Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Father's Day

Father's Day

So, Father's Day is coming up. I had this weird mental lapse about it, and it seems to have dislodged some stuff as a result. Basically, I went and made travel plans the weekend of Father's Day. After years away, I am finally heading to New York City again. I haven't been there since a few months before 9/11, and I've missed it something awful.

I'll be traveling alone – Christine, Miranda, and Trevor just got back from a NYC trip to visit her ailing, evil grandmother and I decided to pass, since, well, she's evil, and I'd have wound up having to sleep on the floor or something.

But here's the fucked up part – I went and made travel plans, without my family, on the one weekend that features the one day of the year that theoretically is All About Daddy. It was completely unintentional – didn't even realize that was Father's Day weekend until weeks after the reservations were made. But the not-so-simple fact is that Father's Day has never played a big role in my life before, so I'm just not particularly aware of it yet. I assume as years pass and my kids get more into it then I'll be more aware of it, but as of now not so much.

My father died when I was very young – about 6. He had gone to a local bowling alley to set up a car pool with some friends, and on his way home something went wrong with the car. Ironically, though my dad was quite the drinker, alcohol played little to no part in the accident -- that night he had had only a beer or two (according to the bartender at the bowling alley bar, who was a family friend). According to the woman in the car behind his (the very odd mother of a very odd friend I had throughout my school years), his car rounded a curve, swerved once, jerked back into the lane, swerved again, and then shot directly off the road. The car hit a tree, my father was thrown through the windshield, head first, into a small brick wall. He died of massive head trauma shortly after my mother arrived at the hospital several hours later.

Those are the clinical details. However, the way I perceived it for years afterward was altogether different.

There was this new science and nature magazine that had recently launched. Can't remember what it was called, but the concept was that each issue was a portion of a larger volume, like a science encyclopedia. You'd buy them all, save them, put them in some special binder, and eventually, voila! It's The Great Big Book of Everything, seventies style.

Anyway, the night he went out, my brother and I were hounding him to pick up the first issue. So, in my mind, he only went out that night because I had asked for the magazine. It was all my fault, you see. I wanted the magazine, and my father died trying to get it for me. I was certain of this, and was terrified that the other people in my family might somehow discover my part in his death.

Twenty-some-odd years later, during a late night of drinking beer with my brother, we got to talking about our long deceased father. Turned out that he had exactly the same experience, blamed himself in exactly the same way. He, all of 8 at the time, spent years convinced that he was the reason our father had died, and it was all because of a magazine he wanted. And he never told any of us, and I never told any of them, until that day.

For years after my father's death, I remember having dreams of a car, broken glass, darkness and smoke and silence, with a torn science magazine lying on the floor. I can't see my father in these dreams, but I can see the fucking magazine just as plain as can be.

Now, "remember" in this case may not be exactly accurate – what passes for my childhood memory is a bit of a slippery fish. It should come as no surprise that losing a parent at the age of 5 or 6 will have profound effects on a kid's development. For me, it resulted in this sort of dense fog, draped over everything that would typically be considered memory, for several years after my father's death.

I remember with stark clarity the morning I found out my father was dead. The cold gray February light in our living room, the position of the furniture, the sloppily-knitted reds and greens and yellows and browns of the afghan hanging over the back of our recliner, the confusing detail that one of the two people in the room looked a lot like my father, the revelation of the dark events of the night before, my brother running from the room as his slightly more sophisticated 8-year-old mind quickly grasped the reality of the situation, my own declaration that no, the man sitting on the couch was my father, my childish joking that the 13-year old boy who babysat for us (Gregory, who is to this day one of my dearest friends) and who somehow got saddled with this horrifying task was in fact my mother, my halting attempts to figure out "the joke" by returning to bed, the sudden rip in the world as I began to understand that Daddy wasn't coming home.

But after that, things get hazy, disconnected. I remember events, but they lack context and are not really fixed in time, in any sort of sequence, the way we think of memory. And what memories I do have tend to either become more cinematic as time goes by – some sort of attempt, I'd say, by my creative side to fill in the gaps – or to become obscured. And then, around the age of 10, things come back into focus, more or less.

So whether the dream is real or not, I can't say. It may be something that my subconscious has sort of pasted together to fill a hole. But it feels real, and unfortunately that's about all I've got, there. And as for whether this fogginess ended with my tenth birthday, well, I should be so lucky. Things certainly got clearer, but to this day when particularly painful events occur in my life I tend to slowly lose the details over time until finally the memory of the whole event is just, well, gone. It's not like I forget it ever happened, I just forget experiencing it.

Example: My grandfather died about 15 years ago, and last year, while at a film with my mother, I realized that I can't recall the day of his funeral. Not a thing. What he looked like as he was laid to rest, the church, the funeral home, who was there, whether I cried, anything. It's a blank. The things I can remember (his brown suit, for example) resemble photographs, and I suspect they are images I've filled in based on other's recollections.

And aside from snapshots, I can't recall my father at all. I've now outlived him by several years, and I've got kids that are rapidly approaching the age at which my brother and I lost our dad. In time I suppose I'll begin to think of Father's Day as a day filled with memories and meaning, of moments with my children fixed in time. But for now it's ... indistinct.

So, yeah. Father's Day.

Mood: Darkly Reflective
Now Playing: Faith No More, "This Is It: The Best of Faith No More"

No comments: