I found my father on Facebook on September 15, 2009. He responded to a private message I sent asking if he had a relationship with my mother during his time in the Army back in 1979. He responded that he had and immediately accepted me as his son. On June 4, 2021, just one month after I learned that he was suffering from stage-4 lung cancer, he died.
I knew my dad for less than 12 years after spending the first 29 years of my life without him. I will never see him again.
That hurts. A lot.
It hurts because my father never got a chance to be the best dad he could be. He didn’t know that my mother was pregnant with his son after he was deployed to Korea after basic training. My mother didn’t know how to track him down and alleges that the Army wasn’t much help.
No one ever said anything negative about the man when I was a child. Hell, no one knew him to critique his character. I just got used to not having a father.
But I learned what type of man Chris Truesdale was the day I searched his name on Facebook. I was in Ukraine on a Fulbright grant at the time and was hoping to move to New York City to start a media career. He never questioned whether or not I was his son.
“You have a home in the Bronx,” he told me on one of our Skype calls.
Our first few Facebook message exchanges were nice and sweet:
We communicated off and on over the year and half I was in Ukraine. Once we saw each other in real life, that’s when things became, how should I say...real.
When my father picked me up from JFK airport on the evening of December 10, 2010, I was approached by an elderly woman who asked, “Are you my grandson?” I had just met my father’s mother for the first time. My other grandmother had died soon after I finished high school, so it was wonderful to have a grandma again. Minutes later, my father hugged me for the first time.
Now, here is the thing about meeting your father for the first time: You really don’t know what type of person you’re going to get. Yeah, it was heartwarming to embrace the man I’d always wanted to know as a kid. But I soon grew to appreciate our 29-year-separation. That Negro had issues and I learned about them as early as 5:30 a.m. the following day when I saw him slurping down Budweisers for breakfast. He was a shameless alcoholic and had bouts of rage that would seep into the most random of conversations. Our first week together, he’d help me out with Metro cards and take me out to eat—a generous and much-appreciated gesture as my pockets were light. It would be roughly another year and some change before I’d find a full-time job. Interspersed with those acts of kindness were the most rude, vulgar fits of name-calling (f*g, bitch, sissy, just to name a few)—just outright nasty commentary about how little of a man he thought I was.
This was our first week together. Lung cancer took him out a few weeks ago, but by the end of our first two weeks together I was ready to send him to Glory with a swift kick in the ass from a 20-story building. No one has evoked, in such a short period of time, more rage in me than my father.. You could not pay me a million dollars to pinpoint the genesis of his vitriol towards me—the source of those bouts of anger is a complete mystery. What saved me was the rest of my family politely explaining that he had issues that also drove them to contemplate bloody murder and that I should not take his insults personally.
Everyone has “a Chris story,” with them falling out and then making up again. The two of us would do that perhaps five times over our 11-and-a-half-year-relationship. One night, while I was staying with him, when things got really bad, I decided to quietly pack my bags while he was in a booze-fueled deep sleep. I took a taxi to my uncle’s flat in the north Bronx, near Westchester, and lived with him until my father got some act right in him.
When I called him from my uncle’s house to say why I left, he gave a classic Christopher Truesdale response: “It’s your choice” and hung up. It was such a chilly response that I started questioning if the man really loved me or if it was a mistake finding him. He did love me, a lot. He just had a fucked up way of showing it. My dad was a very macho man, one who did not care about checking in with his feelings or inspecting whether he’d hurt yours.
He boasted about being a Black man who worked for the mob, something family and friends said was true. (I’ll let y’all use your imaginations to determine what that work was.) If he was ever wrong, he’d just chalk it up to two men having their beef and then drop it. I didn’t like it, but I quickly accepted his form of reconciliation. It was clear he didn’t know any other way to work through conflict with his loved ones.
During the four months or so I stayed with my uncle, my father would check in on me through calls and texts with my grandma, aunt and uncle. They told him how I was advancing in my job search and that I found a gig that would soon turn full-time. He was proud of me and told everyone about his son, the news reporter who hit the streets of New York City hustling and never asked him for a dime. Everyone knew I was the Black Russian dude.
(Dave Chappelle, who he knew from his days selling clothes and other stuff in Soho, was fascinated with how we found each other on Facebook and joked with him that I was a Russian spy. True story.)
