Never Too Late
San Francisco (June 2000)
s baseball games go, the San Francisco Giants’ 18–0 rout of the Montreal Expos at Pac Bell Park last month was about as good as the national pastime gets. Barry Bonds splashed a homer in the big pond, and even the pitcher hit a grand slam. But as great as the game was, the feats on the field paled in comparison to what went on in the stands. That was the first and only baseball game I have ever been to with my father.
I grew up believing my father had been lost and presumed killed in the Korean War. When my maternal grandfather wouldn’t let him marry my pregnant mother, a high school senior at the time, the nineteen-year-old prospective father joined the air force and landed in Korea just months after I was born.
Soon after that, my mother also left their Mississippi Delta hometown and headed north to Chicago. For a while, she stayed in touch with my father’s family, but after a time she lost touch with them completely. Except for my mother’s memories, all I had of my father was a 5-by-7 sepia-tone photo of him in his air force uniform and another snapshot of him in his high school football jersey, No. 33. I wore that number during my own short-lived high school football career.
Call of a Lifetime
I was a twenty-two-year-old cub reporter at Newsweek magazine in Boston when, out of the blue, I got an amazing telephone call from my mother in Chicago. “Are you sitting down?” she began.
“I just ran into your father’s sister. She says he is alive and living in Northern California. He’s been there for the last twenty-some years. Tried to find us, but didn’t know where we were.”
It is difficult to describe what I felt at that moment. I did not whoop and holler. I did not cry. I did not do or think anything. I simply tried to comprehend the true meaning of the revelation: Your father is alive. It wasn’t easy.
The thing I’d dreamed, talked, and thought about all my life was a reality. My father—Kittrel D. Peoples—was alive and well. Still, it was weeks before I could even pick up the telephone to call him. What would I say? What would he say? What if I didn’t like him? What if he didn’t like me? As happy as I wanted to be, I was also afraid that meeting the real man might tarnish the spit-and-polished war hero image I’d carried of my dad for so many years.
After an awkward first coast-to-coast long-distance phone call, we did talk from time to time. But it was six more years before we finally met. It happened at my dad’s oldest brother’s home in Richmond during 1979, when I was on a journalism fellowship at Stanford University. After a huge bear hug from this stranger who looked like an older, darker version of myself, we sat down to find common ground...