eric_artem (eric_artem) wrote,
eric_artem
eric_artem

"In the Name of the Father"

Контент 16+ (лексика, описания)

John Donne the Elizabethan poet and Dean of St. Paul's in London, once declared in a famous sermon that "No man is an island….", adding that "Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, " and concluding: "Therefore, do not send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee."



It hasn't been a good season for fathers. Two of my students lost theirs recently, and last week my own dad finally succumbed to cancer after a long ordeal. He was 90. I can't say with certainty about the fathers of my two students, but in the case of my own, I would venture that in life he was able finally to find about as much happiness — or at least the opportunity for it — as it is possible to experience on this earth. So, given the conditions of the life cycle as we know it now, there is absolutely nothing to mourn about and everything to celebrate.


That's why I basically stayed away from contributing to all the FaceBook eulogies that Dad's family and many admirers posted. I read them of course, but decided — at least until now — to re-examine closely my true feelings for my father — and to ascertain what memories will be held intact — instead of blurting out a bunch of well-intended platitudes. 

For one thing, I am not into 'prayers''; I have pretty much decided that they are a waste of time. Secondly, hearkening back to Donne's words, I know that death's aftermath and all ceremonies of grief and funerals therein, are just rituals which the people remaining use to deal with their own pain and the stark reality of Their Own Mortality that has come as a reminder in the form of a tolling bell.

I did not grow up with my father, and maybe that is why part of me keeps it all at a distance. He left my mother to go became an artist — the artist he indeed eventually became — while I was still in the cradle, and I was raised mostly by my grandparents. Grandpa was a good man at heart and steered me into my lifelong obsession with sports. But he was a very bitter man also — about what I could never quite figure out — and in the end, I concluded that a little of Gramps went a long way. He at least told me all about sex in very entertaining and graphic language which both amused and informed me, and I have always been grateful. And from him, I learned the art of using extreme profanity, of which I am a very vocal and exquisitely dexterous practitioner to this day. Thanks, Grandpa. Later on, I had a step-father — also a good man — but a guy with whom I had nothing in common. He died suddenly two weeks after he retired, and his death shattered and haunted my mother until her own death about ten years ago.


I guess I just never had much luck with fathers. Therefore, I have never understood the enormous bond — perhaps even the total fusion — that clearly exists between many fathers and sons. I read about it, see films about it, and witness it with my own eyes. Something in me wants to respond; something else in me draws a blank. I guess I have inadvertently searched for 'father figures' among various bosses and ball coaches, even among men who were numerically younger than me. But the stabbing blade that gleams in the pitch dark of my psyche castrated every one of them. If no real father, then for me no false ones either.. And I, who have two daughters, now both forty-something, was never much of a father either. Just a blank place, like the mind of a sociopath. I have never understood it.

Apparently, Dad never gave my mom a nickel in the way of child support — in those days there was no mechanism to force 'deadbeat dads' to pay — and we managed without him. He would show up once in a while. I remember him taking me to the zoo in Washington D.C.  And later in life, after one of my more spectacular drinking binges, he bought me a bus ticket to get back to Florida from somewhere way up in Canada.  And that was about it. But there was a lot more to him than a monthly check which didn't arrive.

I knew him in New York City when he was attending NYU to get his Master's degree. He showed me Greenwich Village, took me to some Off-Broadway shows, and introduced me to the Metropolitan Art Museum. Dad had his aviator's license, and once he flew me up in his small aircraft to tour the rooftops of the Big Apple., He floated me all over New York City, right past top of the Empire State Building and so near the face of the Statue of Liberty that I could have almost reached out and grabbed her nose. Later, he led me to Yankee Stadium in the Bronx to see the great New York Yankees. of Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford. I remember it was in 1964.

He was a powerful and richly handsome guy without the bad habits of tobacco and booze. He could be one of the most entertaining, charming, and, even in his younger days, wise men you could ever hope to meet.. He could also be darkly moody and quite unpredictable.. He was the hero of every story he ever told me. Everybody else was stupid, but never him — at least not in those tales. I hadn't become a writer yet, but I knew already that there are very few authentic heroes, and those that are, are not heroic all the time. I  wanted Dad to admit once, just ONCE, that he had been a Chump sometimes like everyone else.  Nope.


He was an insatiable womanizer. (I appear to have collected a few of those chromosomes myself.) But all of that just means — or so it seems to now — that he was human. He was one of us indeed.  He was never weak that I could see. He was not quite as sophisticated as he liked to pretend after his years in Boston and New York — there was always something of Morgantown, West Virginia, leftover, and probably that's why he ended up in a small place in North Carolina with a pretty little woman of traditional values instead of some Manhattan bimbo and a pad near Central Park.

From my dad, I received the great gift of Imagination. He was a Dreamer but also a Do-er. The rest of my family were not a whole lot more than Appalachian hillbillies, and Dad came from poor coal-mining stock in West Virginia. He could have settled. He could have disappeared into a literal black hole, wearing a spelunker's helmet instead of an artist's beret. (He never wore a beret either!)  But he had other things in mind. I bless him for that in my own way. He was my friend — first genetically and later on a friend in spirit.

I say 'in spirit'' because my dad performed in his later life the kind miracle that very few men or women seem capable of. I mean that, as Dad got OLDER he really got YOUNGER.  Most old fogies just burn out, go soft, and sit on their ass. Or start hating everything. Never Dad. In Dad a glowing autumnal fire arose in warm flames that caused everyone around him to bathe in a late summer sunrise, even as that same sun was setting over him.. All of that youthful passion and often sullen energy took shape in the form of what a film title I remember from the past referred to as "A Man for All Seasons." That's what he was in the end. A man for all seasons.


Unlike me, Dad could also use his hands as well as his imagination, and once, when I visited him in North Carolina, I saw that he was in the process of building an entire house — the big one he now leaves to his family — with his own mitts, hammers, and measuring sticks, and the help of a couple of work-boys. It was a tour-de-force, and I know it was the very first time that the idea of ''love'' entered the equation on my part. He was like an old American storybook folk-hero that they called 'Paul Bunyan.'  I think the key to it all was that he finally met the right woman — Traci, now his widow. I guess she sort of tamed the Big Dog — as you can see in the photo. It must be Happiness that we see in that picture. I know of no other word for it.

I never saw him after I came to stay in Russia. Maybe the last time was 15 years ago. He was the last of my full-blood relations. They are all in eternity now, and I will never even visit their graves. What would be the point? They are the past, — once upon a time in America, But I can see them whenever I want to. It is my business in my own brain. Don't need anyone to tell me what to feel or how to think..

Dad and I had many phone conversations during those last years, I think he was proud of what I was eventually able to achieve — some results finally, after a wayward life. We laughed a lot. Then his body started to die, but the brain never lost its ripeness: it only grew slightly wistful among its riches.

We all struggle, especially those of us beset with the inner demons from which angels occasionally spring. In a totally loused-up world, my Dad figured out how to live and how to love. Sounds simple, but it ain't. Take it easy, Dad.  I'll see you down the road.



===Eric Richard Leroy===


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