Friday, January 25, 2008
Dreams for my father
Today I've been bombarded by memories of my life with my dad, understandably. I've spent a lot of the time padding around my parents' home, looking at pictures.
Pictures of him in his Navy dress whites, leaning over a desk, talking to my beautiful young mother with his shy and knowing smile, or driving away with her after their wedding. Pictures of him standing in the Carolina surf in hat and waders, with his rod and reel but no fish. Pictures of him from a Wachovia annual report, planning someone's estate in the trust department. Pictures of him with his young grandson, sharing some unspoken thought.
Dad was inscrutable. Not in any bad way, just quietly impenetrable. He kept it so for some unspecified personal reason, maybe to savor his own tiny half acre of solitude that he may not have been afforded with a family who didn't always value silence.
It certainly was not in any sort of mean or unloving manner, as I never didn't feel love from my dad. But it also kept me from trying to pry inside of him, because I respected his privacy. Much as I knew things about my father, I didn't know a lot of what made him the way he was. We were never overtly physically affectionate with each other. I kissed my dad and hugged him, and he was there for it but may have been a little uncomfortable with it. Again, I don't know because he never let on.
But he seemed like the perfect father, attentive, patient and confident. I never heard him curse, and I never saw him lose his temper or cry or yell.
For several years after the birth of my first child, I would chastise myself for not being as great a parent to her as he was to me. It was a lofty standard to try to achieve. He was a Harvard-educated lawyer who'd commanded a ship in the Pacific during the Second World War. I was a dumb ass alcoholic rock and roll misfit dropout. Dad took excellent care of his family and his clients at the bank's trust department; I could barely take care of myself, much less my own family. It took me a while to realize that I was not, and would never be, my father and that I was my own man. I could absorb many worthy traits from how Dad raised me, and that was as close as I'd be able to get: I could be a fine parent with my own amalgamation of a great upbringing and common sense, which was the lesson I was supposed to learn. It certainly gave me a new and fresh energy with which to approach raising my children.
I used to think that my father would have made an excellent politician or judge. I never heard anyone say a bad word about the man. His honesty and sense of fair play seemed ideal to counter any of the slimy ethics that often pervade those arenas; but they also would have left him vulnerable to being chewed up and spit out by those less inclined toward honor and justice. Plus, I have to believe he was content with the path he chose as a husband, father and banker.
There were many occasions where I felt that I let my father down. Not making it through a prep school education. Not finishing college. Having no interest in sports whatsoever. Being a rock musician and not something more traditional and self-supporting. My secret (to him) drinking and drug problems. Getting divorced not once but twice. Not serving in the armed forces.
But these are all my own misgivings and not those of my dad's. If I did disappoint him, he never let me know it. His support for my chosen path never wavered, even at my most desperate moments. If he had dreams for me, I never knew what they were; he let me have my own ambitions, unfettered by his own desires. I hope I can give my children a similar fair shake.
In the last few years, especially since I moved back to North Carolina, my father got to see me change into a more responsible and thoughtful person, secure and abstinent. I hope that gave him some solace and pride. I'm sorry he won't be around to see his grandchildren grow up, but I'm grateful that he got to know them and vice versa. It is a relief to think his last perception of me was one that cast me in a better light than I'd shone for all those years, a good son and a good father.
Now my dreams for my father are just that he has safe passage and that he is surrounded by the loved ones he has missed for so long. His mother, who died in the flu epidemic of 1918 when he was six. His father and beloved stepmother. His older brothers. My brother Curtis. Friends, most of whom he managed to outlive.
I dream for him that he is no longer wracked with the pain and intense discomfort that corroded his last weeks. I dream that he is young and vital again, smiling that Buddha-like smile of his.
I dream that, as much as he misses my mother, he rests assured, knowing that she will be well taken care of in her grief, that she will not want for love and attention from her remaining family.
I dream for him that all the dreams that he may have sublimated on Earth so that his family would reap the benefits can finally come true for him, whatever they may be.