There are certain bold names that I associate with my Dad. Sidney Poitier. James Taylor.
The Beatles. Milton Berle and Lucille Ball. Aretha Franklin. I associate these people with Dad because growing up, his appreciation of their art and talent was long discussed in our household, and he never shied away from showing us kids visual (and audible) examples of why he thought they were so cool. And what I love about that, among other things, is that it opened the window to generations and people way before us. We fell in love with music, film, performers, etc., of another time and I really treasure that. One of those bold names I grew up hearing about was Muhammad Ali. I knew his bio from early childhood, it seemed. Before I saw his face, before I heard his voice. That he was Cassius Clay before he changed his name to Muhammad Ali, following the change in his religion. That he floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. That he called himself The Greatest. That he fought this guy and that guy and won. And above all, that Muhammad Ali came to Ghana in 1964.
My father spoke so many times of Ali’s visit to Ghana in ’64 that I imagined I was there. Never mind that I was hardly a twinkle in anyone’s eye in 1964: my father was a swinging single then, and wouldn’t meet the lady who would bring me into this interesting world until 10 years later. But trust me that the man could invoke excitement from a story: how he saw Ali, how the crowds were going wild, etc. I would observe the grin on his face and his wide, luminous eyes, and wish, so much, that I could have been there to see this larger-than-life man that had whipped my Daddy into such a frenzy. Needless to say, watching his interviews and marveling at his bravado when I was older was always a treat. I knew this guy. We had been introduced so many, many times.
Hearing about his death on June 3 was so sad. I thought about his children, his wife. I thought about how that confident, cocky, and cool man became slower, less mobile, less vocal as he bravely dealt with the effects of Parkinson’s syndrome. I thought about the grief that comes from losing a man of stature, of such significance, especially in the family unit. So many parallels that hit close to home. I thought about those, too.
Ultimately, however, I’m glad I knew him. Even though I didn’t.