Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father Ahead

Hey, old man!
That's what I'd say if I were calling Daddy at his home today. "Hey, old man!" is something he might say, himself. If he was really deep into relaxing in front of a Braves game, maybe "hey!" would do the job. I really don't see any reason I shouldn't say Hey to him today, like I would any Father's Day. We're still putting the pieces together, because it's a different picture without you living and breathing...but let me sketch it out for you! (And oh how I HATE you, Blogger, for changing the post format to where the spaces between paragraphs are no longer preserved...rendering my writing one monolithic column, no matter how many times I hit "enter" between them.) I liked telling people I could sense you with me while I'd draw, in particular. Next thing I have in mind to draw is a brief comic inspired by my talks with Mama, now that she's trying to find a way to open her life to someone who can be for her, maybe, in a way like you were. I didn't get to it immediately when my friend Cooper gave me the inspiration---he brought up a famous autobiographical cartoonist named Harvey Pekar and suddenly, bells went off---so maybe what I write now can become the basis for it...and for sure, when I draw it, it will be for you. "It's got to be about innocence and love and wooing on the Internet," I thought, when I decided to draw it, instead of forgetting the conversation (which has stretched on quite a while, especially recently). "She's innocent, isn't she?" said Tracy, who I met Friday at the Yard. "Your mom and I need to TALK!" Innocent. That's the word, all right. But maybe it can be a little broader, and take some inspiration from this time on Father's Day. Maybe one Father's Day I'll be a father, too---looking at pictures of you Debra posted, you with us, you busy around the home helped build with your own hands, I've got to say it looks comforting, and not just challenging. Judging from your smile, I'd say it looks great! But yeah, what I've been meaning to draw is a little story ---and I hope it will kick off the other stuff I've desired to draw, as I've been so laser-focused on making music of late---about Mom, your best friend, and where she is along the path of life without you. If---and when---she finds someone to love again, sure, he can never be you, but I know, five years on, now, you would not want her to be alone. That must have been one of the hardest parts of knowing your time was coming: what would Mama do? She is well-cared for: you left her the best set-up possible. But sometimes you just need someone to talk to, to hold, to kiss, to feel around you. She really enjoyed listening to you. No, there's no replacing you, and who you've been, that's for sure. I listen to her, watch over her in a way, try to advise her thoughtfully. I remind her that she did, truly, fall in love once. I remind her, with these men and the kind of pretty words they send to her, the kind of thing I know you didn't really do, there's no sacrifice (besides their time, if they are not cutting-and-pasting like skunks). I reminded her the other day it was not always easy, but that you two learned to grow together. I remind her she didn't know You loved us SO much, and did all you could without, maybe, as thoughtful a role model for fatherhood as you might've liked. But you did your best to become what you thought a father should be, to do what you thought was right for a man with a family to do. You even had your own dreams, your own tasks you loved for their own sakes', the kind of things you hoped you would do again, especially opening a restaurant, talking to people, serving people...just taking care of your own kitchen, like you did at Brenda's Place. So much of the stuff you wouldn't necessary want me to be proud of? I thought was very, very cool. I did. Sorry, but when you were a bad boy, you were also my idol. Maybe in the intervening years I could not see you so well for all the every day things I found so boring in my restless days. I am glad you knew, know, always, know, how I love you, and appreciate you more all the time. I would sure miss you today, but I felt, in the days after you died, you became like part of my very nervous system. I feel that way right now, like I'm enjoying your company again in a dream, as I often do. You were already my Dad in this dream called life, and we actually spent a lot of time together, and spent it pretty constructively, and it was always kind of fun, doing guy things with you. I'm glad that, as soon as I began to appreciate what it was like to earn my own living and keep up my own life, I told you how I appreciated your sacrifices and gifts. I'm glad I made you proud. I have only begun to spread your name and mine, and I believe in that whole-heartedly. My wife, who I know you loved very much, like a daughter, just told me how she likes hearing me over here clacking away, how she loves it when I write, and asked what I'm writing about. "My father," I told her, and she came over and gave me her ginormous sunny smile and a hug and two kisses for that: "Happy Father's Day, for your dad, too." She's been such a perfect fit for making my dreams come true; her dreams, too, enrapture me, and I feel they mesh together in the strongest way possible. She doesn't worry about a thing that she doesn't have, which is really humbling and is the root of her continuous, reliable goodness, the mild sun like San Diego itself---even when there's a haze, it's never really cruel. We live in a place that is like her: beautiful, appealing, tempting you to live, making you laugh. What I really want to do is share with people that you cared deeply about spiritual matters and I think you were always curious about knowing the experience more deeply. I love the scholarship you began to invest again in your faith as you knew the end was coming; a remarkable soul like that one, like yours, deserves security in the knowledge of all that exists beyond this world. I would SO love to tell story after story about you now. So many of them are very funny to me, and I will probably do that as they come to me, because this isn't a downer thing for me, to memorialize your life. I could care less if they bore other people, even if the stories are, in character, much like the kind we all have. But you know I would tell it in the most unforgettable manner, with all the magic I can pray for, and it would keep passing you along, and so you would not be over, as every work of art must be. Well, Mom's on the phone. I didn't want to shut her out if she needs me. It's already amazing enough to be so far away and for us to be close, even though my dreams took me all the way to California, where your own whims took you and your rowdy buddies before you ever met Mom. Anyway, she called and we're still on the phone. She told me her vacation bible school had 171 students this week, even though her dog-sitting kept her home some nights. She keeps dogs usually four days a week now. No wonder there was dog hair on the shirts our dear Sabrina washed for us (and then put on sale with her own things: I have friends like that, and we're trying to live a dream like