May 23, 2008

Creating an experience

My father came out to visit me over the last few days so that we could go and see the Cleveland Indians lose to the Chicago White Sox. It was just like old times. Except food and gas are 4 times as expensive as the last time we did this. It was fun, I'm not sure when I'll go to another ball game, though. I think I'd rather just go play catch in the back yard with my dad.

When we got home from the game, we stayed up late telling each other stories and then reminiscing about when we worked together doing roofing and siding. I remember, when I was 15ish, I couldn't have a conversation with my dad. We just couldn't see eye to eye on anything. It was always combative and I felt isolated and distant from him. When I worked for him, though, it was an entirely different story. He was concise, communicative, and remarkably patient. It was clear that he loved his work and prized the quality more highly than he valued his reputation.

For a while, along with playing catch with him in the back yard and going fishing, these were some of the best periods of my life with my dad. I guess this is partly why I like to socialize within the framework of a social activity with straightforward objectives (board games, sports, etc...). With my dad and I, it was good time. He didn't get angry and I knew, I knew, that he loved me. I knew that he loved me so much that he would let me screw up his work, just so that he could be with me and teach me how to not screw it up quite so badly.

When my mother died in January, there was a switch that got flipped. I used to call my mother for everything and, if you knew her, you know exactly why. She was the coolest person I have ever known. I was privileged to have however brief of an adult relationship with her and blessed to have her as my mother. And, even amidst being diagnosed with cancer, surviving two intense surgeries, and generally just being ill, she still was conscious of her surroundings and her lover for my father.

My mother loved my father. I don't need to tell you this, but I want to. I want to tell you this because my father is like his hands. He is calloused and weather worn, rough, with soil beneath the fingernails from working the garden, the type of dirt that has stained the skin and won't come out with rubbing. His knuckles are stretched because his hands are strong and his grip stretches his skin. Yet, there are points, not unlike the webbing that are soft and vulnerable. So, when I say, my mother loved my father, I do not mean that she was laodicean about it. She loved him with every fiber of her being and every bit of her soul. She loved him with a devotion, and tenacity, and sanctity that I one day hope to encounter and witness again. And she didn't just show it, she radiated it.

My mother lay on her death bed. No, she was still walking around and moving and laughing and feeling good and you know what she said to me, what she said to my siblings? She said, "I'm worried about your father. I worry that after I die, you will drift away from him. I worry that other people will do that, too." She didn't say this to me once. She made it abundantly clear to all of her children that she did not want this to happen. She did not want to see her family drift apart because the glue that kept it together had been washed away.

And, now, my mother is dead. May God bless her and keep her always near. And, not a day goes by when I do not think about my mother. I think about how much she loved me and how easy it was to lover her back. I think about how much I just want to call her on the phone and hear her talk to me one more time. I want a last good hug from her. I want to have a mommy. I want to have mymommy.

Equally, a day doesn't pass where I don't think of my father. He lives alone, in Cleveland, in the house that he and my mother worked so hard to buy. Now, he owns it and cannot share it with my mother. She died before they made the last payment on the house. What bitter prizes with which fate rewards us! I am realizing how much my mother cared about my father, now. I am also learning why.

It seems that my relationship with my father is undergoing a third transition. He is my only parent, now. He is my only father. And, my time with him is limited. Not because he is dying, but because we are all limited by the natural consequences of time and entropy. I am learning how to have a conversation with my angry, sad, beautiful father.

I am learning to shut the hell up and listen. I am learning to see the poignancy of his suffering and the desert that is his isolation. I am learning that I need to connect with this man who is my father, who is my friend, who is the one that when I die, will, again, take my childlike hand in his and guide me, again, to the path of the Blessed Beauty. Who will, carry me, sleeping and aloof , regardless of the cost to himself, for love of me, wherever I need to go. Who will neither complain nor boast, but simply plod quietly along, smiling.

Tonight, I took my father's rough and and strong and work worn hands in my own. They still seemed just as big and powerful to me as they did when I was little. Only, now, they were different, or I was different, and I knew that they loved their hurt for their sacrifice. I knew that that sacrifice was for me, was for my brother and sisters, was for my mother, was for the whole world. And I know that my father is weary of this world for my mother.

I looked my father in the eyes and I said to him, "Papa, I am so sorry that you lost your sweetheart. Thank you for being so strong for us when mommy died. I know... no, I don't know. I know what it's like to lose my mother. And I know how much I want her back and how much it hurts. When I finished he serenely responded, agreeing, "No, you don't know."

I wanted to tell him that it was acceptable for him to stop being strong but I didn't have it. I wanted to tell him that I needed him, that he wasn't allowed to give up. I wanted him to know that he could be vulnerable but that he had to keep living and working and dedicating himself to his life the with the same zeal that he has always had. I wanted him to promise me that he would always be there, sitting across the table from me, exhausted, hurt, worn out, lonely, isolated, but there, loving me all the same, proud of me, proud of my siblings, satisfied in the knowledge that he has served his heart's desire and highest aspiration his whole life and safe in the knowledge that he will continue to serve. It wasn't in me, either. Instead, I did the best I could not to cry and smiled at him.

I cry, sometimes, when I'm driving in to work in the mornings and I listen to NPR. I cry when I hear about tens of thousands of people dying in China. I cry when I hear about the opposing softball team assisting an injured opponent who just hit a home run successfully round the bases because her own team cannot touch her without invalidating the hit. I cry when I think of something clever to say to my mother, but I do not cry enough. I do not cry when I am at work. And, often, I do not cry when I am at home. And, even when I cry in the car, I cry only a little so that it does not impair my vision. And, I do not cry enough. I do not cry enough.

Posted by Mendon at 2:14 AM | Comments (3)