I went looking for a birthday card for you last week and all of them sucked! Since I couldn't find anything fitting...I decided to write you this long overdue letter.
I used to think that we were so different from each other. I struggled with that for a while but never said anything about it. I always felt you and Anthony had this incredible bond over basketball...and when I traded in my basketball skills for the piano and singing, I thought you and I lost a step.
See...you mastered the sport of basketball so much so that I can't go anywhere in the city of Cleveland with our last name without someone referencing you. I remember a few years ago I was on 131st at Bennet's Barbershop...Barry had a patron in his chair and he pointed at me and said to the middle aged man... "you know that's Larry Ab's son!" Upon hearing it, this mans eyes filled with so much excitement as he said to me: "You Larry Ab's son?? Boy...let me tell you about your father! He's a legend! You see that school across the street...well it used to be a playground...and I would come to that playground and watch your daddy twist a n**** into the earth you hear me! Your father was a cold man on the B-ball court...as a matter of fact! Your father invented the crossover! He would shoot the lights out of any gym he walked in! He's a legend! Never forget that!" And I never forgot that nor will I ever forget that you are a legend!
You're a legend to me for so many different reasons.
I've heard so many stories from people about your glory days of playing basketball in the city that I can't count them...but you're a legend to me for so many different reasons. Over the last four years I've done so much soul searching with God and He's made things so much clearer for me in regards to you. When I traded in my basketball skills for the piano and singing...I traded them in for your second love. We never lost a step at all...you actually created the steps that I've taken. I remember singing that Duke of Earl solo at the 7th grade choral concert and afterwards people asking you and mom who was the musician in the family that I took after...and both of you saying "we don't have one...we're not sure where his talent comes from." The truth is it comes from you!
There wasn't a moment in the 18 years of my life in your home that the record player wasn't spinning a soul, funk, r&b, gospel, or jazz record. If you were up and moving about, there was music playing! Music lives in me because of you and all those records you play. To this day...you can't move without the record player spinning. Everyday I wake up and do the same thing you do...put a record on and start my day.
You've always talked about the messages in records. When it came to me dealing with black people talking about how dark my skin was, you referenced Curtis Mayfield's "We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue." When it came to loving myself you referenced Earth, Wind, and Fire's "All About Love." I remember you sitting me down and making me listen to Maurice White say "I'm like hey ya'll...I'm tryna' tell ya...You gotta love you...now there's all the beautiful things around you...trees and birds and If there ain't no beauty you got to make some beauty...have mercy listen to me ya'll."
Dad...your love is so strong for me and it's rubbed off on me. Maybe that's why I love so strong.
You always had a song and a lyric for something I was going through and those bonding moments were so important to my development into the man you have made me. You introduced me to my purpose in music...cause you used music to heal a lot of my concerns over the years and I want to do the same for people through my music.
What makes you so amazing to me is you're a man after God's heart...much like David. I've never seen a man on his knees in prayer so much. I can't count the amount of times I've seen you on your knees praying. You always pray before making any move. You're so in tune with God and you let Him lead you in leading this family. You've always led by example and have been there for me every step of the way. There are so many things that you've done for me that changed me and grew me into a better person. You might not remember them but I want to share a few with you...
1.) Senior year of high school when I had that Tri-C Jazz tryout/competition and I was training with JT Lynch and was discouraged about practicing, you gave me this John Coltrane Impulse album and this Oscar Peterson album and told me I could be like them if I stayed focused. I listened to those albums nonstop and it was everything I needed in that moment to push forward and not quit music all together.
2.) In college when my girlfriend was getting her appendix taken out on the same day as my midterm in a class I wasn't doing well in...I called you because I was at the hospital late and didn't want to leave her but knew I had to take this midterm the next day. I remember telling you that I thought the professor wouldn't believe me if I missed it. You were so calm and walked me through exactly what to do to make my girlfriend feel safe. You told me how to talk to the professor about what was going on and how not leaving my girlfriend alone was the most important thing to do. The professor understood and allowed me to make up the midterm. You've always known what to do!
3.) You always treated mom like royalty! You taught me and Anthony to always be gentlemen and to treat a woman like a woman. To never disrespect them or call them out of their name. When we were younger you would make us grab the door for mom and Anise. You made sure we knew that we were to protect all women. It wasn't your words that stuck...it was your action! You walked what you talked about. You lead by example on what it is to be a God fearing man, loving husband, and loving father. To this day...you're ALWAYS looking out for mom and all of us with God leading you. I aspire to be the husband and father that you are to a woman and my children one day.
4.) In 2008 when I told you I was moving to LA... Even though you didn’t think it was a good idea you supported me. You got in my Chevy Trailblazer with me and drove across the country with me on a three day journey to Los Angeles. After 13 months...when I ran out of money...you flew back to Los Angeles and drove back across the country with me and encouraged me to keep following my music dreams...even when I felt like I failed...you told me I would’ve never known about what God had for me in LA if I hadn’t tried it...and now I know. That meant everything to me at that moment!
5.) When I told you I was about to get married and I had to find a way to raise enough money to get a ring...you talked to me about it late at night while working the graveyard shift and even offered to help me. You were so cool about it too. You helped me come up with a plan for transitioning into marriage financially while pursuing my dream. You gave me different ideas for living situations and was there to help me figure out how to make someone else a part of my life. When it blew up in my face and the relationship collapsed...you were right there for me telling me everything will be fine in time. I felt foolish again and you were there picking me up and helping me move forward no matter how long it took. When I think of it...every time after this incident when I spoke to you about who I was dating and how I thought this might be the one for me...you encouraged me to give it my best and if it doesn’t work out...those women will never be able to say that I didn’t give it my all. You taught me it was my job to leave a lasting good impression and to be a gentleman towards them no matter how they treat me. Even though all of those situations blew up in my face you’ve always been there to encourage me and tell me that people can change when God is involved and God has someone special for me in His time.
You taught me to be open, honest, patient, and wait on God in all situations.
6.) On Valentine’s Day of this year you helped me by working the door at my show in Cleveland. It was just me and you that night because Mom was out of town and it was just a special moment for me. You told me afterwards that I was a true musician and I’ve arrived and that moment was bigger than any accolade I can ever receive as a musician. Your approval is all that mattered to me...and writing this makes me realize that I had it all along.
7.) I asked you to be a part of my upcoming solo album and you did all your parts in one take because you say everything from the heart and it just flows. It an honor to work with you on the craft you introduced me to!
Dad...your love is so strong for me and it’s rubbed off on me. Maybe that’s why I love so strong. You always do right by people and you’re honest. You possess this spiritual courageous love that inspires everyone around you. You’re a giver and you put everyone before yourself. You have a huge heart for people and you love to make everyone feel great around you. You speak to everyone and respect everyone. You correct people who are wrong in a gracious way so that they don’t feel bad. You taught me to be open, honest, patient, and wait on God in all situations. You taught me how to love a woman and treat her with dignity in respect through your love for mom. You’re God’s man and it’s an honor to be your son.
I love you more than words can express and I can’t thank you enough for teaching me and molding me into the man I am. I’m forever in debt for what you’ve instilled in me.
Happy 65th Birthday! It’s an honor to celebrate you! You’re a legend and a hero in my eyes forever!
A version of this post originally appeared on aaronabernathy.com.