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Like father, like son

I just celebrated my 56th birthday. Honestly it’s more like I have just reached my 56th birthday. After all there wasn’t much of a celebration; really there wasn’t a celebration at all. I have noticed though that as I grow older I think of my father more and more. This birthday was no different.

These reminisces all started, I think, a few years ago when I took up the post of Parliamentary Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office and moved into an office at Government Headquarters.

harrysdadShortly thereafter my sister gave me a photograph of my father standing majestically in his policeman’s uniform outside of the building. The picture was probably taken in the early 1960s. I proudly displayed that picture in the office and it became an instant conversation piece. Most people marvelled at how handsome he was. No one ever said that I looked like him.

Carlyle Elkins Husbands was a man of many parts. He was tall, with an imposing presence and personality. He wore a part down the middle of his head in the style of Clark Gable. He was fanatical about sports, especially West Indies cricket. He was an excellent swimmer and even played a bit of water polo.

When we went into secondary school we each got a Parker fountain pen and a Swiss watch, in my case a Fortis. We wore leather shoes to school which on rainy days he “baked” to ensure we were ready for school the next day. He was passionate about education.

He could cuss like the proverbial pirate. He played dominoes under the street lights at night. He went to church one day a year, Good Friday. He was married twice, had no children from his first wife but at last count eight children from five mothers.

Shortly after I started work at Government Headquarters several retired policemen I met asked me if I was Sipoo’s son. Sipoo was my father’s nickname. On the surface that is a simple enough question. I suspected that they also wanted to ask, how was it that Sipoo’s son could have a post in a Democratic Labour Party administration.

My father was a well-known strong supporter of the Barbados Labour Party. One fellow was even brave enough to say to me: “Boy Sipoo must be turning in he grave!”

What many of them didn’t know was that my father’s father Samuel Cumberbatch, a policeman also, who was similar in stature and personality to my father was an equally strong supporter of the DLP. It was obvious that they never got along.

Two family tales will illustrate this. My mother baked salt bread regularly on Saturday. The task would fall to me to ride my father’s old bicycle from our home in Eagle Hall to my grandfather’s home in Halls Road to take some for him. Whenever I reached his house my grandfather would put me to a seat and subject me to intense interrogation about my father. When I eventually made it back home my father would do the same about him.

On the one occasion that I remember my grandfather having Sunday lunch with us he made the cardinal error of thanking Errol Barrow after the meal. My father lighted in him. “Imagine this man come into my house eat my food, don’t thank God, don’t thank me for providing it, don’t thank my wife for preparing it but thank Barrow,” my father thundered.

That was the signal for us children to leave the lunch table. A bitter argument ensued. I don’t remember my grandfather visiting our home after that.

As I think of it, they must have been both members of the BLP. My grandfather probably left when the DLP was formed. At that point I believe that whatever differences between them grew even deeper.

The relationship between my father and me was equally tumultuous. He was a disciplinarian. I was a rebel. I defied him at every turn. When I left school each evening he had a clearly defined route that I had to take on my way home. I rarely took it.

As a teenager, the more he objected to my radical ideas the more they blossomed. I have come to realise how much alike the three of us are. In physical appearance, in the firmness with which we hold our beliefs and the total lack of reservation in expressing of those beliefs we are one blood.

I was a trade union leader for many years. My father was a founder member of the Barbados Police Association. One of the retired policemen told me he once saw my father launch a verbal attack on the then white Commissioner of Police that led him to believe my father was crazy.

As corny as it might seem as I think of my father and grandfather and the views, ideals and principles they held, it is not mainly the who or what, but how those ideals and principles were held. Were they honestly and sincerely held? Were they committed to them and did they take any actions to uphold those views, ideals and principles? As I think of my fathers I am proud to be their son.

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