Daddy taught us how to work hard for a living," said one of my brothers recently while we were talking about old times. I am the youngest of six children born to the late David Lee Sr. and his wife, Thelma Lee.
I'd always known my daddy to be busy doing something. He'd leave our home in Walbrook Junction early in the morning and come back at night. I can recall him being involved in all things related to family, church, work and the community. We ate dinner together, went to church together and worked in and around our home together.
I came to realize later in life that Daddy was my first role model. Other family members and neighborhood youth looked to him for guidance and support as well. Sometimes that support came in the form of corporal punishment - a "whippin'." (Boy, can I tell you a few stories about those!)
But it also came in many other ways that gained Daddy lots of respect and admiration throughout the community. Not for the transportation and photography businesses he owned, not for the ice cream trucks he later acquired, not for the snowballs, french fries, frozen cups and pit beef sandwiches that were sold from our home.
It was for the loving way he interacted with people. That was the common thread that joined him to the neighborhood.
He'd take pictures of family, friends and church members. On many occasions, Daddy would give away the above-mentioned goodies to children, no matter the amount of money they had in their hand. He did it just to see a smile on their faces.
I have had other role models, such as my mother, who now lives in Edmondson Village. In addition, college professors, spiritual leaders and a host of coaches all played a part in my growth.
Having mentors - these substantive, committed, community-minded and caring people - in my life has made a difference. But when I think of my clan and my own role as a father, I think of my daddy.
I have five beautiful, strong and intelligent girls and one grandson (my oldest child is from a previous relationship). When I tell people that, they tend to shake their heads in amazement. And I quickly respond by saying, "Yeah, that's right, they are all bigger than the average bear, they know karate, and yes, I do have a shotgun!"
Unfortunately, my wife and I recently separated. She has always been the backbone of the family. I truly love and appreciate who she has been to our family. Even though I may not be living at home, I have the ability to be a full partner with her in the rearing of our children.
I believe the national focus on black men that has been generated by Barack Obama's election to the White House is a good thing. During the campaign, Obama gave a strong speech about fatherhood and personal responsibility that I could relate to. Looking at the statistics relative to many of the social ills in America, African-Americans lead disproportionately in most of those categories. How did our community get to be that way?
I have my thoughts and opinions, as do most of us. We certainly spend a lot of time diagnosing what's wrong. But I like to focus on what's right about ourselves and our community. I don't have enough space here to enumerate the many positive things that are happening in our community. But, instead, I'd like to suggest that each caring, conscious adult do a couple of things daily:
First, begin to see/think/believe our community as we want it to be right now. In other words, be committed to something bigger than yourself. And second, make it your point to reach out and interact with the people right in your community. Perhaps create a community project to work on together or volunteer at your local schools. Trust me, this will do wonderful things for your community as well as for yourself.
Life in my home and on my street was not always a bed of roses. We endured a history of domestic violence, alcohol and substance abuse.
However, I have been blessed to have the spirit of my father, one of family and community. I choose to see things not as they are but as they could be.
Joshua Lee is a clinical social worker who assists students in Baltimore public schools.