A Passing Thought
…But first, a quick update: I am definitely feeling yesterday’s aerials class (though not excessively) in the muscles that need work. Excellent.
Now, on to a reflective post I wrote last night:
My father died when I eighteen.
We’d had a rocky time for most of my life — Dad was a rocky man, like the shore is rocky off Acadia in Maine. Difficult, sometimes frightening, often magnificent. Those last two years of his life, though, we had a pretty great relationship — also rocky, in its own way, and full of secret tides and undercurrents, but also magnificent.
I didn’t know what Dad made of me then. It didn’t really occur to me to wonder. Dad didn’t raise us to care what he thought: he wanted us, instead, to be singularly, incontrovertibly ourselves — and he wanted us to prove it.
So it surprised me, tonight, as I lie here reading, to find myself wondering what Dad would make of me now; what he’d make of the sometimes-precarious route I’ve carved out trying to figure out how to be what I am.
The answer is still, “I don’t know.”
I kind of like to think he’d like where I’m going now — launching myself from the springboard of academia into a frankly-kind-of-weird career, learning circus arts, turning myself into a dancer, tilting at windmills.
I had the kind of Dad who would have been secretly happy to see his kids run off and join the circus, even though he’d have chewed us out first, probably to ferret out and destroy any trace of cowardice or cliché. He would want us to go knowing in our hearts that we are born to join the circus, not to go because it seemed less awful than some other thing.
I realize now that was part of his rockiness: our Dad had a poet’s intolerance for falsehoods. He tolerated them. no better in himself than in anyone else. He didn’t care what you did: he cared why. And it wasn’t an affectation — it was his nature, like it’s the nature of the Maine coast to be hard and high and beautiful.
I couldn’t see all this before. I guess that’s how it works, though: as a kid, you see your parents through a different lens than you do as an adult. As an adult, some things look different; some things don’t.
I have always said that my Dad married my Mom’s family, and now I think I understand what I mean. He saw in them a kind of abiding and unselfconscious fidelity to their own natures. They were all as different as days, but they — especially Grammy, Mom’s mother — were all unshakeably themselves. Dad loved and admired all of them, regardless of the divorce.
Even Mom, in her long, unhappy years of restraint, being a Serious Woman with a Serious Job, was never untrue to herself. The painful part, I guess, must have been how half of her had to lie more or less dormant in those days, bursting out here and there and slowly accumulating momentum and force and life in the form of the beautiful garden that slowly ate first the back yard, then the front, a literal inflorescence of the soul.
I don’t know what Dad thought of me, that last year of his life. I was still casting around, searching for an exoskeleton, an identity I could step into I guess so I wouldn’t have to do the hard and lonely work of being who I was. Having felt the cutting edge of loneliness too long, I wanted to be loved. I would have said I wanted to be loved for who I was, and would’ve believed it, but I was wrong. I was still a long, long way from there.
I won’t say that I never do that anymore: identity is a nebulous thing, and I still want to be loved — but I am loved, as well and unconditionally as I believe a human being can be loved.
It’s easier to be brave, because of that.
So I still don’t know exactly what my Dad would make of me, if he were here — but I have begun to think he’d like what I’ve become, although he might not say it.
Not that he would mean any harm; not that he wasn’t brave enough. But his heart and mind were always two steps down the road, preparing to head off half-truth and hypocrisy.
I think he’d grill me about every single one of my cherished suppositions.
And I hope, were he alive to rake those coals, that I would have the courage and good sense to meet him toe-to-toe and love him for it.