yours, our own businesses). She has a surprise for me! She's going to finally meet someone, instead of this Internet stuff. I mean, how are you going to take your personal computer fishing with you? (Okay, these days, you CAN, but that's not what I mean.) I've told her before you would be proud of the life she has made for herself, how well she keeps up her responsibilities, and how full of life she is, how lively and eager to share with people, even after you had to go. She's so happy with the memory of your surprise birthday party! You didn't know, so you suggested Mom go with Debra on her doctor's appointment. Suddenly, Aunt Linda showed up while you were cutting the grass; she was a life saver, because Mom didn't want you to know anything was up! She threw all these clothes that were lying around the living room into a closet! People started arriving, your old friends like the Tilleys and Brother Billy. "What are Y'all doing here?" you asked them. "Happy Birthday, Cecil!" they told you. It's the one time Mom was able to surprise you like that, but she had lots of surprises for you, didn't she? She's telling about the window she shot out on y'all's Ford Pinto with the b.b. gun while you were chasing off a dog, and the priceless look on your face when she told you what she did with her wonderful aim. You'd be glad to know, she's still laughing about the time you tried to wash the box fan on the porch with a garden hose...while it was plugged in. She wishes she could've seen your face. I'm glad you didn't electrocuted, too. I'm thinking about Briggs, the dog that lived at the service station y'all bought. She's telling about the old faithful lawn mover, the Murray we had out in Shannon. Thirty years later, it's still cutting grass! "I don't know how much longer it'll KEEP trucking," Mom says, " but it's trucking now!" She cut the grass herself; she is proud that it's a as good as any man could do, "maybe even better!" She trimmed the hedges, and she has a guy coming over to re-appraise the house this week, so she can pay another bill off and bringing it down from 30 years to 17 more years to pay it off. And hey, two things...the guy I told her was no good---the one who claimed he had been flown by a private Italian airline to do a construction job in Ghana and said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her?---she's over him. It was hard for a minute there---such lovely things, and he claimed to be a Christian---and I always encourage her to keep her eyes on the future, and keep her heart buoyant. But when he asked her for money for a phone and a laptop for his work in Ghana? Hoo boy. I know she says she doesn't judge people, but discernment is another matter!! "You don't see me crying about it, do you?" she says. He ended up asking her for a $28,000 loan, a peculiar thing for a man with such a job and supposedly such cars and a home (anyone can take a picture of a thing they're not in)! Now she's telling a story about the fire department rescuing your old friend Billy's son from a hot popping grease accident that wiped out the stove and microwave. He apparently ran through the house with the pan on fire. There's a lesson in here about keeping your head. But before I forget? While she's offering me "silly Bella," her adopted dog that's laying in the bed with her right now? "If I didn't love you," she told Bella, "you sure wouldn't be sitting up here with ME!" The thunderstorm drove her pet guests all running for her protection Thursday. It's really hard writing this while we're on the phone. :-D She's telling me she would've liked to keep the '95 Chevy, but Deb's got it. I can't remember why she was talking about tires. She's trying to get her friend Janice to stop sitting around the house in a housecoat so she doesn't miss out on things like the car show her husband and son and daughter-in-law went to...she doesn't want to see her best friends invalid, practically. "You've gotta get up and keep going," she says, "like the bunny in the battery commercial. Or a Timex: take a licking and keep on ticking! Takes a lot to stop me," she says proudly. She tells me about the accident she had last year tripping on a baby's gate, which she thinks fractured her left collar "cause it sticks up now like the right one! But I'm a tough old bird," she says, laughing. Now she's telling me about your Dad's Army papers, and her Dad's...and what happened when you lied to join the Army. She wishes she had a flagpole for the one they gave her Dad. She's sorry someone cut up the flag she left out all night one time. I got so involved in telling you what she's saying...she's going to meet a guy by the name of Jim Pope, who ran for state congress some time ago. He wants to meet her on Wednesday. And it sounds like a date. For some reason, I remember how hard I was on you guys and myself years ago, when I couldn't see anything special in Mom's talents. You told me she likes to put together jigsaw puzzles. You were so mad at me that I denied that this was anything special. It was special to you. Who was I to say the woman you loved---much less my own mother---has no special ability? Over time, I've come to appreciate her a lot more, as I have stopped needing to insecurely think of my own self as special for what I am able to do. She's putting the pieces together, Dad, even though she can only feel what maybe it would look like, complete. She's like me: working with full fervent hope and optimism to put together a picture of what will be by feel, knowing what fits and what doesn't, even if it's no more possible to see just what it should look like in the end than it is to remember everything from a dream...especially one you haven't written down. But write something, and you then at least have the choice of keeping it, however busy you'll be later selecting the memories you want the most. I've been telling her, she needs to concentrate on having friends...have a friend. You never know where that may lead you. "I wasn't looking for a mate when I found Angela," I told her. "She was just someone who came in with my sister...someone I met face-to-face for the first time with her fiance, my friend." There's no replacement for that rump-slapping, playful man you were, I think, but there just may be a slap left in that old fanny after all, and from her love of laughter, I have to say she's a long ways from done with having a real friend. "We'll wait and see what happens. All the worry in the world wouldn't change'd just make you feel what it'd do." She's two in the morning there, after all. "Y'all give each other a big hug for me," she says. "We'll even come up with a kiss," I reply, "that's not too gross." She likes telling me "give each other a big hug and kiss for me," after all. I think it's lovely. The only thing that's a little tiny bit sorrowful---and it could be an emotional pit, without the grace to fly above it---is that, if I tell her to do that with the dogs, it just isn't quite the same. Maybe if I would be a funnier guy, like I used to not stop doing hardly EVER, I'd tell her to do that, anyway. It's just a warm thing to say when it's time to finally say goodbye.

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