Story by Robert Cellucci
I never really had a close relationship with my father because my mother and he separated at the age of two. My mother was completely in love with my father but she could not envision a marriage with him because of the number of children he had and the drama that came with it. I was the 15th child. She allowed me to see my father whenever he wanted to, saw him once or twice a year until 18. I was not happy about the amount of time I spent with him, but I enjoyed the time we did have together.
At 18, I knew I could make my own decision about seeing him so I wanted to make the most of it. College life did not last long for me, I was going to be a father. I reached out to my dad to see if there was anything he could do to help and we ended up moving to South Carolina with him. He gave us our own house, paid our rent, and light bill. In return I did various work for him on his property. Taking care of the animals, working at his store and restaurant, and moving company.
You see my father was a smart businessman and had many businesses in the community. At this time I really felt like I was regaining the relationship that I had lost over the years. Before all of this I had started playing around with the guitar and I always had a passion for chorus and musical theater in high school. I remember telling my dad that I was learning how to play the guitar and I had learned a song, he said “okay son, play it for me”. I remember when I started playing that his eyes lit up and he had a big smile on his face. Something about him changed, he fell in love with me playing guitar, and made sure everyone knew. He would always say, “my son is going to make me some money with that guitar”.
We stayed there for about six months before moving back to North Carolina to be closer to both our parents. It seemed like we only went down to visit when we were struggling financially. I remember asking my dad why my other brothers and sisters were in New Jersey and not in South Carolina. He said they only come to visit when they need money, help, or for the reunion. At that point I knew I was following the same trend as the rest of my brothers and sisters. Something in me changed and I could see myself in him. I often heard this from all my family members. They would say we walk and talk the same. He always told me I would be the son that kept the family together. I would go down and spend time with him as long as I could. He was only about two hours away and would sometimes go just for the day.
Things were really starting to settle in until I did something I should have never done. I stole from him. He would save quarters and in his closet he had 8-10 5-gallon water jug containers full of quarters. At the time I didn’t need money because he would give me what I needed but I had an issue with money and always wanted it. I stole about $300 in quarters. I took them to the local Food Lion change machine and I thought I had gotten away with it. Hours later dad came home and said “Son lets talk outside for a minute”. He asked, ‘What did you do today?’ I replied “I hung out with Jordan and worked around the house and properties”. He asked me again what I did today. So I repeated it. He stopped me and said “I know exactly what you did today and how many quarters from Doris at Food Lion”. He said “Son, why did you do that?” At this time I was very nervous and didn’t know what he was going to say. I said “I have a problem” and he said “if you would have come to me I would have given it to you”. As a prior pastor I should have expected it to go down like this. But I was stuck blinded by my evil ways. He left and I did not know what to do.
Kelly got a call from her mother and there was a family emergency and said we need to come home. We just left. I never said goodbye, he never got the $300 back. He had tried to call once he saw we had left and i did not answer.
It was the summer of 2012 that my life all changed. The morning of July 4th was the last day that I spoke with my father. My kid’s mother, 3 year old son and I had planned to visit him in South Carolina. He said he had a lot of things going on in town that it would be better if we came the next day. We started off to South Carolina the morning of July 5th. I tried calling my dad but he was not answering, which was odd but I knew the signal was not always great there.
I was nearing town so I thought I would stop by Aunt Brenda’s house since we were going right by but nearing Aunt Brenda’s house I noticed there were two blacked out Crown Vics in the yard. I had no idea what was going on. A detective walked out of the house and walked to my window and asked me questions. “Who are you? Who are you here to see?.” He told me my father was dead.
In that community he was referred to Uncle Sam for his contributions to the community. He said “I am sorry to inform you but your father was murdered last night”.
In disbelief I said “are you sure? I spoke to him yesterday morning”. He said yes the corner has identified him at the corner house, where we were supposed to meet him, the same house we would have reunions at. He said he was shot twice in the head but could not go into details because they were investigating.
Kelly had no idea what was going on because I had stepped out of the car. I felt like my world had come to an end, there was no more of a relationship I could build or the help that I was seeking. Not to mention I did not tell my probation officer I was leaving the state. I was only going for a few days and thought I could make it back in time. The detective took my name and info so through that source my probation was violated. They told me I needed to turn myself in when I returned to North Carolina but they understood I was mourning my father’s death.
I can remember the funeral and how just driving there in this community he was known as a good man. Military personnel lined the street as we made our way to the local high school for the funeral services. I sat next to my sister Samantha and we cried on each other’s shoulder. I am the oldest of four on my mom’s side of the family. All the family came down to show their condolences and everyone was aware of the family reunion house. It was the meeting place for the family when we came together. Some were very skeptical about going to the same place where he was murdered. But we toughed it out and went anyways. By the time we had met there the seen of the crime was already cleaned up and all the information was gathered. We could not tell anything had happened.
