The House that Clair, Phylicia and Mama Built

Donloyn Gadson

Donloyn Gadson

When our friend Angie asked me to guest post on her blog, I was so humbled and excited. When she asked me to share the things I had learned from Phylicia Rashad, I was spilling over with thoughts to share. It wasn’t until I actually sat down and the words began to fill the screen that I surprisingly became flooded with conflicting emotion.

From the time I was 12-years-old, Phylicia Rashad has been a part of my life.

From the ages of 12 to 20, she was there, every week, as the beautiful, intelligent and fearless Clair Hanks Huxtable. Those were my formative years…the years I began to lay bits of the foundation of whom I would later become. Many of those bits came from Clair. The sassy and sophisticated, strong and self-confident pieces…the self-reliant, sharp and courageous pieces…I recall finding those qualities, which already existed within me, being validated, encouraged and strengthened each time I saw them demonstrated through her.

Now that my foundation has been laid, the walls have been framed and each shingle has been carefully placed; at age 39, I have found myself in the decorating phase…the phase of seeing my potential and highlighting and enhancing my unique features…the phase of remodeling and creating additions, while being careful not to compromise my structural integrity. And Phylicia, as herself, is here now.

When I was an older teen, I remember wishing that she were my mother. I remember seeing in her all the things that I needed…all the things that a mother should offer a daughter…an open relationship that encourages a young lady to be all that she can and more…an open relationship that encourages a young lady to explore and discover her own creative self.

I have a mother, and, though we share many wonderful memories, the relationship is strained. It has been since the time I began discovering my own thoughts and opinions...the time I began to assert myself as an individual. That was the time I began to fantasize about having Clair as a mom. My mother wanted to mold me into what she wanted me to be. She wanted me to think as she did…do as she did. And, if I didn’t conform to her ideology, then I had to endure silent treatments and spiteful glares. My mother’s relationships with my sisters are basically non-existent, and there is so much distance within my family. It’s always been this way. I don’t mean to say this in a non-caring, disrespectful or flippant manner; I love my mother, and I know she has done the best she could given her life circumstance.

In retrospect, my rollercoaster ride of a mother-daughter relationship is probably a good thing, for it is the bumps and bruises that have conditioned the strongest of hearts…my heart.

You may be wondering, “How is Phylicia Rashad here for you now?”

In November of 2011, I had the glorious pleasure of interviewing Ms. Rashad for an article on Family that appears in the February/March 2012 edition of Living Roots Magazine, Phylicia Rashad: Lessons on Family, Humanity and Love.

She was all that I thought she would be and more. She was all that I knew Clair to be.

She was deliberate in her speech, taking the time to thoroughly weigh her thoughts, feelings and the facts before delivering a well-crafted response. She was powerful and engaging, gently commanding your full attention when she uttered a word. She was wise, and she generously shared that wisdom as if it were her duty to impart knowledge on those who are where she has once been. She was caring and nurturing, taking the time to pay attention to my life circumstance and giving me personal advice based on that. She was committed and endearing as she spoke to the significance of family.

On that day, November 17, 2011, I realized it is for the above reasons that she is synonymous with Clair Huxtable. It is because of her embodiment of motherly guidance and wisdom that she is mostly noted for roles as the wise female head.

I learned many other things on that day.

  • I learned that family is sacred, and should be held together and fought for.
  • I learned that deep inside I am still that little girl yearning for positive female connections, and that yearning is what lies at the heart of all I have become today.
  • I learned that the time for fantasizing is over. Clair Huxtable is a scripted character and Phylicia Rashad, like my mother, is also a flawed human being.
  • I learned that if my mother’s relationships with her daughters are to be repaired, then I have to be the catalyst that sparks that change.
  • I learned that my mother has always been a fine example for me—During her shining moments, she was an example of what to do—During her not-so stellar moments, an example of what not to do.
  • I learned that had it not been for my human relationship with my mom, then I would not be the woman I am today, seeking to empower, uplift and inspire other women and young girls.
  • I learned that I owe a debt of gratitude to my mom.
  • I learned that I love her now more than ever, flaws and all.

Ms. Rashad left a lasting impression upon me, one that I reflect on regularly. During our interview, she spoke of relatives who are no longer here. Although she misses them, she cherishes the memories of their love. Through her words, she has taught me that I must do all I can to rebuild the crumbled relationships that exist between my mother and her daughters.

What Life’s storm has damaged, Love’s power can restore. When my mother is gone, and, sadly, one day she will be, I don’t want to be amidst the rubble, alone and confused, filled with regret.

Thank you, Clair. Thank you, Phylicia. Thank you, Mama.

Donloyn "Dee" Gadson is a freelance writer and owner of Creole Magnolia Creations.