In This Life
Father's Day, a day to think of fathers. My own father has been dead now for thirty years, he died when I was in my early thirties at the age of fifty six. A stroke. A life long cigarette habit, high blood pressure during a time when they didn't have the drugs they have today. Whatever the reason, dead too young, too soon.
I cannot, I believe, tell you anything about my father that would put him in context for others, because I have no idea how to put him in context for myself. As a life long bachelor I've known my contemporaries as fathers, but singles and couples have different interests and they don't really mix, so I understand little of fatherhood from observing my peers. What you learn about fathers you learn growing up with your own father in your own house and to some degree watching the fathers of your friends and relatives.
My father was an only child who grew up on Beacon Hill in Seattle. A tough neighborhood then, his parents, by grandfather and grandmother, had divorced, my grandmother eventually remarrying. Divorce was a bigger deal in his days, the pressures and attitudes about divorce more severe. He would occasionally relate an anecdote, but the unspoken code in my family - I think, I'm not really sure - was you didn't ask. His own father, his natural father, died at the age of thirty-nine of diabetes. Compounded, I was later told, by alcohol. His mother, my grandmother, I got to know fairly well, as she lived with us in her last years.
They say Scandinavians don't talk, don't communicate, taciturn solitary bastards, Danes on his side, Icelanders on my mother's, they say it comes from living in the cold. I wouldn't know. My father and I could talk, but, I realize in retrospect, I asked few questions, neither asked or received much in the way of advice.
For some reason, moving to New York at the age of twelve, perhaps an earlier move from Seattle to a small town north of Seattle (out in the woods) at the age of five, led me to become a person who asked few questions, of them, of myself. Life was something that happened, it wasn't something you questioned, life was something you got through. Life, inside the family, outside the family, was strange, but strange in an oddly undramatic sense, strange in the same way you look at the stars and realize, only superficially realize, the real strangeness that surrounds. Watching Ozzie and Harriet can be a similar experience.
He was an architect, a good architect. He designed some interesting buildings. The chances are one or two people reading this, in America, possibly in Europe (they burned the one he did in Kuala Lumpur) have seen one, have been inside one. I know he was able to design at least one of which he was very proud for a client who, for whatever reason, gave him a clean slate, the money needed and instructions to go for broke. That's success for an architect.
As a kid, growing up in a poor neighborhood, he was interested in ham radio. He built his own. A techie. He drew cartoons. The architect. He was able to attend college. He did well. He raised a family, one son, one daughter. The son is sitting in Oakland, at the moment, thinking about his father, someone he doesn't think about all that often. The son has not visited his father's grave in twenty years. One day the son's ashes will be poured into the ocean, still looking in the afterlife, for something. No offence.
For me, life has been a quizzical business. Who are these people? What are they doing? I've lived the life of a bemused outsider. Perhaps that's how he viewed the world. Who are these people? This wife? This son? This daughter? There's a song about that, isn't there? "How did I find myself here? This house? This wife? These children?"
That is the source of my comment that I don't know how to relate the experience of my father to anyone else's experience of their's. I see other fathers. I read stories about fathers. I see movies with fathers as protagonists. Every sort of father with every twist of character. My own father? If his life were to be made into a movie, our family history the plot, who would play the heroes? Who would play the villains? Who's character would be laced with irony, with malice, with stupidity? I cannot tell and so I cannot tell anyone else. I could write it in a hundred different versions, each character, in one version a hero, in another a fool, a knave, an innocent, and all would be equally true and false.
So what is this? What is being said, this Father's Day in June? The good father, the caring father, the distant father, the father who came through in the clutch, the son, who, what? Was along for the ride? As a son, I looked to my father for direction in this what it means to be a father business. I did not see a man placed in an enviable position. An enviable man, but a man who might have done better without the encumbrance of a wife and two kids. But can't that be said about anyone? A thought, this, not the truth, not a lie. It's the son talking here, who took what he did from his history and wrote it to his own ends. Father and son, two ships who passed, in this life.