-7 to the Tigers, we were long gone by then but it didn’t matter because little 11 year old Carl was as happy as can be. My dad had assured me a little rain wasn’t going to ruin our day and he was right, he made sure of it. That why he was my dad!
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY CHARLES COOKE YOU WERE THE BEST!
For the last 57 days on my Facebook page I have posted the bios of distinguished men of color as a way to counterbalance the negative imagery portrayed in both regular and social media of minority males. I call my campaign “Who You Are and Who You Can Be. Controlling the narrative and defining ourself” Today’s spotlighted is very personal to me in that it’s my dad and well he was supercool so I decided to share it here.
Charles W. Cooke was born March 4, 1913 in the segregated south upon his graduation from high school he moved north to New York City in search of a better life. Blessed with a keen sense of entrepreneurship Mr. Cooke started three successful businesses a newsstand, the selling of leather goods and a lunch counter style diner.
Mr. Cooke and his wife of 49 years Francis Cooke (married on March 4th as well) were well known in their community as their door was always open to family and friends. Mr. Cooke was also known for his willingness to assist those in need and dispense wisdom and advice to the neighborhood youth.
At the age of 53 and having already raised two daughters Mr. Cooke once again showed everyone what kind of special man he was by adopting a new born child. That child could at times be a handful as he was known to throw a temper tantrum or two but Mr. Cooke never wavered in his love for that child treating him like his own flesh and blood. Mr. Cooke instilled in the young boy the importance of education, respect for women and imparted the moral values which he lived by. That young boy went on to graduate college and have a successful career in government and the world of not for profits and has lived his life by the moral code in which he was raised. I know all of this because that young boy is me.
After 33 years of service to the NYCTA Mr. Cooke retired but he remained active in the community and was a key person in the conversion of a block long empty lot into The Farm in the Bronx. A vibrant community garden that in collaboration with Cornell University produced tons of fruits and vegetables each year for the community. His work was recognized when the City of New York officially renamed the garden the Charles W. Cooke Farm.
It has been 27 years since Mr. Cooke has left this Earth but his spirit lives on in the many lives he touched and influenced including this sorta young man. So let me be one of the many to wish Charles W. Cooke, my dad, a very happy birthday!!