The Big Idea: Pierce Freelon

Author Pierce Freelon shares with us his new children’s book, which sheds some light on going through tough changes in life. Read through his Big Idea to see the inspiration behind Daddy & Me, Side by Side.


My father has a cosmic presence. He passed away after a struggle with a neurodegenerative disease called ALS in 2019. Though I miss kissing his bushy eye-browed, macadamia nut-colored forehead, I can still feel his energy when I enter certain spaces. I’ve found his presence along the banks of the Eno River in Durham and on my Spotify playlists in-between the lush harmonies of Earth Wind and Fire.

In my home, I’ve built an altar in his honor. The altar consists of a photo of my father napping on a couch, flanked by candles, incense and a fleet of Black action figures including Morpheus from the Matrix and Geordi LaForge from Star Trek: the Next Generation. When I want to be in his company, it’s easy to find him nestled in his altar, on my mahogany bookshelf in my office. 

Next to my father’s altar is my picture book Daddy & Me: Side by Side, which I wrote to explain my spiritual connection to my dad through a story that my children could understand. Exploring memory and feelings of loss and grief is difficult for humans of all ages. I felt moved to embrace the mystery of death through a children’s picture book that normalizes the big emotions that come up when someone we love transforms. 

Experiencing ALS as a family was a master class in transformation. My father’s strong, broad shouldered, six-foot four frame seemed to shrink as he transitioned into a wheelchair. His hearty laugh turned into a gentle whisper as the disease slowly paralyzed his body. And yet, his light continued to shine throughout the grueling process. His optimism, humor and love still radiates. I feel him daily! 

My dad was an architect. I see his features reflected in the buildings and spaces he designed. His joy lives in the cheers of Durham Bulls Baseball Park; his creativity dwells in the radical imagination of the exhibits at the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco; his pride shines through the shimmering corona of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. But perhaps his most enduring features are the ones I see when I look in the mirror. 

I didn’t just inherit physical gifts from my father. He bequeathed wonderful values, rituals and practices that I hold dear. He taught me how to find worms under rocks, how to bait and cast a fishing line and how to cook a fresh catch over an open flame. He taught me that it was okay to shed tears and be vulnerable. He taught me how to meditate and reflect on my loved ones, and evoke their presence through engaging in the activities they loved. 

My writing attempts to offer these gifts to other fathers, in a world that rarely depicts Black men as nurturers, and discourages all men from attending to their emotional vulnerability. This is my father’s legacy, as much as any professional accomplishment. This book is also his altar, where I venerate his cosmic presence and elevate the values and lessons he taught me with love and gratitude. 

Daddy & Me, Side By Side: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Chapters Indigo|Bookshop||Flyleaf Books

Author’s Socials: Website|Twitter|Instagram

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