“Nothing’s so beautiful as the memory of it Gathering light as glass does, As glass does when the sundown is on it and darkness is still a thousand miles away.” ~ Charles Wright, from “A Journal of the Year of the Ox”
My father was almost 73 when he died on November 22, 2001. His birthday would have been on December 5.
I’ve been looking for a particular poem by Len Roberts, but the name escapes me. It’s a poem about his father. Anyway, I came across this one by David Budbill, and it reminded me of all the times my father came to my house to help me, all of the things he taught me: how to change a toilet’s working parts, how to replace an electrical socket, how to fix a leaky faucet, and far too many to recount.
And I remember all of the things that I learned from him just by watching: how to squat low and weed a garden, how to find the perfect patch of sunlight on the floor and take a nap, how to sit silently and pet a dog.
Mostly, I learned the art of being still from my father, a man who was mostly quiet, and then at times, explosive.
Father’s Day is still hard for me, especially when I go to buy cards. I still pause in front of the section of cards specifically for daughter. Occasionally I will pull one from the rack and read, but only if I have sufficiently steeled my heart before hand, which is almost never.
I have no great insights on what it is about fathers and daughters, only about my own relationship, which was alternately close and then not. I will never forget the time my father, almost in tears, asked me if I remembered the last time I had said hello to him, how in being silent myself I had not realized the cost.
My father was simultaneously generous and stingy, as am I—overly generous with love and stingy about never paying the full cost.
I still have not recovered the 1966 Ford Falcon that my father told me was to go to my sons, the car that my mother gave away after his death, as if this final punitive act would close that chapter once and for all. I will reclaim that car one day.
In the end my father was tiny, the extra six inches he claimed over five feet almost entirely withered with age and pain and illness. I would have gladly given him my inches were it possible.
In the end my father died alone and afraid, and I will never be able to let go of that, how when it mattered the most, I was not there to say hello and then goodbye.
All images by Chinese artist, Don Hong-Oai (1929-2004). There was nothing in the world that my father loved more than fishing.
Music by Billy Joel, one of my favorite oldies, “Lullabye”
Seventy-Two is Not Thirty-Five
I spent seven hours yesterday at my daughter’s house
helping her expand their garden by at least ten times.
We dug up sod by the shovelful, shook off the dirt as
best we could; sod into the wheelbarrow and off to the
pile at the edge of the yard. Then all that over and over
again. Five hours total work-time, with time out for lunch
and supper. By the time I got home I knew all too well
that seventy-two is not thirty-five; I could barely move.
I got to quit earlier than Nadine. She told me I’d done
enough and that I should go get a beer and lie down on
the chaise lounge and cheer her on, which is what I did.
All this made me remember my father forty years ago
helping me with my garden. My father’s dead now, and
has been dead for many years, which is how I’ll be one
of these days too. And then Nadine will help her child,
who is not yet here, with her garden. Old Nadine, aching
and sore, will be in my empty shoes, cheering on her own.
So it goes. The wheel turns, generation after generation,
around and around. We ride for a little while, get off and
somebody else gets on. Over and over, again and again.
“The time which we have at our disposal every day is elastic; the passions that we feel expand it, those that we inspire contract it; and habit fills up what remains.” ~ Marcel Proust, In Search of Lost Times
Saturday evening. Temperatures still in the 90’s.
The dogs and I spent some time in the pool today. The other raft did not have a hole in it, thankfully, so I was able to float on my belly. It was really quite nice—the sun, the dogs, the birds, and no other noise.
Tillie the lab has this thing that she does when she’s tired of sharing the pool with Shakes: She goes after his ball and then drops it over the side of the pool, out of his reach. Then she grabs the free ball. I think that she thinks that she can make him disappear in the same way that she makes the second ball disappear. If I scold her, she just looks at me as if I’m telling her she’s beautiful and wags her tail.
Dogs and kids . . . go figure.
Anyway, not much else happening around the homestead today. Corey had third shift last night and then lost his shift today because the boat left at 6 a.m. That’s the way it goes. He worked a whopping 13 hours last week. We try not to dwell on it too much.
I’ve been listening to country music today, which is probably not the best idea as my country playlist is a cliché of country song themes: heartbreak, longing, loss, and regret. So after a few hours of this, I’m feeling like sobbing into my shirt. Of course, the fact that YouTube is acting up and stopping every few minutes to buffer does keep me from becoming completely engrossed in the lyrics.
I know that this computer (Eamonn’s old one) is on its last leg, and maybe after we get the truck fixed we can get the new hard drive installed on my computer. We’ll just have to way to see how all of that goes.
