Breakfast with Dad…
My family and I would visit this local diner before every road trip. In the summer months, if it was a Saturday morning, I knew that a road trip was next. Similar to your car, it was our fuel for the road. We would pile up in the family van, and set out on another adventure.
The wait time was usually long, so I would usually grab a seat with a book, or play with a new electronic device that I would’ve received for my birthday or Christmas. This place is symbolic because it always represented the start of a new adventure or journey. Not only for my immediate family, but our extended family that would venture to little ole Benton Harbor, MI to visit us. This was our place of departure.
I was home visiting in the summer of 2012, and realized that my dad’s morning routine was to visit this diner, enjoy a pot of coffee (yes a pot!), and read the local newspaper. He would enjoy his discounted “senior breakfast,” and start his day from there. I was home for six weeks, and every day he would wake me up asking, “breakfast?” Even though I would have preferred to stay in the bed until at least 10:00 am, I would get up and have breakfast with him. I’m so happy I did.
That was our last summer together. My father knew at that time that he was gravely ill, but decided to take the journey alone. He never disclosed his illness to my mom, or siblings. I found it odd that he wanted to travel more than usual. He purchased a brand new truck, and wanted to put the miles on it visiting family that were accessible from Interstate 94. I was his driver, and he wanted to control the tunes. He was retired, and for the first time in his life I think he was enjoying it.
When I watched my father take his last breath six months later I knew that I had a new journey to take. This was my first time venturing out without him being a phone call away. My mom has always been my cheerleader, but my dad; he was well, the coach. You can only imagine how difficult the transition was for me. It was extremely tough. For months I believed that it was a nightmare, but it was now my reality.
I returned to this diner the day after my dad’s funeral and sat in the same booth that we sat in the previous summer. Why not return to the place that always symbolized the start of something new?
That day lead me to this one. Those of you that have been following this journey of the “Final 48 Project” have asked who is R.J.? Who is the person behind the stories, and the photos? Well, it is I. This project started with me. I promised my father that I would pursue my love of photography and documentaries. This is only a snippet of my story with my father. You will not only hear more about my story, but others as well.
It is important for us all to talk about our journey with grief. That’s honestly another reason I decided to structure the project in this way. I looked around during my group counseling sessions, and no one looked like me. My labor of love is to document the stories of my people in order to help others, and to provide healing in the process.
Thank you for your support thus far, and believing that this project can truly change the world. Someone has been where you are. We shall not endure this pain alone.
Final 48 Project – Photography Campaign
Shirt: Civil Rights Museum
Book: Adventures of Alleykats: Historical Sleuths