Sunday, June 17, 2012

For My Dad



Ah, fathers. Here's one of my favorite dads, whose woven tapestry of cursing no doubt still does hang in outer space somewhere over Lake Michigan.

My own dad was a profoundly imperfect man, but who isn't, and I loved him anyway. In our house, it wasn't the furnace that he continually wrassled with, but it was fuses. Fuses continually blew in our rickety old stucco house on Richmond's south side. The fuse box was upstairs on the second floor balcony, and fuses blew so often he kept boxes of the little suckers always handy. This was a true pain in the butt on winter nights, when he'd have to bundle up against the elements and head outside with a flashlight and climb the stairs to replace whichever one had blown.

My dad was a Navy man, stationed in the Philippines during WWII, an experience he never talked about other than to say he worked in supply and saw very little action. But he would never, ever eat rice as long as I knew him.

My dad was an undiagnosed alcoholic who, after getting a DUI and losing his job, learned to manage his drinking by drinking on Saturday nights only. I saw him staggering, bellowing drunk only a couple of times.

My dad fell in love fast, married, then had affairs. He blamed himself for my being gay. Said it was because I didn't get enough love as a child.

My dad was an introvert, bookish, retreated to the den after supper every night, stuck his nose in a book, and stayed there the rest of the night.

My dad died of heart disease when he was 56. One of the last things he ever said to me was that he was glad I was going into teaching (I was in my first year of grad school) because over the years, he'd learned that helping others is the only real reason for living.

I am more like him than different. I have repeated some of his mistakes. I think when he died he had finally found some happiness. And perhaps that is the biggest lesson he taught me. Sucking it up in your outer life and seeking happiness only on the sly is a recipe for grief, for missed opportunities. Fuck society's judgmental nature. As long it it hurts no one else, if it brings you happiness, do it. Be open about it. Be true to yourself.

Nowadays we have no fuses, but I'm pretty damn good at finding the breaker box and flipping the switch back on.

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