“I’ve forgotten the words with which to tell you. I knew them once, but I’ve forgotten them, and now I’m talking to you without them.” ~ Marguerite Duras, Emilie L.
In sitting here, I realize that I don’t actually have much to say tonight. Or perhaps I have many things to say but cannot give them words. It is not one of those situations in which I thought of what to say and then immediately lost the words somewhere in the tangle of my thoughts; rather, it is that the words run too deeply tonight, which has caused my mind to freeze, to stop processing.
It seems that so much is going on: another politician resigning over yet another scandal, blogs supposedly written by women unveiled as being written by middle-aged white men (what, they had nothing better to do than to impersonate a Syrian woman) . . . This world that makes news of how large Kim Kardashian’s engagement ring is—that ring could fund a library for a year or two. The world is going crazy, and quite frankly, I don’t wish to go along for this ride.
I wonder about the most recent flock of college graduates, what the world has in store for them, if anything. Perhaps I am too cynical for my own good, but I would hate to be starting out in this economy, in this world in which so many have so little and so few have so much. I worry about my kids and what kind of world will be waiting for them when they finish college.
If I could, I think that I might spend the rest of this weekend watching all of the seasons of “Dr. Who,” but we don’t have Netflix, so I can’t do that. Or better still, I would take Corey to a dark country bar and slow dance with him to sad songs, just to feel his heart beat against mine. Sometimes it’s good just to feel another person’s heartbeat to be reminded of what it is to be alive.
“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.” ~ Ian McEwan, Atonement
I remember that when I worked at the museum and I started to feel overwhelmed by things, I would go out into the galleries and just walk. I would gaze into the faces painted so lovingly by the old masters and I would absorb the glorious Impressionists. That was probably the best part of that job—having at my disposal access to such beauty in so many forms. It never failed to calm me, to center me, to make me feel a sense of belonging.
I think that perhaps I am feeling so out of sorts because tomorrow is Father’s Day, and while it is yet another one of those created holidays, it is a bit discomfiting for me. I found myself looking at cards from daughters to fathers. I can’t help it. I don’t want to do it, don’t want to add that little bit of salt, but I do it any way.
Daughters and their fathers . . .
Then too, I must admit that I still harbor a great sadness that Corey and I never had a child together. He is so wonderful with my kids that it makes me feel that I have stolen something from him in some way. We don’t talk about it any more, but I know that he would still love to have kids of his own.
Who knows why things turn out the way that they do . . . why and how fate intervenes, what the fates take away and what they give. Sometimes I feel as if I am just a pebble being tossed in a stream that is moving far too fast for me to keep up. The movement breaks off small pieces, and it polishes me at the same time.
“It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song, so that she was moving in glory among the stars, and for a moment she, too, felt that the words Darkness and Light had no meaning, and only this melody was real.” ~ Madeleine L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time
These things I know:
The stack of bills in the basket will be the same height tomorrow as today, and no amount of worrying will make that change.
There is no wonder pill that will make me lose 20 pounds. Only exercise and a better diet will do that, so wishing for an alternate reality is not productive.
My youngest son got the longest eyelashes in the family, and isn’t that always how it is? That a male who does not covet beautiful lashes will have them just by birth?
I have come to realize that not everyone talks to their pets as if they are human. Why not?
If I suddenly came into money (not going to happen), I would pay a contractor to finish the work on this house just so that it could be done already.
If I suddenly came into money (again, not going to happen), the reality is that I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea as to what I should do first because the to-do list has grown so long.
I would still love to work for Peter Jackson in New Zealand, fetching coffee or whatever. Perhaps proximity to such brilliance rubs off.
My daughter will find her way one day, with or without me, and I can only wait.
Very soon, I am going to lose someone I love dearly, and knowing that should make me spend more time with my mother, but I have found that it has distanced me, and I wonder why that is so.
No matter how hard I try, I still have a hard time looking in the mirror without being critical of myself.
Hate is a very strong word, one for which no apology can compensate.
One day, I am going to see the curve of the earth, and in that moment, I will know.
More later. Peace.
Music by Susan Tedeschi “Angel from Montgomery”
The Confession of an Apricot
I love incorrectly.
There is a solemnity in hands,
the way a palm will curve in
accordance to a contour of skin,
the way it will release a story.
This should be the pilgrimage.
The touching of a source.
This is what sanctifies.
This pleading. This mercy.
I want to be a pilgrim to everyone,
close to the inaccuracies, the astringent
dislikes, the wayward peace, the private
words. I want to be close to the telling.
I want to feel everyone whisper.
After the blossoming I hang.
The encyclical that has come
through the branches
instructs us to root, to become
the design encapsulated within.
