In 1982, John Hope Franklin and his wife, Aurelia Franklin, "rescued" me from an unpleasant experience at a small Baptist college, thanks to their son, John W. Franklin, who was my friend in Senegal. They allowed me to transfer to N.C. Central University and live with them. Since then, my life has been inseparable with the Franklin family.
I remember one day while in college when his best friend, Dr. Charles A. Ray, asked him about me: "Is he bringing the grades home?" he said. Oh, yes! replied Dad (as I affectionately called him). "The only worry I have is that he does not do anything else other than studying," he continued. He always thought my health would suffer. One night after promising to take a break from studying, I went to bed. When I thought he and Mom were asleep, I lit a candle and restarted to study. He knocked on my door. "You cannot burn a candle both ways. I have been teaching for 42 years! Go to bed," he said.
One Sunday morning, some of my friends came to pick me up to play soccer. Dad was so happy that I would go and do something to relax my mind. They pleaded with Dad, who came to ask me to go and play for a while. I told him that I have a test on Monday and I was not leaving the house until I was sure to make an A on that test. That disarmed him. "There is nothing I can say to that," he replied. He took great pride in my academic achievements and would show me my name on the dean's list, which was published in the Durham Morning Herald. He and Mom came to Japan and sat in the front row when I earned my master's degree from the International University of Japan.
Dad and I spent our time together discussing everything openly. With him, I have learned to break the cultural barrier of age. I would dare not speak to my biological father on some issues that I was encouraged to discuss with Dad. For example, I had a girlfriend who lived out of town. She called sometimes and spoke to him. He liked her very much. When she decided to visit, I told Dad that I would be away for the weekend. Where are you going? he asked. I will be in a hotel, I replied. There is plenty of room here, he said. She is welcome to stay here. He pursued. I felt obligated to explain that in my culture, I would not involve my parents in my dating relationship unless I surely knew that the relationship will lead to something in which they will have to play an important role, i.e. marriage. He appreciated my explanation.
The highlight of our every day was the NPR news when I came home from school or from work. We would make comments, debate international politics or music. One funny game we played was to try to describe the physique of an NPR news announcer like Corey Flintoff. What do you think he looks like? Dad would ask. I said I think he is a fat and lazy guy with a big belly. He thought the opposite. One day, he went to D.C. and was interviewed by an NPR journalist. After the interview, he asked the journalist about Corey and went further to tell him about our funny game and how I had described Corey. That journalist mailed us Corey's photograph. After that, whenever Corey was on the radio, Dad would crack up and say: "Skinny Flintoff."
Dad was the most accessible person I have ever met. We would shop at Kroger's at the old South Square Mall. Other than tending to his orchids, which we both enjoyed doing together, his relaxation was grocery shopping to prepare a meal. One day, an African-American cashier who knew him as a customer had seen him on TV with President Clinton the night before. The cashier approached Dad and said: "I thought you were welcoming people at Walmart!" Dad laughed and said, "I lost my job. Can you find me a job here?"
Dad could sometimes come with difficult and unexpected questions. One day he asked me to compare our two lives. The question caught me by surprise. I answered after a few minutes: We both received help for our studies from people we did not know before. He agreed. I then followed by saying, "We both graduated from college magna cum laude." He smiled and hugged me.
You are no longer with us, Dad, but your memories will live with me forever. Miss you dearly. Rest in peace.
Bouna S. Ndiaye, John Hope Franklin's Senegalese son, stayed with Franklin from 1983 to 1987 and from 1996 to 2007. Ndiaye is an instructor at Duke University, president of Bonjour Africa Projects Inc. and the producer and host of Bonjour Africa, which broadcasts Sundays at 4 p.m. on WNCU 90.7 FM.