Two thoughts really quick before I talk about my dad: listening to Kendrick Lamar‘s new album, good kid, m.A.A.d. city, and it’s spellbinding. It’s the best hip-hop album I’ve listened to since Fishscale. Here’s a great review of it – read that first if you haven’t heard the album. Or, if you have heard the album, read that review. It’s great. It’s good to get album reviews from AMG too. They’re really great.
Also: what if, at this very moment – we were contacted by aliens, or aliens landed on Earth. Whatever you’re doing at this very moment: doing dishes, folding clothes, watching TV; at this moment aliens landed. How terrified would you be? Also, would it be the most important thing that has happened to mankind since the Agricultural Revolution? That’s something I can waste my time thinking about later.
Yesterday I was in the kitchen with my dad. He was sitting at the table, looking through mail and cursing at bills. I was making the chicken soup he usually makes whenever someone at our house is sick. I’m the only one who isn’t sick, so I told him I would do it as long as he told me how. He was more animated than he had been the past week – this virus he had was making everyone in my immediate family absolutely miserable, and it was no different for him. I’ve taken stitches out of his head; I’ve seen him have trouble breathing every morning from arthritis and age when I used to wake up mornings for work; when he went to the hospital and had to stay overnight to be monitored for “heart problems,” we went to pick him up the next day and we found him waiting at the top of the parking garage next to the hospital. When I say he is tough, I hope you understand. Never have I seen or heard him complain about pain or sickness – this virus kept him bedridden for virtually a week.
It was nice to hear him sound more alive. The soup ended up being better than I expected (read: palatable), and I was satisfied. He went up to the soup and reached for seconds. I said to him, “Hey, your birthday’s in two days. Excited right” heavy with sarcasm. Ever since I remember he hasn’t had a party for his birthday. We usually order a pizza, some root beer, and watch TV. Maybe we get him a card. But at least in his mood I thought he would be sarcastic in response, and we would continue to be happy.
He said, in as quietly a tone as I have ever heard him take, “Yeah,” and the conversation ended there.
There have been difficult times in the past 17 years, ever since my mom passed away and he moved back in with us at our current home to take care of us. As far as I can remember though, I remember a man who always tried to do the best thing possible for the people he loved the most. There have been times when he has failed at that, as we all do. But there were many other times when he has succeeded, far more than any other person I remember in my life.
He divorced my mom when I was very young – five years old. For five years he was not a part of the home that my sister and I lived in, the home we live in now. When my mom passed away, he came to take care of us: not to save the home, but to make sure we didn’t have to leave where we had – mostly – grown up. My mom and dad divorced before we moved to that home; it was never his.
I’m not writing this for sympathy, nor am I writing it to gain sympathy for my dad. I’m writing this to illustrate how much different life was before he came back to this house. Now, after 17 years, he is this house. He is its center: there is no family here, no “home” to come back to without him in it. When I was about 19 or 20, I struggled with identities in every aspect of my life, as we all do. It was very Garden State I suppose (though I have never seen it). What is “home,” and what is “family?” For me, as I write this, I understand only that this place, this place I live now, is home only if he is here. He is the emotional, physical center of our family. We (my sister, my stepmother and I) all love him, we feed off his warm sense of humor, and if he were not here, at this home, we wouldn’t be either.
He also still pays for the home, and I’m broke. Which is also why I’m still here.
I feel guilty every day knowing I should be better than what I am. I know I cannot complain, I know I cannot be lazy, and I know I can never settle for less because of what my dad has taught me.
Long ago, when he was in high school, he was a great artist; sculpter, carver. I believe he even won an award for one of his carvings while in high school. He always had a great talent for drawing, for sculpting, but never did anything with it. He made a stand out of a wooden log that I remember, carved deep in its entire side an old man with a thick, diving mustache and a horned nose. I can still remember his face, though I have not seen that stand in at least 15 years because he gave it to our cousin, who loved it so much and still has it. He kept a large log outside the house, years ago, for over a year, saying he was going to “do something with it.” I still wonder how amazing that log could have been, if he did “something” with it.
When I came back home from Michigan in August, and even before that, my dad and I had talks. Talks about life, talks about what I would do. He believed (and still believes) I am “gifted” enough to do whatever it is I truly want to do with my life. He sat me down, very seriously when I came back home at the same table he curses at bills, and asked me what I want to do with my life. What do I really want to do? I was embarrassed to say what I really wanted to do. I want to try to play music, with my band if possible, and be a writer. Dreams that, I know, are far-fetched, if fetched at all.
He didn’t laugh; he didn’t scoff. He didn’t get upset. He took me seriously. His next question was how – how would I get there? He told me that this – this right now was my time, my chance to make this happen. I’m home, he promised to keep a roof over my head, he promised me the time I needed. It was my job to find the proper way to make this dream of mine happen, because he didn’t want me to live my life “with any regrets.”
I imagine he didn’t have a conversation like this with his dad. I remember my grandfather; he was not the most kindhearted man. He hated my mom. By the time my dad was my age, he was already an ironworker. That, or he was working in a grocery store, living above a bar. The only conversation he told me about him and his father having was the time when his father found a stash of his – dramatic pause – marijuana! My grandfather said, “You know what happens to people when they smoke this?? I had a friend who tried this stuff and he went insane!”
My dad, very tactful in his repsonse: “That must’ve been some good shit.”
My uncles had to hold my grandfather back.
I don’t know what regrets my dad was talking about when we talked, but I can imagine a few possibilities. Lost loves most likely. It is sad to think there were things he wanted to do, but was never able to find the time to do.
He is turning 59 though, and with great hope he will have at least 30 more healthy years to find some peace – something he wanted the most, but could never find.