Flesh helping stone turn tree.
I do not want to hold life
at my extremities, see it prepare
itself for my own perpetuation.
I want to touch and be touched
by things similar in this world.
I want to know a few secular days
of perfection. Late in this one great season
the diffused morning light
hides the horizon of sea. Everything
the color of slate, a soft tablet
to press a philosophy to.
Old Harrison’s Fishing Pier in Ocean View Where My Dad Loved to Fish
“What we want most is only to be held . . . and told . . . that everything (everything is a funny thing, is baby milk and Papa’s eyes, is roaring logs on a cold morning, is hoot-owls and the boy who makes you cry after school, is Mama’s long hair, is being afraid, and twisted faces on the bedroom wall) . . . everything is going to be all right.” ~ Truman Capote, Other Voices, Other Rooms
Father’s Day is very bittersweet for me. Just looking at the rows and rows of cards that I will never buy pains me in inexplicable ways. No more cards. No more photographs. No more echoes of my father’s voice.
This is what I wrote in a post in February 2009: “Memory then, is what saves us, what brings us back from the edge, what supplants those who chose to leave and those who are taken with things left undone. My father is in the night sky, the summer storms, the bold flashes of light just beyond the horizon.”
Instead of a post I thought that I would share a few of my favorite poems about fathers. There is another by Len Roberts, but I cannot find it.
Those Winter Sundays
by Robert Hayden
Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold,
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.
I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,
Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices
My Father’s Hat
by Mark Irwin
Sunday mornings I would reach
high into his dark closet while standing
on a chair and tiptoeing reach
higher, touching, sometimes fumbling
the soft crowns and imagine
I was in a forest, wind hymning
through pines, where the musky scent
of rain clinging to damp earth was
his scent I loved, lingering on
bands, leather, and on the inner silk
crowns where I would smell his
hair and almost think I was being
held, or climbing a tree, touching
the yellow fruit, leaves whose scent
was that of clove in the godsome
air, as now, thinking of his fabulous
sleep, I stand on this canyon floor
and watch light slowly close
on water I can’t be sure is there.
by Li-Young Lee
To pull the metal splinter from my palm
my father recited a story in a low voice.
I watched his lovely face and not the blade.
Before the story ended, he’d removed
the iron sliver I thought I’d die from.
I can’t remember the tale,
but hear his voice still, a well
of dark water, a prayer.
And I recall his hands,
two measures of tenderness
he laid against my face,
the flames of discipline
he raised above my head.
Had you entered that afternoon
you would have thought you saw a man
planting something in a boy’s palm,
a silver tear, a tiny flame.
Had you followed that boy
you would have arrived here,
where I bend over my wife’s right hand.
Look how I shave her thumbnail down
so carefully she feels no pain.
Watch as I lift the splinter out.
I was seven when my father
took my hand like this,
and I did not hold that shard
between my fingers and think,
Metal that will bury me,
christen it Little Assassin,
Ore Going Deep for My Heart.
And I did not lift up my wound and cry,
Death visited here!
I did what a child does
when he’s given something to keep.
I kissed my father.
Eamonn Kendall Liwag Sutcliffe on his Graduation Day 2009
“It is not flesh and blood but the heart which makes us fathers and sons.” ~ Johann Schiller
I thought about what I would say in this post. Would I dedicate it to my father, Exequiel Liwag, a man I loved greatly and lost too soon? Perhaps not. I decided that I just didn’t have it in me to talk about my dad today, probably because I think that both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day are holidays that are for the most part perpetuated by the retailers of the world: Make a holiday, and they will come. Impose guilt through flashy ads, and they will buy.
My father’s love for me and mine for him was something that surpasses a card-giving holiday. Even though he has been dead for eight years, I still talk to him when I am most troubled. I still look to him for guidance. So I did not want this post to be about everything that I did and didn’t have with my father.
Rather, I thought that I would use this post to do two things: Celebrate the man who is a father to my children 365 days a year, and celebrate the graduation of eldest son this past week, hence all of the photos with the handsome, smiling lad in blue.
“The most important thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.” ~ Author Unknown
I know that I talk about Corey all of the time in my posts, but I wanted to take a moment to point out a few things about the man that I love.
I believe that children learn as much from watching their parents as they do from listening to them. That is why a child will be aware that he or she lives in a house full of discontent, even though the adults may never speak of it. What Corey brought to this family is an ability to love wholeheartedly and openly.
All of my children know how much Corey and I love each other and how much we love each of them. We are a family that says “I love you” to one another, regardless of who is nearby. One of the first things that Eamonn wanted affirmation of after Corey became a regular part of our lives was if it would be all right to tell Corey that he loved him. I told Eamonn that it is always okay to tell a person that you love them, that love is nothing to be ashamed of, ever.
