Sunday, June 16th, 2013
Father’s Day Special: Meet Big Daddy Gene
Last week, I had a very unpleasant and unsettling experience with a, now, former friend. Without getting into details I will simply say this person made a number of racist and wildly bigoted remarks to me about other members of my race. They quickly followed up with, of course, Karlyn, you know I don’t mean you. You’re different than the rest of them. I don’t really think of you as black because you talk white and are lighter. While I won’t miss the opportunity to have a diversity and inclusion moment, here, I will also show the importance of fatherhood as we all pause to honor fathers.
For those of you who don’t know my wonderful dad, otherwise known as Big Daddy Gene, allow me to share some of his amazing story. Dad is a 6-2 black man. He started his professional career in the mail room at CBS. He knew that would be his ticket to break into television sales, and ultimately management. He pushed and prodded and continuously asked for a chance to show he could sell commercial time for a television station. He was given every excuse in the book as to why they wouldn’t hire him, including “no one will buy from a black man.”
Finally, a less bigoted person finally gave him the OK. He was great at it! He sold local spots, then national. Somewhere along the way he became a top producing salesperson. Around that same time a more bigoted person decided to take a portion of his sales commission away and gave it to some of his colleagues because they didn’t sell as much as him. The manager thought my Dad’s commission was a great way to round out the under-performing colleague’s paycheck. He didn’t take that one sitting down, and got his money back. But just imagine how you would have felt if your boss tried to penalize you for your success, simply because they saw your human value as less than that of someone of another race.
Because he always remained professional and stayed a top producer, he was promoted to national sales manager and ultimately station manager of his first radio station, WEEI in Boston. I’d love to say that the bigotry ended there, and his continued rise to the top was a smooth and easy one, but I would be lying. While in Boston, Dad came home one day completely shaken. Another bigoted person thought he shouldn’t be driving on the same road as them, shouted the N-word at him as he opened his car window, pulled a gun and fired at my father’s car. Thankfully, he missed. The next morning, Dad got up, got dressed and went back to work, taking the same route as always because you can’t let hate win.
Over the next 20 years he was faced with one bigot after another. Happily, they were appearing fewer and further between, but allow me to say, after my experience last week, that one is more than plenty. He became the first black general manager for a CBS television station in the 80s, and was, at one time, the only black station manager for ANY commercial television station in the country. He made a career of being sent into an ailing station with the charge of “fixing it up.” He was great at it!
So by now you might be asking why I’m sharing this story with you, other than the fact that I love to brag about my Dad. You’re probably thinking that there are probably a number of more uplifting, fun, and even silly stories I could share about Eugene Lothery, and there are. However, this is one of the most important stories of fatherhood there is. Because of my father’s experiences, run-ins, and run-downs, one would find it very easy, and may even, expect him to develop his own bigoted views and bitter feelings about the race where so many people treated him so very badly. It would be easy to understand if he chose to poison the minds of his children against “the group” that mistreated him so often. But he doesn’t. He continues to enjoy friends of every ethnic background, and meets and views every new person as an individual, not a member of group.
More importantly, he raised his kids to do the same. He, and my mother, who had her own experiences equal in number and magnitude, always shared their stories with my brother and me so we would be aware that there are bad people out there. And for every story told, they made sure we understood you should never hate a group because of the senseless, hateful actions of a few. As they saw it, you will never meet every member of an ethnic, religious, or gender group, so you can’t ever make a blanket value or judgment about them. Open minds and open hearts are what help you meet great people, grow personally, and professionally. That is a lesson that I always remember, and one that I am reminded of when I, too, experience bigotry and hatred.
They taught there is no such thing as talking white, or black. You either have an education, or you don’t. You speak with appropriate grammar or you don’t. You can speak with an accent that reflects your geography, like a southern, midwest, New York, or New England accent. You can speak with an international accent that reflects your country of origin. But if you were to look up the world’s languages, you’ll notice “white and black” aren’t on the list. They also taught that your color is not the measure of your worth. Your color is just that. It’s what you look like on the outside. It does not determine your success or failure, intelligence or lack of, nor does it measure your potential.
If you are a father, I hope you will remember Big Daddy Gene’s story, lesson, and leadership. Share it with your kids and hope they will remember it when they meet someone who is hateful to them because of their race, religion, gender, weight, height, sexual orientation, physical ability, hair color, eye color or any other ridiculous external quality for which they are judged. Your kids will be better for it, trust me. I know I am.
Thanks, Dad, and Happy Father’s Day!
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