Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

Doris answers the phone. "I suppose you'll want to talk to the man of the hour?"

She puts the old man on the phone. "Hello? What say? I can't hear you. I've gotten so damned deaf."

I raise my voice. Shouting Father's Day greetings into the phone. Is it my cell phone I wonder? But no, he tells me my younger brother had called earlier and Dad couldn't hear him either. There is a workman in the house. Something that would never have happened in an earlier life. That house which the old man had plumbed, insulated, wired and heated. Drywall, cabinets, tile and paint. Now, someone hired to come in and fix a problem with the bathroom.

"How's your garden?", I shout into the mouthpiece.

"Not so good. I'm so damned dizzy all the time now I can't really get out there anymore", is his answer.

One more insult from time. His garden, one of his prides and joys, his escape from my mother and her bossing has been taken away.

Pity wells up in me. Pity and sorrow. Where is my father? Where is the strong, sometimes brutal, often cruel and at times oddly sensitive man whose roof I grew up under?

I search for some moment of joy, some happiness from my childhood with my Dad. And like most gifts it comes when you need it.

The day in early spring when we had gone up to Pepé's farm, to help my Uncle Eugene look for the cow that had wandered off to calf on her own. Climbing the mountain that was part of Sunnydale farm, climbing through the dappled sunlight in the old hardwood growth. Suddenly, he motions my brother John and I to stop, silently. He leans down and brushes away some leaves and as if by magic, reveals a fawn, lying perfectly still, only quivering slightly as it blends tawny red fur and white spots, disguising it in a nest of old leaves. He brushes the leaves back over the fawn and we move on to look for bossy and Dad tells us about the fawn they had raised here on the farm when he was a boy. Jigs. Jigs who had been hit by a harvester in the field and who they had nursed back to health. Jigs the deer, who came when called, that they had bottle fed and was like a pet. How one fall Jigs was shot by a hunter, because he wasn't afraid of people.

Is this the man who once hit me in the face so hard, he broke my glasses and then beat me for making him break those glasses?

Is this the same man, who would pull the car over in spring, just to stop and smell the scent of apple blow, when the orchards that dotted the Vermont hills in those days were in bloom? Who loved the roses he grew against all logic in Vermont? Vermont is a climate not kind to roses.

The same man, who when my cat got sick, got drunk and then, too drunk to do it himself, made my older brother take the cat out in the back, dig a hole and shoot it because, "he wasn't going to waste good money on a damned cat"?

I know he would have preferred to stay on the farm. But Doris was not going to be a farmers wife. It is a hard life and one she was not willing to take on. So he drank and worked at a job he did not like.

I cannot say if he would have been any happier on the farm than he was doing what he did. Supervising the facilities crew at the local college.

I still cannot reconcile the man who disdained me at every opportunity, yet who came up to bat for me when my mother objected to my buying a car when I was a teenager. The contradiction of the man who never finished high school and resented the educated, but insisted that his kids were going to go to college. This man who made no attempt to disguise his distaste for me when I was a child and now cries when I come to visit and cries when I leave.

I shout into the phone, trying to make myself heard, over the phone across the miles and the years. All of the anger and hatred and sullen grudges have been washed away by time. If it has not left love, there is compassion and pity and sorrow. Sorrow that this once strong, brash, boastful man, is simply fading, trapped in a body that has betrayed him.

Is there love there? I don't know. They tell me I am like my father. Physically, I am told I resemble him more than my brothers, emotionally, we are both pig headed and impatient, but that I think is true of all us boys. When I look back on my youth, there is too much to be regretted, too much I am not proud of, which on dark nights comes back to haunt me with my own bad behavior. Does that make me like my father? Will I find the compassion I need to forgive myself for my own sins?

I can find compassion and forgiveness for my father, but I don't know if there is any love, which requires some connection. Perhaps it is because it is sometimes not a pleasant thing to look in the mirror, to be reminded of all the flaws. Maybe that was why he disliked me so much when I was a child and eventually, I him. We were both too willful and too bent on having our own way. We could not understand each other because we could not get the distance to see each other in focus. We were always in it nose to nose.

"I'm going to give the phone back to your mother. I can't hear a damned thing!", he says into the phone.

Doris gives me the litany of Dad's latest complaints and ailments. What he needs to see the doctor about next, the order of doctors that have to be consulted before anything is done to make sure they are all on the same page. How this is made more difficult by Dad's increasing deafness and that unless she talks to the doctor herself afterwards, important information can be missing, having gone unheard. She tells me about the bathroom and the work being done. We talk about how Dad did things, sometimes not to the best effect, have a good natured laugh about him and his ways and then we say our good byes.

I ring off my cell and I feel sad. And maybe that is love or at least love of a kind. Could you feel that kind of sorrow for anyone you didn't love?