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[Opinion] Lessons From a Black Father

In our father-daughter memoir, When Your Hand is in the Lion’s Mouth, I share my

father’s wit, wisdom, and homespun counsel that has been a guiding force in my life.

My dad, Green Whitaker Sr. has been a walking ray of light, an anchor and voice of reason, a source of sage experiential wisdom, and a devoted, faithful father, son, and brother. Charming and chivalrous, he is as unique as his name and a gentleman with a generous spirit. There are many practical insights he taught me and my siblings and I learned some foundational cornerstones for living a rich life.

The first one is that “Love always wins.” My dad believed and lived a life that led with love. He taught us to approach everything and each situation with love and excellence. We know that darkness cannot combat darkness, only light can, and that old saying “love conquers hate” is never outdated. Love is the motivator and factor that always wins. Dad says it is the “trump card” in the game of life; to let that be what we lead our lives with, and kindness will follow. More than anything, he led by example. He didn’t expect anything of us that he didn’t expect of himself.

Secondly, “We are not destined to become something simply because of our circumstances or the way we were raised.” We often hear of people rising from abject poverty to become successful beyond anything the world could see for them. I love to see that. I came from a small middle-class Black neighborhood Cedar I was a kid with big dreams in Grove, a subdivision in Shreveport, Louisiana. My dreams took me out of that small town onto stages singing with legends like David Foster, Michael Buble’ and Andrea’ Bocelli. Yet, we also have seen people stay in whatever they have always known. My father worked alongside his father and siblings picking cotton in the north Louisiana Jim Crow South. He always could see himself doing something more and without being able to finish high school because of work, he had no other skills other than those learned in the farming/plantation life. But what he had was a great will, integrity, grit, and a desire to work hard to take care of his family. He took those things he learned from his home and in the fields and eventually became a co-owner of a new funeral home in our hometown, and the top insurance salesman for more than twenty-five years. He didn’t allow any labels or the life he was born into to define who he could become. What he was able to achieve was done through his steadfast work ethic, consistency, and earning the respect of his peers. That drive is within us to rise to our best and higher selves. You have to see better to want better. Even if our circumstances are not ideal, and even if there is some emotional or physical abuse, the work is the get the tools to help heal the wounds and use what we have learned to propel us forward, not backward.

Thirdly, “We are not defined by what happened to us”, was another foundational wisdom. There are times when we as humans get stuck on a “what happened to me” and life can go off track and down that particular road. Everyone will have things that happen to them, but everything that happens to us comes to teach us something and hopefully make us more resilient in the big picture. Those moments of life impact are not all that we are, instead an opportunity to start anew, a time of awakening and of fighting for our light. We have no control over what life throws our way. What we have control of is how we react, and how we recover. So, keep going.

And the last one, “With grit, humor, and faith, we can all travel together through this miraculous thing called life.” Grit is the drive that keeps me pushing; some call it ambition but it is that yearning for more that burns deep within our spirits. Faith is trusting the unknown, waiting for joy to be revealed, and believing in something greater than myself. My dad showed me all that is how he lived his life. He also taught me to never take myself too seriously and to find joy in small things. To this day in his 96th year, he is easily amused. I find that I seek out things that make me smile, and look for ways to be a blessing knowing that I usually am the one that gets blessed. I had the gift of this beautiful Black father; one we don’t see much on television or enough in the media, who is an upstanding human, kind, smart, available, and present. He was a great provider

and worked for hand in hand alongside our mother to give us a life and a home that fostered a sense of well-being.

My father's example of moving through his life with humor, grace, and grit helped sustain him and made him a great father. That is the gift he gave to me and my siblings like these four foundations, that keeps on giving.

Nita Whitaker is a former ICU registered nurse-turned-Miss Louisiana, an accomplished singer, and an award-winning actress and author. A favorite singer of legendary producer David Foster, Whitaker has sung with some of the most famous voices of our time. She sang the original demos for Whitney Houston’s standards, “I Will Always Love You,” “I Have Nothing,” and “I Look to You” working with producers David Foster and Walter Nelson Jr. Whitaker’s first independently published memoir, Finding My Voice: My Journey through Grief to Grace, won the Indie Discovery Book Award (Aging/Death and Dying) and two National Indie Excellence Book Awards in the Grief and Memoir Categories. Born in Shreveport, LA, she champions literacy through her 501c3 non-profit In A World With Books which has put 18,500 new books in the non-profithands of underserved children and counting.


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