They caught the guys four days later due to surveillance cameras dad had put up. Some claim in the family that money was the motive. Some family members were unsure and others thought it was over a lottery ticket. None of the reasons were ever proven. All I knew was that my dad was dead. At the burial service, we watched as he was going six feet under and it started to rain. I remember asking God why. Why couldn’t I have been here sooner. Why couldn’t I fix my problems? Why couldn’t I get one more chance to make it right. It was not a good day. I knew that when I got back to NC, i was going to be leaving Kelly and Jordan because I had to turn myself in but i was determined to make things right.
What ultimately happened was that I had lost my father and my son had lost his. Something had to be done and my mom was working hard to make it happen. She said “son I have paid him a lot of money and have sold everything I could in order to afford him, even sold the car that your father gave to you”. It was the only piece of him that I had left.
I kept praying to God for him to give me a second chance. A week later I was called back into court and my sentence was reduced from 12-14 years to 18-24 months. Although I still had to do time it was much better than 12 to 14 years so I was thankful. I got that bus to leave central prison and move to another prison with a smile on my face not because I was out of trouble but got a chance for freedom and more time with family.
My mom held me down while I was in prison and took my family in. While I was there I got my electrical licence, lay brick, cook, and got involved in the church where it became known I could sing. I started singing in church and all over the camp. They referred to me as “Country” because I would always sing country music. I was settling in easy by making friends amongst my population from my singing.
Before getting out my mom moved to Florida with Kelly and Jordan. She moved to pursue a life with her high school sweetheart that she found over Facebook. She wanted me to start over. Kelly drove up from Florida on my release date but on my release date they told me I could not leave to go to Florida. I was forced to stay in North Carolina until my parole was transferred to Florida. I had gotten a job two days after being released. After having the time in prison, I did a lot of thinking and had to change my life. Instead of stealing I knew I had to work for it.
I was offered a management position only after two weeks. I turned it down because I told them I would be moving to Florida, but they gave it to me anyways. Two months passed and I was able to move to Florida. Once I got to Florida I was in a place that I was not aware of, it was very new to me but I needed a job and got one within a week doing sales.
Kelly and I moved into an apartment and purchased a new car. Things were running smoothly. We were expecting our daughter Jaycie to arrive soon and things became stressful. I was there every step of the way. My job gave me more money to help with the new baby coming and through a baby shower, we got more than what we needed. During my employment there I made it known that I loved to sing. I would often play songs and sing during morning meetings so much that the CFO of the company sponsored my first EP. I included my first hit song that I had written in prison called the end of the Rainbow. It was my perception of being at the end of the rainbow with Kelly. It landed me shows in Florida opening for the Charlie Daniels Band and Craig Campbell. Also, I go to perform at a lot of charity events.
I was starting to realize that music was a place that I really belonged to. I knew it was not going to pay the bills. Kelly was out of work after the baby came. Life became very stressful managing my job and taking care of my family. I began to run late to work because I was trying to get Jordan to school and all that came with losing my job. My old job gave me recommendations and referrals in the Raleigh area which was near Kelly and the kids. The day I got there I went straight to see the kids. As the day neared the end I got a hotel room and made a decision to go to Nissan and apply for a job. The next day I got ready as if I was meant for the job. I remember getting there with that letter in my hand and proceeded to walk in the door but something stopped me and i immediately stopped and turned around. I could feel my dad talking to me, I knew if I took this job I would lose time again with my children and I didn’t want that to happen. I was unsure on how to make money or a place to live, the only thing I could think of was that phrase that my dad used to say all the time, “My son is going to make me some money one day singing and playing that guitar,”
I got on my phone as soon as I got to the car and researched places nearby that did live music. The first place that popped up was a nearby bar and restaurant by the name of Krafty’s, so I drove there as my first stop from the list. I walked in and there were only two people there, one sitting at the bar and a bartender. I said, I hear you guys play live music and I am interested in playing for you. The gentleman at the bar asked if I was any good and I said, well if I didn’t think I wasn’t good enough I wouldn’t ask for the opportunity. He asked the bartender to grab his calendar book and asked me to sit down. We sat there and went through some dates and he booked me for 6 shows right then and there. I could not believe that just happened. I asked him “well don’t you want to hear me sing?.” He said I don’t need to, you seem like you know what you are doing. I trust you. I left and proceeded to go to the second place. One thing fell into another.