After nearly five months of staying with my uncle, my dad picked me up in his almost-broken down SUV, gave me a strong hug and drove me back to his place. He never apologized, but he didn’t have to. I knew he was sorry. That he picked me up and hugged me so tight was sign enough that he was remorseful. That’s the thing about meeting your dad later in life: I didn’t have the childhood baggage that might have kept me from looking past his shortcomings. I have an idea where his pain came from, but I won’t share it here. It’s too personal, too raw. What’s important is that by the time I met him, I was old enough and mature enough not to take his flaws personally. I’m a man of faith, so I believe that God knew what he was doing, keeping us separate and giving me a loving grandmother to raise me while my mother was living her life in the military.
God was setting us both up to be blessings to each other during the final years of his life.
I always knew my dad would die young.
He possessed bottles of pills I struggled to connect to any illness. He’d always say he was sick and in the past four years, he struggled to walk long distances without gasping for breath. Whenever we’d hang out, I’d joke that he was a “weak ass nigga” for breathing like a “little bitch” and shout “keep up, nigga” for all to hear. I know that might sound fucked up to y’all, but we love hard in the Truesdale family. Eventually, I learned that he was, in fact, seriously ill and that he needed to reverse his bad habits. He’d get by on a chicken wing a day, smoke like a chimney, and drink like a fish; he just refused to care for his body. His days were numbered, and I learned that during my first year of living with him.
His will to live faded with each passing day after his wife, whom he married around seven years ago, was tragically shot and killed in 2017 by her brother in a murder-suicide in Lugoff, S.C., where she and my father had moved after tying the knot. One bullet caught my dad in the shoulder, but he soon recovered—at least physically. Mentally, he ebbed and flowed between being an emotional wreck and feeling OK. Like all of my father’s relationships with the people who loved him, he and his wife fought like cats and dogs. But there was love there. I felt it when I was around them and I felt its absence when she left this earth.
While he mourned her loss, I’d joke that “She takin’ an extended vacation from yo’ crazy ass.” Sometimes, he’d snicker. Other times, he’d shrug his shoulders. That was our way of fuckin’ with each other. It may sound harsh to y’all; that’s OK. That was our display of tenderness and no one has to get it but us. One thing was clear, though: He was ready to be reunited with his wife, who he missed dearly. I hated when he’d say he wanted to be with his wife.
I mean, shit—what about me?
What about your other sons and your daughter?
What about your family?
“Don’t you love us?” I’d ask him. He never verbally responded, but I knew he loved us. He loved me as strongly as I’ve ever been loved. And he always said that he loved me. But he missed his wife and wanted to be with her again. I’d joke that if he kept up his smoking, he’d secure himself a Newport-class ticket to her in no time.
He booked that ticket May 4, 2021 when he passed out and was rushed to the hospital.
My dad had been suffering from lung cancer for years, but never told me. I found out from a friend of ours who said he had told her years ago, and she’d just assumed I knew. In fact, few of us knew how sick he was. I never understood why he didn’t tell us. Doesn’t matter now.
One thing that sticks with me is how often he’d ask when I was going to come see him in South Carolina. I told him I’d make plans but kept brushing it off. My dad was a wonderful man, but his love came in shots of homemade corn liquor, not smooth, rich glasses of your favorite Chardonnay or Super Tuscan. (I don’t care for liquor, but when I do have a shot, I take them sparingly.) Plus, he smoked a lot and I hate smoke, so I’d never stay at his house. Eventually, I scheduled a ticket for Father’s Day weekend this year and booked a hotel in nearby Columbia. But he collapsed on May 4, so I jumped on a plane the next week to see him in a hospital bed with tubes coming out of his body.
The cancer had metastasized in his brain and bones and he was undergoing radiation. He’d eventually end that treatment. If you have ever loved someone who is living with cancer, you know that it is a cruel and barbaric illness. My dad went four weeks without defecating, was forced to wear a diaper and, day by day, his memory slipped. Some days, he’d confuse me with my younger brother, thinking that I had visited him at the hospital earlier that day but it wasn’t me.
