‘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

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY BRIT­TANY KRIEGSTEIN AND LEONARD GREENE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS

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.

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