So rather than spending the last nine years of their lives living in an atmosphere of tension and misunderstanding, my children have grown up in a home that is filled with a very gratifying sense of closeness, and I truly believe that they are better for it.
“We also honor those surrogate fathers who raise, mentor, or care for someone else’s child. Thousands of young children benefit from the influence of great men, and we salute their willingness to give and continue giving.” ~ From President Barack Obama’s 2009 Father’s Day Proclamation
I know that several people were wary of what kind of stepfather Corey would be, mostly because of his age and inexperience. As I have mentioned before, Corey is younger than I, and there is a significant age difference between us.
But I knew Corey; I knew how much love he had in his heart and how much he was willing to give, so I never had any doubts that he would make a good stepfather to my children, and I was right.
Of all of my children, Eamonn is the one who is still closest to his father. But oddly enough, of all of my children, Eamonn seems to be the one who is closest to Corey. I admire this in Eamonn: his ability to have such love for two completely different men, and to respect each of them for who they are, never blurring the lines between them.
I know that each of my children has a unique relationship with Corey. Alexis will turn to Corey when she has a problem or needs help. She will call Corey first when Mike is out of town if she needs someone’s help. That is why when Alexis withdrew earlier in the year, it was so hard on Corey. He is used to speaking with Alexis every day, even for just a few minutes.
She is older than my sons by a big gap because of Caitlin, so it was never really realistic for Corey to view Alexis as his stepdaughter. But he has always been there for her, supported her, and loved her.
As to Brett, whose emotions are much harder to read, I know from Brett telling me many times that he is very happy that Corey is part of our family. Brett knows how many sacrifices Corey has made for all of us, and of the three, Brett is probably the one who asks the least of Corey but understands him the best.
“He didn’t tell me how to live; he lived, and let me watch him do it.” ~ Clarence Buddington Kelland
Corey took on an incredible responsibility when he married me. I didn’t have baggage. I had steamer trunks. But Corey never doubted us and never doubted that we could make it work.
When things are grimmest, as they have been this past 18 months, Corey is the one who always finds a way. He is my bulwark against the storms, and no one has ever loved or understood me in the way that Corey does.
To say that I admire and respect him is an understatement. He may have fewer years than I, but his wisdom is ageless, his sagacity keen. I value his opinion on any subject, and he respects my opinions and never belittles me for anything I say or do.
We have a comfortable relationship, born out of friendship. We banter with each other constantly, which some people have misunderstood as arguments, but we rarely argue, and when we do, you can bet that it’s over something significant, not over whose turn it is to clean the kitchen or anything else completely inane. I credit part of that to our ages: I have gotten old enough to realize that small things really don’t matter in this grand pageant of life, and Corey is still young enough to be patient over small things. We fit together well.
And our relationship gives me hope that my sons will learn by watching, and will treat their own partners with as much love and respect as Corey shows me. Since I’ve been ill and less able to do things around the house, Corey has taken the burden from me and taken it upon himself. He cooks and does laundry. I go behind him and wipe down and help to fold and put away the clothes.
And if I am having a bad day or two, Corey handles everything—pickups at school, groceries, dinner, my medication, and keeping me comfortable. I’ve known firsthand of some men who simply cannot handle illness in any form; for them, illness is equated to weakness, and weakness is frowned upon. I have known many marriages to end when one spouse loses a job, or becomes ill, or if there are problems with a child.
Corey and I have weathered all of this and more, and I am comfortable in saying that we stand stronger today than we did when we took our vows eight years ago. If I were to use one word to describe our relationship, it would symbiotic.
So this post is for Corey, in honor of Father’s Day, because he is nothing if not a wonderful father, mentor, teacher, and friend.
And for my own father, I will close with this quote by former New York governor Mario Cuomo:
“I watched a small man with thick calluses on both hands work fifteen and sixteen hours a day. I saw him once literally bleed from the bottoms of his feet, a man who came here uneducated, alone, unable to speak the language, who taught me all I needed to know about faith and hard work by the simple eloquence of his example.”
With much love to the man who is my partner in life, the young men and the young woman who are my greatest joy in life, and the man who guided my life and unstintingly gave of himself to others.
Le Jour De Père Huereux. Feliz Día De Los Padre. Happy Father’s Day to all of the men out there who are fathers, step-fathers, big brothers who act as fathers, grandfathers who are fathers once more, and to all of the women who are surrogate fathers as well as mothers.
We never could have become what we are now if not for everything that you showed us before. More later. Peace.