There’s a lot going in the world. So many isms, tragedies, and shit going wrong. Those are a few reasons why living my best life hasn’t been a priority. Grief is another.
April 24, 2019 makes it a year since my father, Fritz Guerilus, died. The official cause of death was heart failure. He loved his Chinese food, cuisines at buffet restaurants and while his thin appearance never showed any hint of that, it took a toll on his heart. He underwent surgery years ago, had been on medication and extended stays in the hospital.
Fritz always had a way of cheating the inevitable. But the inevitable hovered like a cloud. It poured down last year. I was shocked but not surprised when my brother called to say that he died. He’d been rushed to the hospital the night before and died in a hospital room. I write but there wasn’t an obituary saved for him in the drafts; taking for granted that he’d do it one more time and let me know it was all good.
I’d check in on my Fritz, picking up the phone to call him. Even if it was just for as few minutes at a time, we talked and laughed. Our conversations, sometimes short, were always friendly. We were friends. My mom says my first word was “Daddy” but there’s never been a day in my life where I can remember calling Fritz by that title and it’s not because I don’t have any good manners. I’m Black and was raised by a Haitian family. There wasn’t a choice if I could ever grow up being Charles Barkley types of turrible. You’ve to kiss everyone on the cheek, shake hands, smile and make nice whenever someone comes in the room. It’s a ritual. Neither me nor my siblings went rogue referring to Fritz by his first name. It’s just how he preferred it. He called his mom Grace and that’s a familiarity that passed on to us.
And by us, there are many. I’m sixth in about 8 or 9. Fritz was a charmer with a laid back personality, tall, handsome with a gentle smile that easily morphed into a smirk because he knew. When things would go bad in his relationships, his partner would probably say “you aren’t shit” and he’d smile. I might’ve seen that happen a few times between him and my mom.
Fritz wasn’t a bad guy. He was just a guy. Just not the settling down type who was going to play house. He was born on June 18, 1951 in Haiti on the island of La Gonave to Graceieuse Océan and J. Pierricois Guerilus; growing up to become a man who was multilingual, speaking English, French, Creole and Spanish. He moved to Brooklyn, New York in the 1980’s in pursuit of a new and full life; one that saw him explore the world around him as a Jehovah Witness, husband, father, photographer, videographer and cab driver. There wasn’t an opportunity he didn’t capitalize on through his entrepreneurial spirit.
If there was an idea in his head, he was gonna make a coin. He secured bags, fumbled them and did it all over again. The bread helped him dress in the finest clothes and shoes, always looking his best. I never saw him in sweats, rumpled shirts or sneakers. It was GQ adjacent or nothing else. He looked and lived the part of a playboy.
I made peace with that at 19. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I left the hurt to God. He’s still working on me because I cuss too much, hold onto anger and doubt but I submitted to forgiving Fritz for all that he never was. I accepted him, faults and all.
It didn’t sting as much when I learned that Fritz changed his ways, becoming the head of the house with his new wife and two daughters in Florida. He attended a church service at a Jehovah Witness temple the weekend before he died. It never leaves my mind the irony of his passing. Fritz got domesticated just as his days ended, continuing the vicious cycle of a father not being present in the home.
I may never have been Daddy’s little girl in the traditional sense but he loved me. I loved him. I have no guilt, regret or remorse about what I should’ve said or done. As his heart gave out, he knew that love filled mine for him.
There were a lot of people who attended the service and wondered why I didn’t cry, scream at God and throw myself at his coffin. All these things actually did happen as I watched. At times, I had my iPhone out, capturing the moments just like Fritz would’ve wanted. There wasn’t a family event, celebration, wedding and even memorial that Fritz didn’t cement to camera. He was a hustler of all trades but photography was a passion. The money shot was never far from his frame in good and bad times, a trait I inherited. In fact, the picture that was used to create the blanket that draped his coffin was taken by me.
I like to think I did him proud, carrying on his legacy just as he’d be honored to know how passionately my sister spoke at the podium for him; how my oldest brother helped organize his farewell and my youngest helping to carry his casket to its final resting place under the Florida skies. A lot was said and done leading up to his funeral. There are fights that can lead to resentment but we came together in that moment.
A year later, I’m adjusting to the new normal. It’s hitting different that memories are all I have left. My mom had a health crisis the last few months and fear gripped my bones like never before. I buried one parent and am not ready to do it again anytime soon. I’m still getting used to not being able to pick up the phone and just call him. He’s not gonna call me “Fafane” anymore, my nickname. I just have a voicemail that I play on repeat to hear him.
Fritz Guerilus, son of Haiti and world traveler, was here. My dad, friend and phone buddy. I just wanted to remind the world and to let him know that he hasn’t been forgotten. Especially not by me.