Sometimes it is those that work you the hardest that you learn from the most.
Whether it is a teacher, coach or parent, there is always some one in your life that at the time you wonder why they are treating you the way they are and then it sinks in years later.
For me it was my stepfather, Charles Tate.
Like most stepfathers and stepsons we clashed quite a bit early in our relationship.
I was your typical stubborn teenager and he was an army officer who grew up during segregation as a biracial individual.
I can never fully understand what it is like to be an African-American growing up in the1950s and he never let it get in his way or saw it as an obstacle. Hard work was his motto and discipline was his motto and he expected you to abide by the same.
Charles, or as we called him, Chuck, was a standout high school football player and played collegiate football at the University of New Hampshire.
Often times he talked about his trials being black at a predominately white school and the insults he had to endure when he pledged the TKE fraternity as one of the first minorities. He shrugged them off and never let them affect them and it only made him stronger.
He was the kind of guy that let action speak louder than words and soon embarked on a highly successful military career that took him around the globe where he met and dealt with a lot of fascinating people. He would eventually become the top hospital administrator in San Antonio and then started a lucrative business helping hospitals collect insurance money.
An excellent storyteller, Chuck would tell us of inept generals or corrupt politicians.
He would often start a story like ‘Jose, have you ever heard a bamboo stick hit a person’s skull.”
That grabbed your attention in a hurry.
There are stories of him being at a dinner with Martin Luther King or meeting some guy who he lent a coat to him while traveling to Colorado and gave him a great deal on prime real estate in ski country. By the way he was a world class skier.
Sports was the one thing where we did connect.
He was an avid sports fan and knew I was as well. We would talk for hours about boxing, his favorite sport, or football and the Cowboys or college football as well.
When I was being a snot nosed pain, he knew how to punish me and it was something I didn’t realize at the time but it was quite effective.
When I stayed out late Friday nights partying with my friends and come in late in the morning, nothing was said.
Instead I would hear a knock on my door at 7:30 a.m. the next day and him saying time to mow the lawns. That’s right multiple lawns. He owned houses in the 1970s before it was a thing. He owned about 10 at that time and I, blurry eyed, grab my work gloves and put in an eight hour day of mowing, fixing lawns and washing windows.
And after a hard day of work, I sometimes got paid and sometimes I didn’t.
That didn’t bother me. What really bothered me and he knew this was that I had to miss the baseball game of the week. Living in San Antonio, I did not see a team during the week unless for the occasional Monday night game so Saturday was the only day I could watch my favorite sport. He knew it was the one thing I looked forward to.
He knew how to punish without lifting a finger. Such a valuable lesson.
Reading the Wall Street journal everyday and giving him a report on what was in there was another way he furthered my education and I, again, resented it more than I appreciated it at the time.
Our relationship took a turn for the worse when I moved out at 18 and it was the worst decision I made. He knew it. I didn’t and it took me a while to get back on my feet.
Like his nature, he let me learn from my mistakes but was always there when I really needed something and once I became a sportswriter we seemed to mend our ways and went to games together and I enjoyed his insightful opinions and entertaining stories.
And while they will forever be etched in my memory, I never had the chance to say thank you for teaching me life lessons and for being an example of how to live and not only for me but my son.
My stepdad passed away today.