Before his mind completely failed him, we got a chance to reflect on our 11-and-a-half years together. I thanked him for accepting me as his son. In his words, “We don’t need to go to Maury.” If it wasn’t for him, I would not be in New York, the city I would come to call home, nor would I have such a promising career in media. My dad didn’t have a lot of money and spent every penny of extra cash that came his way, but he did make sure that his son was loved, embraced by his family and had what he needed to start a life in New York City.
He was also the biggest asshole that God has ever put in my life and I’d tell him often. He’d just shrug his shoulders and nod in agreement. He was a flawed man who did not so much raise his children as simply sired them. I won’t speak for my two siblings, but what I can say was that I dodged a bullet by going 29 years without him.
“I would’ve been fucked up had you raised me,” I told him during one of my hospital visits. “You had no business making babies.”
We both laughed, but I was serious and he knew it.
Still, his life was a blessing to me. While I dodged a bullet during my childhood years, I hit the jackpot finding him as an adult. My dad wasn’t a fathering type, but, at his best, he knew how to love his friends and family when they needed him most. And I am thankful that I was old enough to appreciate him for the man he was during the final years of his life. I want to be a husband and a dad myself someday, but it terrifies me. I fear I won’t be a good enough man to the woman I will marry because “I haven’t gotten it all together yet.” I don’t want to inherit my dad’s shortcomings.
What I have learned is that none of us “gets it right” (especially parents); we just have to keep trying and keep learning how to be better to those we love and move along with our lives. I believe my dad was really a better person and learned how to love me by the time he checked into the hospital on May 4. Each day, I’d kiss my dad on the forehead after our visits and he’d kiss me on mine. It was a tenderness that ran in sharp contrast to the foul-mouthed street persona I met during that first week together. His kisses brought me some comfort as his memory and body faded. Then, he’d say, “I think it’s time for you to go.”
It hurt me to be rushed out of his room, but I knew he didn’t want me to see him suffering. I respected his wishes and kept my hurt feelings to myself.
I planned on going out shooting with my dad this weekend to celebrate Father’s Day, but I am writing an ode to his passing instead. I WANT TO BE with my dad right now, but he went to Glory on June 4, less than two weeks after he moved back into his home, where he’d made it clear he wanted to die.
He was 61 years old.
His cremated ashes are mixed with his wife’s, per his wishes. I wasn’t there to see him die and, honestly, I didn’t want to. He sent me a birthday video with the help of my cousin who was taking care of him. He tried to say happy birthday as she held the phone up for him, but he was too weak to clearly send me any well-wishes. I can’t watch that video again. My heart can’t take it.
I had also made plans to be in Washington, D.C., for business and I honestly believe my dad would want me to be there instead of watching him die. I am OK now; I have a therapist, I will live. But, I am also not OK. I am hurting. I’ve been off work, a result of his rapidly declining health, sudden death and the ensuing messiness of his unsettled affairs (the Negro was dysfunctional and left his dysfunctions unaddressed). It became a full-time job and had grown so overwhelming that I would have been a less than stellar newsroom colleague. Some days I really struggle.
What keeps me going is returning to my happy place—that moment when I first found my father on Facebook. I was in Ukraine at the time. He knew how much I loved Ukraine and that made him love the country, too. He’d correct people by telling them “It’s Ukraine,” not “the Ukraine” and he once stole my Ukrainian bulava (a ceremonial mace) in a covetous fit. It’s hanging inside his man cave at this very moment, where I am resigned with it staying. I’m in the Carpathians now, surrounded by mountains and forests, wild fruits and wildlife. I’m deeply sad, but I’m in my happy place, thankful that my dad accepted this 29-year-old Black dude writing from Ukraine as his son. The scenery is helping me heal.
Pop, I was never the spy you and Dave Chapelle thought I was. But I will leave you with this note, in Russian.
Папа, я очень тебя люблю! Мне грустно, что тебя нет здесь со мной. Мне очень больно... Я бы хотел, чтобы ты был со мной, чтобы ты мог поцеловать меня в голову. Но это ничего... Я поцелую своего ребенка в голову и буду любить его так же, как ты любил меня
I love you very much, dad! I am sad you are not here with me. I am hurting and I wish you were here to kiss me on my head. But it is OK. I will kiss my child on their head and love them just as you loved me.
For those who never met my dad, we were once on The Today Show. This is how I want the world to remember him.