Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unatonement

I was a boy of fourteen when my father died. He died on the 31st of May in 1981, almost equidistant between his 57th and 58th birthday. Today is the 86th anniversary of the day he was born. I can engage in no delusional "had he lived, he would have been 86 today" conversation regarding him for no reason other than there is no doubt in my mind that he had as much likelihood of seeing his 86th birthday as I do of having a growth spurt and suddenly being 11 feet tall.

When I was a boy, Dad used to like to tell everyone that he was the perfect weight for someone 9 feet tall. The joke of course was that he was (on his best day, standing on his tip toes, hair on end) about 5'7". All these years later it never ceases to amaze - or annoy - me to think that for a man as intellectually astute as my old man was (and he was significantly brighter than you or me (or the sum of you and me) unless "you" is my oldest brother Bill) that he never made any real attempt to take care of himself. He religiously ate food that was awful for him, he and exercise never crossed paths along the horizon line (even when recommended by his doctor to develop some sort of regimen after heart attack #2 (or it could have been #3, I simply cannot remember which) and he devoted far too much time to trying to buy Manhattan back from the Dutch one bottle of vermouth at a time. The fact that one so bright was do deliberately indifferent to his own health really used to irritate the sh*t out of me.

My father died at what was an awkward stage in our father/son relationship. I am the youngest of six and as a small child, I occupied a position of "favorite" in our household that was embarrassing. No matter what I did, I did no wrong. Inevitably, my older brother Kelly (the middle of My (Parents') Three Sons) bore the brunt of my mistakes. Dad had a tendency to hold Kelly responsible for everything that went awry in our home when Kelly was a teenager, even those things that he knew Kelly could not possibly have done. As a small boy, I actually hoped for some sort of cessation of the favorite child treatment.

We wish for what we wish for and then upon receipt we say, "What! That is it?" By the time I turned 12, my wish came to fruition. I know not whether it was my age or the fact that I had grown to be Dad's height by then (and spurted up 2 to 2 1/2 whole more inches before calling it a day in that endeavor), but by the time I hit 7th grade our relationship cooled immeasurably. He died over Memorial Day weekend when I was in 8th grade. By the time of his death, we had little direct communication with one another and while I am sure we loved one another, we did not like one another very much at all. Perhaps at some point there was "another side" and we would have made our way through that thicket and been alright again. I know not. And while once a long time ago I devoted a considerable amount of time to answering that question and donated quite a bit of my take-home pay to the Smirnoff Family Trust, I do neither any longer.

We are who we are and who we are is an amalgam of those who made us. To be human is to be imperfect, which makes me among the most human of anyone I know. Like the frog before the saving kiss, my father had his warts. And some of them have proven to be genetic. But what has also proven to be genetic as well is some stuff that has served me very well in my life both professionally and personally. My old man - as health-challenged as he was - could out hustle and outwork a man half his age. His combination of intellect and engine was unmatched. I get head scratches from folks often when I tell them (and I do only if they ask) that I start my day each morning at 2:45 and I am in my office working by 4:45, usually after having gone for a run of at least 5K distance.

I do not bother to tell them that I am not alone in my approach to life. I know - because we communicate frequently with each other at that time of day - that my big brother Bill is up and at it in the wee small hours of the morning as well. You believe what you want to believe and I shall as well. Among the things in which I do not believe is coincidence.

We are who we are in large part because of where and who we come from. A lesson too important to ever forget. And one worthy of acknowledgement even if we cannot - in fact - celebrate it.

-AK

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