Thursday, May 25, 2006

Fragments of life

First, I'll let my father speak:

[three fragments]

[undated, following page dated 4/29/70, preceding a page dated 5/7/70]

sanity is a venereal disease, it
infects one, brings on fever,
makes coping a hardship


Must be the city does it to us.
Why else would we retreat so far
into the fantasies
of our own realities?
That piece of turf unbreached,
our self.
The internal environment of
our own imaginations
all we have left unviolate.
What a bunch of shit.


what is honesty?
admitting things,
then flogging yourself
because the admissions are part
of the stance you take and as false
as not admitting them
then repeating
the process

I loved my father. Yet, I can't escape the feeling that he failed. His life was marked by failure. Humor also. A great belly laugh, and a tearing smile of laughter that would melt your heart. I think of the picture I have of him standing outside the back door of our old house, grey beard and slits for eyes.

He was a man of such great potential... always potential. He wrote some good poetry, at least in my eyes, but it never went anywhere. My mother tells how he would suffer profound depression upon receiving a rejection letter from one publisher or another, sometimes forcing him into writer's block for weeks. He wrote plays and novels. I can only imagine how much is lost.

I've been compiling his writings, what I can find in our things, on a blog dedicated to him. It's an odd experience in my late 30s to be typing up his words from his late 30s. I live in the shadow of a fear, that my life will follow his. In some ways, that wouldn't be so bad. To have raised some wonderful children, to be able yet to laugh with abandon in my 60s. That would be quite something to accomplish. Yet, his failure is to me inescapable. Indeed, I think he'd be the first to admit it. He never lived up to his potential. He never accomplished half the things he set out to, for which he had such ability to achieve.

And I see myself, looking in his mirror, him seeing his father before him, and I watching the reflection like a voyeur, pretending not to look, yet wondering whose reflection it is I see.

He was so proud of me, the graduate student, in his eyes achieving so much he dreamed of. He died three months before I finished the dissertation, a month to the day before my second son was born.

The year or so before he died, he started writing again, revising old poems, crafting new ones. He prepared an application for a poetry fellowship. He asked me to critique his poems, help him edit them. What an honor it was for me. Damn! I wanted so much for him to find some recognition, some acknowledgement for his gifts. Yes he failed. But I think the world failed him much more.

My greatest fear is to find myself, years from now, dying, with a massive trail of potential following me, like the greasy effluence of a leaking tanker, wondering why... why... why... damn it, why not?


Prof. Me said...

This is a beautifully-written post, AD. Heartbreaking, but lovely.

I guess I'm of the mind (and this stems from my religious upbringing) that no one leaves this earth with their "mission" in life unaccomplished. We leave here when our work is done. Your father completed his -- perhaps his life was meant to inspire yours? Perhaps that was what he was meant to do? And in that, he succeeded. He didn't get the recognition for his work while he was alive, but perhaps he didn't need it. He needed you.

T felt the same way about his father. T's father died at age 50, victim of a massive heart attack that happened while he was engaged in his favorite pastime, softball. T was distraught at the pointlessness of it all -- here was a man who had SO MUCH left to give, cut short in his prime. It was a death that was sudden and very difficult to accept. But over the years, T has been able to recognize that his father's life has influenced his in ways he might not have imagined if his father were still alive.

Big thoughts in this post, AD.

ArticulateDad said...

...his father's life has influenced his in ways he might not have imagined...

I guess in some sense that's it for me. I have great difficulty reconciling the father who raised me, the father who taught me so much, who inspired me, who gifted me with dreams and passions and responsibilities (tikkun olam), and yet whose life, on my later reflection as an adult failed to live up to my expectations.

I often wondered why he wouldn't write. Sometime, perhaps 20-25 years ago, my brothers and I bought him a ream of cotton bond, and a fancy pen, with the promise (never kept) that we would get him an electric typewriter (must have been a long time ago)--with the hope, the challenge, that he would start writing again. It seemed at some point he rested all his hopes on us, his sons.

In some sense perhaps we are all destined to realities that pale from our dreams. Perhaps that is not such a sad thing, simply a process of maturing into realistic expectations. But then... I don't wish to lose my dreams. More to reflect.