What Does Father’s Day Mean To You?

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Columnist Tianna Spears honors the men in her life in celebration of Father’s Day

Father's Day – Tianna Spears and her father
The author as a baby and her father.

By Tianna Spears

What is home? Where is the place that you feel the most alive, understood and loved? Who introduced you to this place? Is it a physical location, a person, a feeling? “Tianna, would you like to come with me to homecoming in Durham, North Carolina?” my dad, H. Michael Spears, asked as we sat on the couch in our living room, squeezed between my mom and brother, in Groton, Connecticut.

“What is homecoming?” I asked him, not impressed. “It sounds boring.”

“You know how I graduated from North Carolina Central University?” he asked. “Homecoming is a big celebration with all my friends and family in Durham. You probably don’t remember, but you came with me to homecoming when you were a baby. There’s a parade, football game, lots of food, and you can make new friends. It will be fun!”

I thought homecoming was full of old ladies pinching my cheeks and calling me “baby.” My parents raised me to be vocal about my opinion, so I repeated this to my dad, and he laughed.

We arrived in Durham after a 10-hour car ride. My dad talked about his life, sharing stories about his childhood in the Bull City. We listened to 107.1 FM radio station, which played old-school R&B songs that I would soon associate with my own childhood.

I spent that weekend in October 1999 playing in my grandparents’ front yard behind in HER words Hillside High School with neighborhood kids. The house was decorated with art by Durham artist Ernie Barnes. I was introduced to my dad’s friends and family members. We ate barbecue chicken, fried fish, collard greens, mac ’n cheese and cornbread – what my community calls soul food. My grandmother made a breakfast food called grits, and my older cousin taught me to add cheese, bacon and butter. It was delicious.

I couldn’t quite put into words what I was feeling as a child. I was surrounded by different shades of Blackness, a warm, comfortable feeling that was authentic. I met Black business owners, lawyers and women who said exactly what they thought as they thought it. The women had curly hair just like I did! My grandma smacked away my hand when I reached for food in the kitchen. There was laughter, a weekend reunion of people who hadn’t seen one another in years, cookouts and “The Electric Slide.”

“I haven’t seen you since you were a baby!” women would say, pinching my cheeks and leaving traces of perfume and hints of red lipstick stains on my face.

My dad and I stood at the corner of Fayetteville Street and East Pilot Street, next to The Chicken Hut, as the parade approached. There was the drumline, step team, dance team, organizations displaying signs to support different causes. Cars full of smiling people, waving, throwing candy into the crowd, and music that made you move from side to side.

During halftime at the N.C. Central vs. Livingstone College football game at O’Kelly Riddick Stadium that afternoon, the announcer screamed, “North Carolina! Put your hands up!” N.C. Central’s marching band, the Sound Machine, took over the field. I was in awe, watching the majorettes dance and the drumline play along in their gray and maroon uniforms.

My family moved to Durham two years later. I started school at Fayetteville Street Elementary School, a few steps from where my dad and I watched the parade. Thanks to my father, I fell deeply in love with my Durham community, myself, my spirit, my beautiful skin and my curly hair. I understand the importance of community, of representation and for advocating for a better world for all.

What I remember most about that weekend is the quality time I spent with my dad. Riding together in the car, stopping at rest areas on I-95 South, eating fast food that my mom wouldn’t normally allow us to eat – it was an opportunity to get an up-close and personal look into his life rather than rely on stories told at the kitchen table. Those memories would eventually help me navigate adulthood, drawing from both funny and real situations.

Twenty years later, my dad and I took a cross-country road trip from Durham to Mexico. We had the time of our lives as we drove those 26 hours and talked about life. I have a picture with my dad in front of Moton Field at Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site and a photo of us at Tuskegee University in Tuskegee, Alabama. We listened to jazz and the rain in New Orleans and ate at IHOP in every city.

My dad taught me to use my voice as well as the power of nonverbal communication, to stand up for myself and to watch my back. He is honest, caring and will tell you exactly what he thinks. He is constantly challenging me, sharing different perspectives that I haven’t yet considered, but is also full of encouragement and support. My dad never missed a basketball game, school event or any opportunity to be present. I observed the value my dad places on his friendships over the years. His close friends became uncles to me, calling in to check on me, attending my graduations and always offering a safe space to talk along with honest advice. I am better for all of the lessons my dad instilled in me and my brother. If you are reading this (and I know you are), it is an honor to be your daughter.

This Father’s Day, I think about all of the men in my life who consistently show up. In no particular order, there is my dad, Michael A. Spears, Richard “Dicky” Duval, Arthur “Spike” Spears II, Billy Thorpe, Ron Draper, Robert Willis, Mike Turner, Brandon Draper, Jason Draper, Tony Esau, Earl Hobbs, Steve McGill, Shaheed Abdul Rahman, Dan Pardoe, Derek Smith, Al Lewis, Fred Hammonds, Eric Holloway, Dawud Holloway, Andre Duval, André Duval Jr., Roland Duval, Malik Duval, Mike Burns, Kevin Hinton, Ed Molina, Joe Kutzke, Jeremy Kutzke, Thomas Bass, Shea Neville, James Kithcart and so many more. It truly takes a village, and for that, I thank you.


ORIGINALLY FROM LOS ANGELES, THE AUTHOR WAS RAISED IN DURHAM. SHE HAS WRITTEN FOR AMERICAN DIPLOMACY, LOS ANGELES TIMES, MATADOR NETWORK AND POLITICO, AND WAS FEATURED ON ABC NEWS, BUSINESS INSIDER, CNN, NPR, PRI’S THE WORLD AND IN THE NEW YORK TIMES. TIANNA IS THE FOUNDER OF A STORYTELLING COLLECTIVE WEBSITE CALLED TIANNA’S CREATIVE AND CREATOR OF THE BLOG “WHAT’S UP WITH TIANNA.”

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