Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

Pipes, power tools and Porches. If these images represent fathering I would say I’ve never had the pleasure. Fishing rods wouldn’t be a good fit either. Yet each year my three daughters are challenged to find an appropriate Father’s Day card and they manage to do so along with a loving message.

And I think …what do I know of parenting other than to try being the best version of myself?  That isn’t so easy considering all my gaps and flaws. Gaps are what they have filled in and in a sense extended me. This is a day to celebrate my children. Each have shown me ways of being in this world beyond my imagining. Whatever they learned from me is reciprocal.

If I have been judgmental I apologize; it comes with the script and out of my own trepidations. If I’ve been absent it may be because I was searching for myself at the same time.

I can speak with more clarity about my own father.  He was the voice of equanimity in our family; the Spencer Tracy in a household of Ethel Merman, which was my mother’s noisy unease in this world, and a sullen James Dean, my brother. My father achieved a fluency with few words. His eyes smiled and occasional displeasure was conveyed in his lips and furrowed forehead. He hushed the clamor and from all this I learned that life was malleable and I could shape it to some extent.  If I couldn’t at least there was a sanctuary within. Not in so many words he embodied an inviolable self.

When he listened I felt totally heard, received, even from what was left unsaid.  He was a presence felt. My father seemed to know when to walk with me and when to let go.

Where this wisdom came from can be described but not explained. He was motherless at three and his inebriated and destitute father gave him to an aunt to be raised, in equal impoverishment. He sold newspapers on the corner. Yet when he entered into the life of the street it was with an imperturbable grace. If my mother was in daily combat with merchants his impulse was to bring out the trust in others and assume their best intentions.

The single area which he deemed non-negotiable was his embrace of left-wing politics growing out of his identification with the disadvantaged. When a knock at the door brought two FBI agents asking for names he stood silently blocking their way. They knew of our subscription to the Daily Worker and monthly meetings in our apartment. He refused them and that silence was his spine, resonant for me still. 

Fatherhood, like childhood, is a mysterious theater. It slips by while you’re busy living it. There is no rehearsal other than the memory of how it was for me. It is all serious-comedy improv and my daughters are each perfect in their way; may I never see the curtain go down.

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