By David Wayne Crosbie Girvan
Emigration: Jamaica to Panama
Early Twentieth Century
Herbert Fitzroy Crosbie
Remembering Dad: A True Paradox of Life
My Father, Herbert Fitzroy Crosbie was born on February 5, 1916 on Water St. Allman Town in Kingston, Jamaica. His parents brought him to Panama in 1917, before his second birthday. He lived there the rest of his life, and although he only returned to Jamaica for occasional visits, he never became a Panamanian. Most of his friends thought he was Panamanian because he spoke, acted and behaved like one.
Grandpa, Herbert George Crosbie passed away when Dad was in his early teens. Dad would sometimes speak of how he had to fend for himself from early childhood. He did not finish high school and worked at various odd jobs, including as waiter/bartender at the Gatun Lake Dam of the Panama Canal. I often sensed mixed messages in his comments: pride in his accomplishments, tempered by bitterness for having to struggle through life at such a young age. When telling his stories, his body language clearly conveyed the difficulty of his childhood, but he never pointed fingers not felt victimized by his past. He accepted the cards he had been dealt and made the best of them. He would, however remind us of the plight of less fortunate children when we complained about not getting or having something.
The events of his early years had a defining impact on Dad. His emotional fortitude, confrontational approach to issues, strong convictions, take charge attitude and disciplinary approach to parenting were personality traits that were indicative of the difficulty of his cultural environment. He had grown up survived in the tough streets of Panama City; a somewhat daunting feat considering that he was only in his early teens.
Dad was a true paradox of life. He never finished high school, but was very smart (he was a walking calculator and has a shrewd mathematical mind). He was not an educated man, but was a staunch believer of education. He was rebellious but believed in firm discipline. He was thrifty but gave his family everything they needed. He was rough around the edges but was a good husband and dad. He did not show affection but loved and cared for his family. He believed one should fend for oneself but was overly protective of his children and spouse.
Dad had light skin complexion and curly hair. At 6 ‘ 1″, he was a handsome and imposing individual. He was also very gregarious, easy to speak to and very funny. His ruggedly charming and captivating personalty made him an interesting target for the ladies. I am sure that he did not wait to be targeted; he was usually the one doing the chasing.
Needless to say, my Dad was not perfect. He was sometimes loud, obstinate, and impatient. He would discipline us until our behinds portrayed the shape of his leather belt. He had a temper but was not a malicious person. He could be argumentative, opinionated and ready to fight when confronted. His confrontational behaviour was somewhat typical of the Panamanian culture in those days. Dad would tell me that he did not want me to start a fight, but if somebody else did, he expected me to fight back, The strong tone of his voice, coupled with his dictatorial exhortation to use my fists to defend myself, created internal angst and tension.
During our earlier years, Dad’s emotional fortitude and ability to stay focused despite the difficulty of certain situations created a sense of safety with us. We had the impression that there was no situation too difficult for Dad to handle.
Dad was very competitive, and winning was the main reason for playing. Winning allowed him to revel in the pleasures of his victory by teasing. The associated laughter, and the intensity and continuity of his teasing would lead his children to tears and his friends to avoid him. It was not uncommon for Dad to relive the pleasures of his victory, years after the event.
Dad was a very proud and confident man; traits that were clearly reflected in his advice. Two bits of advice that still resonate with me today are, “guarda pan para manana” and “nobody is better than you.” The latter meant that we were not to be intimidated by believing that other people were better than us, regardless of colour, class or position of authority. The former (literal translation: keep bread for tomorrow) means to make sure that you have enough money to meet your current and future obligations. Dad did not like buying on credit. He would pay cash for almost everything he bought.
Mindful of Dad’s influence
Dad lived his life based on his own standards and a strong emphasis on responsibility anchored on family unity. He embraced his values with conviction and a certain sense of righteousness. We may not have agreed on his approach or his thoughts on certain issues, but we admire him for his steadfastness and love for his family.
Dad’s messages and his resilient state of mind were instrumental to our family pride and unity. His take-charge attitude, outspoken personality and fortitude in adverse situations have had a marked impact on me. His unselfish commitment to his family is probably his greatest legacy.
I often wondered how a man that was forced to fend for himself from his early teens managed to become a role model to his family. We often marveled at his achievements. I can only imagine what he would have accomplished had he had the opportunity to to get a formal education, and/or if he had had a better life as a youngster.
Dad passed away on October 29, 2008. We will always remember his positive contributions. Any negative memories are mere perceptions of the cultural idiosyncrasies of yesteryear.
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