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article imageOp-Ed: Father's Day memories of 'the smartest man I have ever known'

By Phyllis Smith Asinyanbi     Jun 16, 2013 in Lifestyle
Chicago - It's Father's Day, and I have been reminiscing about my late father, Robert Smith Jr., the smartest man I have ever known. It is because of him that I became an educated woman and know, undoubtedly, lifelong learning can take place outside a classroom.
Childhood and young adulthood
Robert Smith Jr. was my “Daddy.” When I was growing up, he was the only person I knew who did not have a middle name. I pondered if it bothered him, but I never asked. If it caused him any emotional discomfort, I did not want to risk hurting his feelings. He was born on March 19, 1922 in Malvern, Ark. and passed away on Oct. 19, 1990. If he were living, he would be 91 years old.
Robert Jr., as his siblings called him, was the most intelligent man I have ever known. Innately intelligent, as he did not have a formal education. He did not finish high school, because his mother passed away when he was 16. The same year, he joined the Army, during World War II, so he could send money home for his younger siblings and see the world.
My Daddy also wanted to escape racism and told me that after he returned from the Army to see his father and siblings, he vowed to never return to Malvern -- and he never did. His memories included hatred directed by southern whites toward him that was too painful for him to detail and utter disdain for who he was -- an American of African descent.
Acquisition and impartation of knowledge
Although my Daddy did not have a formal education, he was constantly learning, reading, studying, observing, discerning, analyzing and deciphering. Often strangers would ask him which college he graduated from. When he replied, "None," they were astounded. He was an autodidact and was known as the man who could inform the less and more educated on any issue.
I often wondered, too, how he lost his Southern accent. Perhaps he practiced voice and articulation in his room in Detroit when he moved “up North,” or maybe he mimicked the accents of his peers when he later moved to Cleveland. The whys and hows were not significant; Southern drawl or not, he consistently emphasized the importance of speaking standard English to his children. I am thankful, for it has served me well throughout life.
Daddy was quietly strong. He did not talk continuously, but when he spoke, his voice commanded attention. I remember him as a great storyteller, and there were numerous occasions when I sat on his lap and implored him, "Daddy, tell me about when you were young." He would repeat variations on his past glory as "the best-dressed boy in Malvern, Ark." Other times he would tell me about people he met in France when he served as a sergeant in “the war.” He would speak a few perfectly pronounced French words and translate them for me, his baby girl.
He was creative, intelligent, self-educated, spontaneous, witty and the smartest man I have ever known. In his middle years, he became a sage, as he realized “book smarts” did not make the man (or the woman), but wise application of knowledge was crucial. He was not boastful and maintained a spirit of confident humility.
His voice was a calm, effortless, melodious baritone. His rendition of Arthur Prysock and Nat King Cole songs still soothes my ears. Even when he was upset with me, his admonishments never offended my sensibilities, as there was a smoothness, quietness and righteousness to his anger.
Later years and spiritual transition
My father was kind but not particularly religious and did not accept the Lord Jesus Christ as his "personal savior" until he was in his 50s. Previously, he had shunned the salvation of his parents, who were active in the Church of God in Christ but later had an epiphany that rendered him changed. After his awakening, he did not become a regular church goer, but he was an authentic believer.
I remember him telling me before he became deathly ill and could no longer speak, "I pray for all of you [his adult children] every day." He faced death fearlessly and his transition eradicated my fear of the unknown. After his soul left his body, he lay there in perfect peace, with a facial expression that spoke of glorious sights seen. If death could be this beautiful, why fear it?
The year before my father died, almost to the exact day, he told me he would not be “around long” but looked forward to death, because his body was ravaged from diabetes and he was “tired.” My ears and eyes were closed to the possibility of my precious Daddy leaving me; I was old enough to understand that one day my parents would die, but spiritually young enough to believe I could pray away the inevitable. As usual, my father's perceptions were precise.
He "shuffled off this mortal coil” at age 68 -- much too young. I often speculate on what he would have been like at a grand old age, and it saddens me that my now teenage son never had the opportunity to meet Grandpa Robert. However, I do tell my son about my Daddy, the smartest man I have ever known. I have worked for executives, physicians, presidents of universities, and business owners, but I know my Daddy was smarter than all of them, and it is on this and each Father's Day that I honor the memory of Robert Smith Jr.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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