Hunter Jordan and Ruth met when he was a fireman for the NYC Housing Authority and Ruth was selling church dinners by her apartment. Hunter came back to buy from her again and again, eventually inviting her (and her eight children) out on a date to the movies. All of James’s brothers and sisters see themselves as full siblings, although some of them are half siblings, and the younger ones especially, who don’t remember Andrew Dennis McBride, all call Hunter “Daddy.” James is so comfortable calling Hunter is father that, for his early childhood, he doesn’t realize he has a biological father.
Ruth has successfully brought together a family that loves one another regardless of how closely related they actually are. Siblings and half siblings see no difference between each other, and Hunter, who is a stepfather to eight of Ruth’s children, treats the children like he is their father.
Hunter Jordan values neatness and order, and so doesn’t live with Ruth and her children. When James is seven Hunter buys the family a house in Queens, but he remains in his brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. He visits on the weekend with groceries and treats, taking carloads of children back to his home for a few days at a time.
The McBride-Jordan family is unconventional, but what keeps them united even when physically apart is the love and affection they all feel for each other.
James notices that his stepfather is “odd.” He’s of a different generation than many of James’ friends’ parents, and as a result is more formal and well mannered, and less interested in discussing race. In the summer of 1969 Hunter is forced by the city to move out of his beloved Brownstone to make way for low-income housing. He moves to Queens with his family, but “his heart was back in Brooklyn.”
Although Hunter has faced severe racism in his life, his response to his past hardship is stoic. Like Ruth, Hunter prefers not to talk about his past trauma, and seems to cope by remaining strong and silent. Even when he is evicted from the home he loves, he doesn’t complain, though James can tell it breaks his heart.
One night, when James is fourteen and Hunter is in his seventies, he complains of a headache. He goes to the hospital and discovers he’s had a stroke. He stays in the hospital for the next two weeks, and James does his best to avoid going to visit. Eventually, Ruth forces James and his sister Kathy to see their father, and both children are horrified by how sick Hunter looks—weak, attached to an IV, and paralyzed on his right side. Although he cannot speak, Hunter tries to comfort Kathy, while James leaves the room in tears.
James loves Hunter as though he is his biological father, and so it is difficult for him to see Hunter sick. James knows seeing his stepfather ill will be upsetting, and so does his best to avoid having to confront a situation which he knows will be devastatingly sad.
A week later, Hunter returns from the hospital. He seems better, and begins to regain his speech, but is still clearly ill. One day, he takes James to the garage and they sit in his car. Hunter wants to drive one last time to Richmond, Virginia, where he grew up, but he is too sick to go anywhere. He asks James to look out for his younger siblings because “y’all are special…and just so special to me.” James is unused to talking to his stepfather about his emotions, and though he wants to he is unable to tell Hunter that he loves him and hopes he gets better. Two days later, he is hospitalized again, and dies.
Hunter’s last wish is for his family to remain united as they deal with the trauma of his death. James infers that when his stepfather calls him and his siblings “special,” he is referring to their mixed-race heritage. If his inference is correct, then this is the only time James and his stepfather ever explicitly discuss race or racism.