Richard Spencer's father never took him to a ballgame, never taught him to tie a tie, never offered a fatherly ear when he needed it.
For the most part Spencer, a songwriter and lead singer of the group The Winstons, was cool with that. After all, his mother had provided all the love and soul nourishment he needed.
Or so he thought.
Spencer, who recently moved from his hometown of Wadesboro to Virginia, discovered otherwise 50 years ago, he's told me during several interviews. Since the dude wrote what many - okay, definitely I - consider the ultimate Fathers Day song, I usually call him up every year around this time.
He patiently explained, again, what made him call his dad.
"We were playing a gig in Clearwater, Fla., backing up Curtis Mayfield & the Impressions. It was 1969. I was having really bad marital problems. It was one of those mornings I was feeling kind of bad. Even though he had rarely been there for me, I felt like I wanted to talk to my dad” that morning, he said.
So, what patriarchal pearls of wisdom did Papa Spencer dispense? I asked.
“I didn’t talk to him,” Spencer said, still sounding disconsolate lo these many decades later. “His phone was disconnected.”
The pain of not being able to reach his dad when he needed him resulted directly in his perennial and painful paean to Fathers Day, the Grammy-winning song Color Him Father. That same day, with pen in hand, he wrote these words on some Jack Tar Hotel stationery:
"There's a man at my house, he's so big and strong
He goes to work each day and he stays all day long.
He comes home each night, looking tired and beat
He sits down at the dinner table and has a bite to eat.
The song was an idealized version of what he thought a dad would be. An idealized version is the only one, for various reasons, a lot of young men know.
Thanks to a Durham County-administered program called My Brother's Keeper, though, some of them won't have to write a heartbreaking song about the absence of a father figure in their lives.
The program, an offshoot of former President Obama's National My Brothers Keeper Initiative, provides mentoring for males from elementary school age to their mid-20s.
On June 26, 2019 boys and their fathers and male mentors will be singing a song, but it won't be a mournful lamentation about missing their dad. Instead, it'll be a cheery Take Me Out to the Ballgame: First, they will grease at Mellow Mushroom and then walk right across the street and take in a Durham Bulls baseball game at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
"Then-Mayor Bill Bell and then-County Commissioner Michael Page worked to get the county to adopt a program to address the needs of at-risk boys and young men," Durham County Manager Wendell Davis said. "We have been able to partner up with programs at NCCU and Aetna Insurance Co." to help fund the program which, among other things, provides job skills for young men "who are not interested in a four-year college."
MBK teamed up last year, program director Edmund P. Lewis Jr. said, with Microsoft and the organization 100 Black Men of the Triangle East to teach computer coding to interested young men. They took them to the Microsoft store at the Streets at Southpoint Mall, where, he said, some were eventually able to put their newly learned skills to work.
Lewis estimated that between 700 to 1,000 young men have been touched by MBK or its auxiliary programs in the past year and a half.
To find out about other events or how you can help or participate in My Brother's Keeper, visit MBKDurham.info or email Lewis at Mybrotherskeeper@dconc.gov.
Happy Fathers Day.