Saturday, June 18, 2011

From the Nest of the Early Bird

I am a notoriously early riser.  That is not the reason that I use this space today to convey a "Happy Father's Day" wish to my brothers, my brothers-in-law, my father-in-law and to all the other Dads out there who will be celebrating and celebrated tomorrow.  This year, Father's Day happens to coincide with my wedding anniversary.  Today, here at least, Dads get their due.  Tomorrow?  Tune in and find out.....and pretend to be surprised; OK?  It makes me feel much better inside, even if I cannot see the look on your face as you are reading.  Often I can guess what it is but I never know for certain. 

To fathers everywhere, I hope that tomorrow is an enjoyable day for you and for those you love.  I am confident that I do not suffer alone from the infirmity of ceaselessly reflecting on the decisions made when my two were still children and wondering just how good I have ever been as a parent.  I have my doubts.  With no trace of false humility (I assure you that I have difficulty enough projecting actual humility) I know that while I am at least reasonably good at what it is I do to earn my daily bread, I am mediocre at best in most other facets of my life.  My two have benefited exponentially from two things:  (a) a complete absence of any of my genetic material; and (b) an abundance of Margaret's.  Both Rob and Suzanne are adults in their mid twenties now.  I presume that at some date in the future I will have the chance to add the title of Grandpa to my resume.  While I would like to say with confidence that it is a responsibility I would handle with a certain amount of aplomb, I know better.

My brothers are both sufficiently older than I am that they knew our father far better than did I.  He died at age 57.  I was 14.  By the time I was of the age that I could actually comprehend Dad and interact with him, he was living what turned out to be the final decade or so of his life.  Our father was a pretty intense fellow, able to dazzle with his ability to speak with intelligence on a given topic in one breath and befuddle with his ability to speak without thinking at all in the next one.  When I was a boy, his favorite thing to call me when I did something that displeased him was, "Gonif."  Given his expansive vocabulary and his familiarity with several languages I presumed that he knew what it meant.  It was not until years after he died that I learned that it is a Yiddish word meaning, "thief, scoundrel or a dishonest person (often used as a general term of abuse)".  From that point forward, I have hoped that he spoke it without knowing what it meant.  

In the years since Margaret and I got married I have developed a far better understanding of my father than I had possessed either in the fourteen years that we cohabited the big blue marble or in the first dozen following his death.  Until I said, "I do" and became not just a husband but a father as well I had not walked a single step in his shoes.  Almost two decades further on up the road, I have worn through the soles of too many pairs to count. 

Several years ago, for reasons not entirely clear to me and likely less so to Mom and to my siblings, I became obsessed with finding out more about Dad's life at The Browning School in New York City.  I was ably assisted in my pursuit by a wonderful woman at Browning named Rachel Leanza.  At no cost to me - and I am quite confident considerable expenditure of time and effort to her - she went into the school's archives and unearthed a copy of the Yearbook from the time that Dad taught there.  She scanned the photographs and sent them to me on a CD.  Remarkable stuff.  The pictures opened my eyes to a man of whom I heard rumors but who I did not know myself had ever existed.  Hell, in a lot of the pictures he even had dark hair!  By the time I arrived his hair was completely white.  Just between us, Mom places the blame for that on Jill but we do not speak of it aloud for fear of upsetting her. 

My favorite photo from the group that Rachel unearthed for me is one of Dad from 1964.  He was in his most favorite place - the classroom.  He was forty years old or so and already a father four times over.  If I look hard enough at his face, I see Bill's and Kelly's and my own as well.  And that is how it should be I reckon.  You live your own life, you make your own way and your own decisions.  Some good.  Some bad.  You might think that you have made the decisions you have made independent of anything or anyone's influence.  You might be right. 

But maybe, just maybe, you look for a moment at a photograph.  And in doing so, you see not merely an image but a reflection as well.  

....and maybe, just maybe, you hear a bit of his song in your soul

Happy Father's Day.


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