Who's Your Daddy?

Ann Spangler
Ann Spangler

a baby sleeps on her father's chest, snuggled up to his cheek

Walter Mosley is the author of a series of bestselling mystery novels featuring Easy Rawlins, a hard-boiled private investigator living in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. During the course of a recent interview, the sixty-year-old writer touched on the influence of his father, a black man who had grown up in the racially charged South. One day Mosley’s father sat him down and told him about every person he had ever seen die.

“And it was just amazing,” Mosley remarked. “Little children killing each other . . . black people killing white people, white people killing black people . . . people being hung, people dying because there was no protection on their jobs.”

When asked whether his father’s encounter with violence in the segregated South had made Mosley expect the same kind of violence in his own life, he responded,

“Not at all. One of the things my father did was he made me feel extraordinarily safe. He made me feel that ‘I’ve taken care of it. Nothing’s going to happen to you.’ And I always felt like that. Now things did happen. I got stopped by police and they would pull guns on me and do all kinds of things but all through that I was never really worried because my father said, ‘You’re going to be safe,’ and I believed my father. And on the whole it’s been true.”1

Contrast Mosley’s experience of his father’s protective influence with that of Diane Bartholomew, writing from the York Correctional Institute in Connecticut. Bartholomew’s father raped her when she was a young girl and later tried to run over her and her sister with the family car. After his death she described her feelings as she approached his casket:

“Hello, Dad, and good-bye. Good riddance. The others are sad, sobbing. Why? Have they forgotten all the things you did to us? I stand here feeling nothing, unless you count relief.”

She was so hurt and frightened by her father that she wanted to make certain he was really dead. “Then,” she says, “I’ll know you can’t hurt us anymore, Dad. Then I’ll know I’m safe.”2

Two different fathers. Two different children. Two completely different ideas of what constitutes safety. However your father made you feel, I pray that you will know God as the Father who keeps you safe.

  1. Walter Mosley, “Mosley’s ‘Last Days’ Restores Memory, but at a Cost,” interview by Terry Gross, Fresh Air, December 6, 2010, transcript and audio, 18:43, NPR, http://www.npr.org/2010/12/06/131848211/mosley-s-last-days-restores-memory-but-at-a-cost.
  2. Diane Bartholomew, “Snapshots of My Early Life,” in Wally Lamb, Couldn’t Keep It to Myself (New York: Harper Perennial, 2003), 332.

Originally published June 17, 2017.