Thursday, June 15, 2023

Thanks, Dad.

For the entire time that my life and the life of my father over-lapped, 43 years, we had a fractious and fractured relationship. And that was on the good days.

It's not that we never got along. It's that we butted heads twice as often as we did anything else. We went more years scowling at each other than smiling at each other. And more years not talking than talking. I guess you could say we were both hard-headed. And stiff-necked.

By the time my elder daughter was born in 1987, he and I had somewhat patched things up. We had reached some sort of uneasy peace. But I don't think that's even close to being accurate. We still butted heads. If we were throwing types, we probably would have hurled the dishes at each other. Linguini, not spaghetti.

When John Le Carre's posthumous novel "Silverview" came out, it was entrusted by Le Carre to his son, Nick Cornwell, to edit. In the afterword, Cornwell wrote these words about his relationship with his father: "We made space for one another’s flaws and we had fun. You can’t ask for more."

I underscored those words then and above. I think about them in my own life. Could I reach such peace with my wife and my daughters? Were I still running a group in an agency, could I make space for the flaws of those who work for me? Or would I hold them to the same parsimonious standards I hold myself to? In other words, could I ever be a decent guy? Or will I always be an austere and rigid muthafucka?

This morning I was up early--5:15 AM--because I have a lot going on at GeorgeCo., LLC, a Delaware Company. I am clearest-headed in what Sinatra called "the wee small hours of the morning." And that has nothing to do with frequent urination.

As I was posting my Monday blog, I realized I had not written a Father's Day blog. I had something funny planned for Friday--but no thoughts on growing up, growing old, and fatherhood and son-hood. 

In past years, I had quoted grey-eyed Athena from Homer's Odyssey, saying, "Few sons are the equals of their fathers. Most fall short, all too few surpass them.” That posited, I usually traipse into some fractured fatherly fairytale, and leave life’s story good and ambiguous.

But this morning somehow was different.

As I was writing, I interrupted myself and said aloud to the empty room when I was working, "Thanks, Dad."

Thanks, Dad, for waking me up early and telling me to work harder, lest I become a bum. 

Thanks, Dad, for introducing me to a hat salesman at Saks Fifth Avenue who used to be a copywriter but somewhere along the way gave up sweating blood and jumped the (career) tracks.

Thanks, Dad, for teaching me to read the Sunday Times' Book Review--the home of some of the world's best writing.

Thanks, Dad, for those baseball games on the broken asphalt with the sewer as first base, a manhole as second, and a dead tree as third, where you stacatto'd like a runaway jackhammer on a caffeine-high telling me to keep my eyes on the ball. 

Thanks, Dad, most of all for the most of all incalculable 'gift of quip.' Another drumbeat into my cranium of always being ready with a joke, a one-liner, a story or an aphorism whenever faced with something that seemed to beg for a comment, moreso if no comment were needed. 

Here's one example. 

I was 17 and my father took me to tour one of those small private colleges where professors still wore tweed and had patches at their elbows, all without discernible irony. We were shown the football field and stadium and the tour-guide said something about Coach So-and-So, who had led the Fighting Abcess' for 33-seasons and was so dedicated to the college and the team that he was actually buried in the endzone.

My father, of course, never met a quip he didn't like. "That must do a lot for the school spirit," he said.

I was angry and embarrassed when he said that 48-years ago, like my own daughters are angry and embarrassed about 94-percent of the clothes I wear, the things I do, and worst of all the things I say.

Someday, if the gods still preside as they did on Olympus, my daughters will learn. As, maybe, I am beginning to learn about my father.

Too late, of course. I'll be long gone and the world will be better for that.

But as the great boxer Joe Louis said about his own career, I say about my life and my father's.

"I did the best I could with what I had."

I did the best I could with what I had.

No comments: