they call me dad

Tony fit into our plans perfectly that Thursday morning, as Phillipsburg was still shuttered and we were eager to make tracks for Marigot, Saint Martin. We were looking for straw market bargains, and something tasty at la Sucriere, perhaps also some café au lait. And we were determined to return to l’Escale des îles for more of Dona Bryhiel’s Simple Life. Tony loaded us into his sparkling clean van and off we went.

Drivers are a dime a dozen but Tony was a storyteller. He recounted tales of growing up on the island, playing ball in narrowly cobbled streets devoid of traffic and fishing — whenever he wasn’t in school. He pointed out his birthplace as we sailed around one corner, allowing a brief glimpse of a modest two story structure painted aqua-green.

Tony didn’t seem overly discouraged that what his uncle sold for a few thousand dollars is now valued in the millions. As we drove on he pointed out several other examples of property value gone wild in paradise. His good humor about the local economic impact was impressive. I can only dream of owning property here; to lose it at such a loss seems worse, by far.

Tony pulled over briefly along the way to engage a sharply dressed young man walking to work. As we resumed our journey, he told us the story. A few years ago, this fellow was among many who regularly congregated at his home, hanging out with his own kids. “They all call me Dad,” he said. He was justifiably proud of his mentoring within the community and noted that he spends a lot of time teaching tennis, even raising up a championship team. But this particular fellow was headed down the wrong path, using drugs and abusing alcohol, and Tony had banned him from the premises. This was tough love and a necessary measure of protection, for his own.

Visiting the local prison, he was surprised to find so many familiar faces, children of promise now incarcerated. Although dismayed by the impact of drugs and alcohol on this generation and his community, Tony seemed indefatigable. He’d retired early from a successful career only to take up driving cab to put his children through college. He hadn’t anticipated such a large family but education was the priority. He held his kids and their friends closely accountable. “If you can’t tell Dad, then it’s wrong.” Simple and effective, it was his only rule.

The fellow on the street in Phillipsburg needed an extra year to complete school but was back on track, entering a telecommunications career. What joy Tony expressed in the redemption of one of those who call him Dad! He was every bit as proud as he was of his own six children, all successful students and young professionals in careers ranging from surgeon to engineer. What a gift, this man Tony, an anchor on spit of land 32 miles square in the middle of nowhere.

Tony’s story has lingered in my mind since we departed Sint Maarten. Sometimes one person makes a lot of difference, and often quietly. Tony had embraced the opportunities that unfolded in front of him to become a loving father figure to God-only-knows how many, impacted for good. This set me to wondering about my own opportunities, perhaps yet unrecognized. What will be my legacy, locally? What will be my lasting impact on the community? What will I do now, knowing Tony?

~René Morley

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