Father and son

I always watched my dad, Big Terry, wondering: IS that what a man is? Is that what I’ll be like when I grow up? It was tricky, though, because he was two different people, and I was never sure which one was going to show up around the house on any given day: Big Terry on his way to work or Big Terry on his time off.

My father was talented with his hands and a very hard worker. He was a foreman at the GM plant in Flint, where he worked the second shift. And so I always watched him leave for work in the afternoons, but I rarely saw him come home. Day after day, I had a visual of my father going one way: out the door. When I woke up in the morning, he was usually asleep. We weren’t supposed to disturb him, but of course we always did. I mostly just wanted to peek in and look at him because he worked a lot, and he slept a lot, and I didn’t get to see him much.

“My mama didn’t love me,” he said. “Your mama loves you.”

As quietly as I could, I tiptoed over to their room, opened the door, and just stood there, watching Big Terry sleep, a sheet pulled up over his chest. I was filled with wonder and awe. My father had muscles and was strong. He had huge hands and feet, and they were so rough. I wanted calloused hands like that, hands that seemed capable of doing anything. A loud snore erupted from him, making him sound like a monster, and he rolled over but didn’t wake up.
Is that’s what I’m going to be like? I wondered. I shut the door gently and hurried back to my room before I did anything to get myself in trouble.

For work, he wore an impeccably ironed shirt with a pocket protector for his pens. When we got older he made us iron everything we wore, even our jeans and T-shirts. He was a stickler for shiny shoes, too, and he always put care into polishing his own. I used to sit and watch him getting ready for work, wanting to be close to him and learn about the ways of the world from him. He held a black leather work shoe in one hand and drew a soft rag over its toe with the other.

“So you got black polish for those?” I asked, hoping to draw him out.

“Yep.”

He kept on buffing. When he was on his way to work, all I could get out of him were these clipped, one-word answers. Still, I hung around, hoping for just a little more from him. But he was in a hurry, and before I knew it, he was out the door.

When he’d come home, Big Terry had a regular routine. He went over to the stereo console and put on his favorite record, Bobby Womack’s soulful anthem to lost love, “Woman’s Gotta Have It,” and played it as loud as he could. If I passed through the living room later in the night, it was hard to even look at him. He’d gone to work neat as a soldier. Now he was collapsed in a heap, a beer in one hand. His hair was mussed, his T-shirt wrinkled and stained. Usually he wanted to be alone in these moments and did his best to ignore us. But there was no way to ignore him, sitting there crying to himself and playing his music.

I couldn’t understand it at the time, but I always felt like he was envious of my brother Marcelle and me.

All I ever wanted from the pre-work Big Terry was for him to slow down long enough to talk to me. But usually, only the drunken Big Terry felt like talking, and I didn’t want to be around him. I didn’t know what to make of the things he told me. All of the secrets from his childhood came spilling out, as he described being raised by his grandmother in Edison, Georgia, and how he never knew his father, and his mother lived down the street, but she didn’t want anything to do with him.

“My mama didn’t love me,” he said. “Your mama loves you.”

I couldn’t understand it at the time, but I always felt like he was envious of my brother Marcelle and me. And he made it abundantly clear that, by his standards, we had nothing to complain about. He judged the love he showed us by what he did for us. His attitude was always: You guys are eating. You guys have clothes. You’re lucky.

“You have it good,” he said to us, again and again. “I love you guys,” he said to Marcelle and me, standing by our bunks.

In spite of everything, I puffed up with happiness. This was all I really wanted from him, and I was still smiling when he stumbled out of the room and downstairs.

Not long after that, Big Terry was leaning over a square of newspaper, shining his shoes before work. I strolled up to where he sat and smiled at him.

“Hey, I love you,” I said.

“Mm-hm,” he said, not even looking up.

It was like the moment when he’d been a loving dad had never happened. I was crushed.

Even though I didn’t like being around Big Terry when he was drunk, I wanted so badly to connect with him that I went into the living room one night when he was in his chair, beer in hand, listening to Bobby Womack. I leaned in and kissed him on his cheek. He looked at me like I was crazy. I backed away from him so quickly I nearly tripped over my own feet, and I never made that mistake again.

 

Terry Crews Manhood

Terry Crews is the star of The Expendables 3, Blended and is the new host of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? The above was excerpted from his new memoir Manhood, available now for Father’s Day.

Copyright © 2014 Terry Crews. Excerpted by permission of Zinc Ink, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.