"To take the power out of anything you have to expose it.”—Ray Charles, Jr. explaining how he found peace while reliving both the joys and pains of his relationship with his famous father in writing the memoir he recently published
In the last two blogs we explored what we can learn from Ray Charles about the importance of becoming the person you were meant to be and the opportunity to leave your children and loved ones something they can build on. In this final blog focusing on the Genius of Soul we will discover it is never too late to develop a better relationship with your children and how, sometimes, it is the child that must nurture that relationship.
In his new memoir, You Don't Know Me: Reflections of My Father, Ray Charles, Ray Charles Robinson, Jr. reconciles both the joys and pains of his relationship with his iconic musician father. Ray Jr. was the co-producer of the movie Ray. But his recently released book attempts to fill in the blanks and answer many of the questions which both the movie and his father’s autobiography left us with.
Ray Jr. grew up in a privileged childhood but one marred by his father’s absenteeism, drug abuse and extramarital affairs. It wasn’t until late in his father’s life, after the son had overcome his own personal challenges, that they began to connect in a positive and meaningful way.
Junior experienced the burden which comes with being the namesake of a famous celebrity. Was it a lot of pressure? Yes. Most sons of famous individuals and or "juniors" experience tremendous pressure. “My father was extremely famous at an early age, and I was aware of it as a child. Through my teens, it was very difficult because I didn't know who was around simply because I was Ray Charles Robinson Jr. Often though, the challenges are inside our head: what we have to live up to, what we feel we have to do, what others expect of us. There may be pressure to follow in your father's footsteps. I truly wanted to be a musician, but at the time, it was intimidating because of the greatness of my father.”
Today Ray Charles Jr. is a successful executive and the father of two. While he chose not to be a musician, he has discovered deep personal satisfaction in the relational side of his life and is applying the good and the bad he saw in his father to be the best father he can be. Ray Jr. learned “to transition from being a father to a friend for my children, so I always maintain a line of communication. I talk to them a lot about life.”
He admits that his father’s first love was his music not his family. But for Junior “spending time with my family is extremely important. God is first. Then you take care of yourself and your family because you can't take care of them if you haven't taken care of yourself. When life was challenging, I put my family first. I thought it was about money and making sure they were taken care of. But they must also be taken care of emotionally. That's where I'm at today. Being there and being a father.”
While his father found it difficult to communicate with his children, Ray Jr. discovered he could build their relationship by going where his father loved to be, the music studio, and by sharing time with his father while the latter was doing what he enjoyed most: creating music.
In writing his memoirs around his father’s life, he has chosen to reveal some very personal glimpses, such as: “He got so much joy out of hearing [his family]. He would sit down with his head down, glasses off, in his robe, being in the moment. That's what people never spoke about in regards to Ray Charles the person.”
Despite all of the heartache and disappointment Ray Jr. had experienced in the early years of their relationship, he was able to put all of that behind him as a result of a breakthrough conversation that helped him realize how precious little time he had left to spend with his father.
Junior was in Russia when he father called one day after a difficult visit to the doctor’s office: “(H)e said something to me that he had never said before, ‘Son, it's just nice to hear your voice.’ I knew something was wrong. He told me he was calling to check on me. He said...the chemotherapy had been rough, but it was nice to see another day. At that moment, I knew he was dying. Everything started to flash in my mind--all the things I wouldn't be able to say, all the things I envisioned that we were going to do. I realized that he was mortal. He wasn't going to live forever like I thought he would. I was no longer angry; all was forgiven”
Have you told your children or grandchildren how much you enjoy hearing their voice? Can you be present in the moment with them as Ray Charles learned to be in the last years of his life? Is there a relationship in your family fabric which might be strengthened if you met that individual where they most enjoy being?
I wrote this book to show the genius of my father and the fine line of that genius. My father dealt with a lot of pain--the death of brother George and his mother at such a young age. I had to talk about the addiction to show how great his triumphs were...He kicked heroin cold turkey once he figured out what it was doing to his life. He made a conscious decision to stop and it was over. That in itself was an accomplishment—Ray Charles Jr. speaking of his book You Don't Know Me: Reflections of My Father, Ray Charles