I was booking shows at every place I walked into but had no equipment or money to purchase it. I had only a few hundred dollars left and no where to stay so I started sleeping in my car. Kelly allowed me to take showers at her parents house after they left for work. I used the last bit of money I had to rent equipment from Guitar Center which cut my earnings to less than 50%. I was struggling but I felt there was a reason things were happening the way they were.
I started going to open mics. I slept in my car, in a parking lot close to Kelly’s parents house. I was at my last resort. By the fourth night Kelly had realized what was happening and she gave me a weeks worth of money to stay in a nearby hotel. It wasn’t until Wednesday night that I ran into a woman that really caught my attention. Something came up and I had to leave to help with the children. I didn’t even get a chance to say bye. Within an hour later she messaged me on Facebook and said it was great to meet me and we talked and decided to meet the next night. She was so genuine and her attitude reminded me of my dad’s wife Lula Mae. I could see the resemblance not between skin color but attitude and attributes. By the end of the conversation she opened up her house to me and a place to live. The entire time there I felt comfortable and felt like this was a blessing like no other. I now had a place to stay and around a woman I felt comfortable being around. It came right when it needed it to. I still live with that woman today and have grown to love her ever since. After I had settled in and moved in, she gave a lot of help to me financially by helping me get things i needed for my music. Not only that, she became like a mom to my children and helped take care of my kids when I needed help. She turned rooms in the home into bedrooms for them and the kids have grown to love her ever since. My dad is what led me to her.
In the beginning of 2019 things started to drastically change. I started having signs from my dad. I started having dreams that were very vivid and real of me being shot and killed. It was abnormal because every other time I died in the dream it was by falling. I never thought anything of it and always told close people that I was going to die by being shot. I didn’t think anything of it but the dreams kept happening. During this time my children and I started traveling back and forth to Florida to visit with my mom and sister. Almost every time we went down with the children my mom would sometimes mention to me the things I would do that reminded her of my dad. For instance, the way I would joke around, the way I would always laugh, even the fact that I was losing hair like him which always made me laugh.
During the summer of 2019, I had the opportunity to go back to Florida to perform with the Chad Montana Band. Skeptical of the date which was July 4th, I was unsure whether I should do the show because of the day yet something told me to take the job. Melanie, the woman I had been staying with went down with me and got to meet my family for the first time. When we got there they were planning to cancel due to possible thunderstorms but the show went on. I believe to this day it was my dad holding off the storm to hear me sing. It was the first 4th of July since the death of my father that I actually stayed to watch the fireworks. Before it was always sentimental to know that the fireworks reminded me of gunshots and how my dad had died on this significant day. Something had happened in me to let that feeling go. I think that was a real first sign and feeling that I had gotten from his spirit. I believed he was right there as if he was over my shoulder telling me everything I needed to do.
In returning to North Carolina, Kelly got a higher position at work which forced her to work more hours. I went from having the children 50% of the time to 80% of the time. I was feeling as if I was being more of a father than I had ever been. I started having to do my daughter’s hair which I am still not good at, taking my son to school, going to school lunches, doctor appointments, having to memorize their social security numbers. This was something I never had to do because Kelly took care of that stuff.
At one point Kelly even told me how thankful she was and how she felt like she was not being a mother. She apologized for working too much but I told her I would help out in any way. I told her she is their mom and will always be their mom. Being what some would say a single dad, it became stressful at times. In all honesty I was there spending time with them and enjoying every moment, which for me are now memories that I never had a chance to get. I started thinking more about my dad and how we were regaining the relationship that I never got to fulfill and what I should have said to him instead of how I left it. I started to think of this in relation to my own situation on how me being a father to them was the best decision I have ever made. I was motivated to succeed in the community and in my own personal life just to continue seeing them smile and laugh and to hear them say I love you.
I created so many relationships that I was getting called and asked to perform. I was getting calls from people I did not know to come and play for them. I was also getting calls from people in the area that I had not spoken to in a year saying how proud they were of me. I was also getting calls from people asking me for help. In retrospect to music my father would get calls like this when I was around him.
Toward the later part of 2019 I got the biggest news I thought I would not get for a while. My music was to be aired on one of the biggest radio stations in Raleigh, 94.7 QDR. I began to be recognized by my community as one of the areas up and coming artists when years prior my name was on a wanted list.
Now currently awaiting signing from a major Label, to then soon after venture on a USO tour overseas to play for our US Military. We can all do better and be better, it takes a lot of strength to not follow in the same footsteps that hurt you, even if it’s the only way you know to go.