“Obama!” The five foot seven (if he was that tall) 66 year-old man, known by most as Wolf, howled at me while beaming from ear to ear as I was leaving his apartment. It was my first time visiting the man that I would later call father-in-law. His brown eyes sparkled from behind his dark-rimmed glasses and deep lines carved his mocha skin around his crooked grin from years of laughing. I immediately recognized the smile as the one his son, Mywon, so often shot my way—there was no denying his paternity.
I was momentarily caught off guard by Wolf’s one word farewell and felt like a response was in order. I returned his smile with a raised blonde eyebrow and said, “He was my favorite president.”
“Obama! Yes, Scottie. That’s right!” He nodded in approval at his own declaration, “That’s right, Scottie.” Although Mywon had introduced me as Scott, I was from that point on Scottie to Wolf. He looked pleased and I wasn’t sure if I had passed a test but I certainly felt welcomed into his den. I silently chuckled to be called Scottie again at 50 years-old.
Now, I only knew Wolf for less than four years so I don’t have the same perspective as those that knew him best from the family. My understanding of the man is limited to the last few years of his life as he battled bravely with a terminal illness. We had several occasions alone together as I took him to run errands and we were able to talk about a host of topics to include his “street days” (“I’m not out runnin’ the streets now,” he would say repeatedly), his days cooking and cleaning for his family, the pride he had for his sons, his greatest regrets and heartbreaks, the love for his mother, and the delight he took anytime he was a part of his grandchildren’s events.
Wolf made it clear that I was a part of his family and was curious about my own children. We talked about struggling to find the right way to interact with adult children and how our own mistakes when they were younger hampered the current relationships. We both admitted to each other that we wish we had done better for our kids at times. We ended that particular conversation as he looked off into the distance with glassy eyes while nodding his head.
Although Wolf lived a reserved economic life, one thing he wasn’t short on was opinions. One particular day when Mywon and I were out running errands with him, we stopped at a store. Wolf and I sat in the car as Mywon ran in to pick up a couple of items. A young man walked by the parked car with pants sagging and that’s all it took for me to get an earful of Wolf’s views on saggers. I won’t recite his colorful commentary word-for-word, but I will say that he made it clear that anyone that wears their pants so that their undergarments are exposed was not high on Wolf’s cleanliness scale. The more he shared his perspective, the more I giggled. By the time Mywon made it back to the car, tears were welling up in my eyes from laughing so hard. Mywon looked at me and asked if everything was okay and I said, “Apparently, Wolf doesn’t like saggers.” And from the back seat we heard Wolf say, “Damn right, Scottie.”
As defiantly opiniated as he could be, Wolf also had a softer side. One day as Mywon and I were standing in Wolf’s kitchen getting ready to leave the apartment, Wolf said, “Let’s pray before you go.” Mywon and I exchanged quick, awkward glances with the out of character behavior from Wolf as he walked towards us with his hand held out in our direction. “Come on! Let’s hold hands.” It was clear that his request was not to be ignored. The three of us grabbed each other’s hands as we stood in a circle on the battered vinyl flooring while Wolf began praying out loud. I was raised in Pentecostal and evangelical churches from the time I was an infant up through my early 30’s. I have certainly heard some grandiose prayers in my lifetime by people who enjoy hearing themselves pray and are hoping to move a congregation with their poetic inflection and tone. Although, I have no remembrance of the words Wolf uttered that day, I will never forget the sweetness and sacredness of those few moments with our heads bowed and hands gripping one another as he gently led us in prayer.
On another occasion, I was taking Wolf to the store on a Sunday morning. Usually when it was just the two of us running around town I would make sure to have the classical soul radio station playing for him. But, it was Sunday and I have a habit of listening to Kirk Franklin radio to get my praise and worship fix since I don’t attend church. He sat quietly and anxiously as we made our way to get the items he desperately needed that cold winter morning. Out of the speakers belted Tasha Cobbs Leonard with “You Know My Name” and I heard Wolf’s jittery voice singing along with the Grammy winner. He was obviously in physical pain, but was hanging onto the lyrics as his personal affirmation. I decided to join him in song in hopes of encouraging him as we made our way through the snowy Fort Wayne streets. When the song ended, he muttered as he looked out the frosted window of the Jeep, “It’s just you, me and Jesus, Scottie. And that’s alright.”
The first full moon of the year is called the Wolf Moon. It is thought to be so named because wolves howl more at this time of year than at any other time. So it is appropriate that shortly after midnight, on January 15th, 2022, as the full moon was rising, Wolf reached out his hand toward the One that knew his name and uttered his last howl as he joined his pack in the heavens. In my quiet moments since those early morning hours of the Wolf Moon, I can almost hear his laughter as he reminds that it is just him and Jesus now. And that’s alright.
“And oh, how you walk with me.
Oh how you talk with me.
Oh how you tell me that I am your own.”
–Tasha Cobbs Leonard