Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fathers Day

Alex left for his annual two weeks of camp in West Virginia this morning. The call that he'd safely arrived came in the early afternoon, but I missed it while emptying a shed to be demolished tomorrow. As I removed a scooter and a Ripstick that he'd outgrown and passed along to his sister, I was thinking about how he has also outgrown much of what he once needed from me: a hand to steady his bike, someone to catch or to pitch, a companion for nature walks. On Friday he and I hiked the Billy Goat trail with a friend. Am I reading too much into the day when I note that for much of the outing he was far ahead and urging us to catch up?

Katherine needs her parents, but not as Alex once did. His night terrors began at two. She's had only one nightmare, more from a sense of obligation (I sometimes think) than because she worries. He had bravura; she possesses quiet confidence. When at dinner I told her of the memory that I am about to write in part III, she asked me to step outside the house with her, hugged me, and surprised me with a nuzzle and a lick. "Always remember that," she laughed. I will.

On Father's Day I inevitably think about an ordinary hour I spent with my father. He asked me to accompany him on some errands -- unusual, because I come from a large family, and errands were his escape from domestic chaos. We went to the hardware store to buy nails. Afterwards he bought me a cupcake at the bakery. We sat in the car together as I ate it. I was seven. I don't remember that he said anything to me (he was a quiet man), but it seemed like the best day of my youth.

I phoned my dad this morning and he spoke of the steak he was going to enjoy and the restful day he will spend. Just before the end of the call he mentioned the special bond we share because I am his oldest son. He has made this statement a few times in the past, and it is touching, but it doesn't seem true. My father has always been inscrutable to me. I have often felt that I inhabit a world unknown. That distance is not bad, even if it has been painful; I would not be myself without that space.

The love I have for my children is vast beyond expression; I have no words for it. But I wonder about what bonds unite, the distance or closeness that is there, the chasms that open so slowly that you don't see them until your child is a teenager a mile ahead of you, the phone call or video call I will have with them in some future year when I will reminisce about the past we shared and they will lie to me and say that yes, we have always been so close.


This old world is a new world said...

Lovely post. Parent-child relations are so elastic, especially in adolescence, as they pull and push, like Alex urging you to catch up, wanting you there, but also wanting you to know how much stronger and faster he was. Pull and push.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

Exactly, Stephanie. Something about his doing it just before departing for camp for two weeks also loaded it with meaning it might not otherwise have. But at 14 he is partly a child, partly a young adult whom I don't completely understand: he is making his own life, in his way, and that is good.

Eileen Joy said...

A lovely post, Jeffrey. I think for many of us [hell, for everyone], relationships with parents are complicated, often frustrating, sometimes very sad [and tragic], and occasionally [for some, maybe often] joyful. As I have written on this blog before, my relationship with my father has often been difficult and downright maddening, but when I reflect on most of my interests and passions in life, I realize they come from him [a love of poetry and literature and antiquity, for starters; an appreciation of the absurd; a love of animals; etc.]. My parents are coming to visit me in Dijon this Wednesday--they are both in their early 80s now--and I honestly have to say I have been both dreading and looking forward to the visit. But today, I woke up feeling very light-hearted about it: I realize my parents won't be around much longer and the thing is: they *are* fun and love to enjoy themselves [traveling, eating out, and generally drinking ME under the table], and their visit will give me a chance to stop obsessing about work all of the time. Perhaps one of the reasons we feel so wary and guarded and sometimes discomfited around our parents is because, in certain small ways, they remind us of ourselves, and not always the flattering bits. Also, we don't want to grow old, or be old, and so much of our identity rests upon the idea that we're somehow unique creations. But we all tread the same paths.

Myra Seaman said...

I appreciate this very much, Jeffrey, as I prepare to send Zoë off to India for three weeks, an experience which feels like emotional practice for her going off to college in 2 years. I'm frightened to see that I seem to be getting mad at her for doing the very thing we've encouraged her to do her entire life: live independently, adventurously, in deep engagement with the world.