‘HOME’ AT LAST
● Son finds dad he thought was dead for more than 30 yrs. ● Living on B’klyn streets until News story reunites duo
There are family reunions where everybody wears the same T-shirt, does the Electric Slide in the hotel ballroom and meets up the next day for a big cookout in the park.
Ray Daniels’ family reunion didn’t go like that. Not at all.
The 62-year-old Daniels’ winding road to a reunion included more than seven years of being homeless on a Brooklyn street, a recent arrest for beating up an elderly man, a family in Memphis he left behind decades ago and a long-lost son who grew up believing his daddy was dead.
Daniels wasn’t dead. Not by a long shot.
And his son Chris Daniels, 38, who lives in St. Louis, found that out this month when a relative shared a Daily News article about his old man’s run-in with a local resident, whom he clobbered with a cane. Daniels was arrested and released.
“We thought he was dead,” the younger Daniels told The News after seeing the article. “A trucking company he was working for, they called my auntie and told her that he had died in a car crash, and where we could go and pick up his remains. But when we get there, nothing. So it was like a mystery.”
“My mother said the last time I saw him I was 2 years old,” Chris Daniels said. “But I have no memory of that.”
What he did have all these years were stories about a man who drank a lot and left his family behind.
Somehow, Chris Daniels managed to avoid being bitter.
When he learned the man who never tossed a ball with him, never taught him to tie a tie, and gave him zero advice about meeting girls was living on the street in a big city 1,000 miles away, Chris Daniels’ first thought was to empty out a room in his home and ask his “Pops” to move in.
But the younger Daniels didn’t just want to meet this stranger. He needed to surprise him.
With the help of a local storeowner who has looked out for Ray Daniels over the years, Chris approached his dad on a Park Slope street last week and opened the door to the father of all family reunions.
“Do you know who I am?” Chris says in a moment captured on video. “You my daddy.”
His father rises from a worn chair on the sidewalk.
“No I’m not,” he says, shaking his head.
“Yes you are,” the son assures him.
“What’s your name?” the father says. “Christopher Elrod.” “”Motherf——r. No!,” Ray Daniels exclaims, the light bulb going off in his head. “This ain’t happening to me!”
“Give me a hug,” Chris Daniels urges, and the two hug, a dramatic movie hug, where the credits roll and the music crescendos and the audience starts to weep.
“We used to call you Cricket, Jiminy Cricket,” Ray Daniels says, a long-forgotten memory rolling fresh off his tongue.
“Cricket, that’s me!” Chris Daniels assures him. “It’s your son. I’ve been looking for you all my life.”
People walked by, neighborhood folks, some of whom knew the elder Daniels and his run-in with an elderly neighbor. Still, they were touched by the sidewalk surprise, a piece of genuine good news in a world beset by disease and racial unrest.
The men sat back down. Stuffing spilled from one of the chairs. Chris FaceTimed his family back in Memphis, where he grew up, and showed off the puzzle piece that had been missing from his life.
“When I left you, you weren’t taller than a suitcase,” Ray Daniels said, pointing to a piece of son Chris’ luggage. Chris Daniels and his fiancée, Yolanda Ellis, 38, had come straight to the Park Slope street to see his dad without even stopping at their hotel to drop off their bags.
“I wanna take you home, that’s what I wanna do,” Chris Daniels said after the FaceTime call was over. “I wanna take you to St. Louis. I have a bedroom made up for you. When I saw you, I went and made your bedroom. I got you a bar in the basement, ‘cause I drink just like you.”
The elder Daniels took him up on the offer — but not right away. He had friends to consider, and he didn’t know what to do with his stuff. He also wanted to get himself together.
“Yo, I’m f——-g dirty,” he said. “I need to wash.”
“I got you,” the son said. “I’m gonna buy you an outfit, some new shoes, a new hat, all that, I’m gonna feed you good. I cannot leave you, Pops.”
Still, Chris Daniels had to dispense with the one question nagging him since he learned his dad was alive: Why did he leave?
That wasn’t the question he asked.
“How do you feel?” Chris Daniels asked his dad.
Ray Daniels was honest. “It’s just been hard, that’s all,” he replied.
“Well guess what, it just got easier,” Chris Daniels assured him. “And now you’re gonna come with me, because my life’s been hard. So maybe we can make this easier with each other, being in each other’s lives.”
“We won’t worry about old times,” the son promised his dad. “We’re gonna rebuild as new times, all right? You’re gonna be at the house, I got nine kids. You got nine grandkids, three great-grandkids. Yes sir, and they all look like you.”
Rain started to fall on this remarkable reunion. A storm was approaching.
But Ray and Chris Daniels had been through storms of their own. Chris wrapped a sweatshirt around his father’s shoulders, and they wheeled his shopping cart — and Chris’ suitcases — and took shelter under a construction scaffold. Ray Daniels’ friends across the street, some of them also homeless, waved and wished him well.
“Everybody will miss Ray,” said his friend Jervel Murray, 556, who lives in a nearby homeless shelter. “When I come out in the morning, I loook for him. I give him ssomething to eat, buy him ccoffee, something to drink, whatever he wants. I’m so happy he’s getting off the street for the winter. I have a warm place to lay in, but he’s out on the street. When I see his shopping carts, I’m gonna shed tears of joy, because I’ll kknow he’s with his family.”
Peter Rothstein, a local businness owner who looks out for Ray Daniels sometimes, paid for his son’s trip and the accommodations at a nearby hotel.
“The people I work with, they were all pitching in,” Rothstein said
The victim in Ray’s assault case, David Simonoff, 73, declined to comment on Daniels’ good fortune. The clash left Simonoff with five stitches on his head and 10 on his hand.
Daniels promised to return for his next court day, and said he wished the incident had never happened.
Then again, he said, if it hadn’t happened, his family would never have found him.
Within days of the reunion, Ray Daniels would be on a bus to St. Louis, where he could hold the grandkids he never knew he had.
In the meantime, he was content to sit in a ratty chair on the sidewalk with his son, and talk about a place called home.
“We’re on our way, Baby!” Chris Daniels shouted into the phone to the relatives on FaceTime.
“Let’s rock and roll,” Chirs Daniels declared. “F—k outta here!”
Ray Daniels (right) clutches long-lost son Chris Daniels during emotional reunion in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Ray Daniels (2nd from ll.) is StSt. Louis-bound to live with son Chris (3rd from ll.), who forgives him for the three-plus decades he was out of the picture. Joining in the reunion (from l.) are Chris’ fiancée, Yolanda Ellis, and Jervel Murray and Peter Rothstein, who helped Daniels survive life in the street. Right, main and below opposite page, dad and son make up for lost time.