My father was a good man, as the world of his day would see him. He wasn’t an abuser. He learned to let me go my own way, and when he couldn’t be supportive, like when I was a draft refuser (he was Navy, WWII), he kept his silence. I think he was proud of me when became active in the civil rights struggle–but we never spoke of it. Silence–was his means for communicating both approval and anger. Which made him terrifying when I was a child.
I think, from the time I was 4 years old, I was resolved that whatever I would do or be in my life, I did not want to be like my father.
In his last years–with a failing heart and facing the approaching death of my mother–who had been for him the emotional outlet he couldn’t permit himself–I no longer feared him… but neither did I have any way to comfort him, to let him know that I saw and felt what he was going through.
He died alone, a year and a day after the burial of my mother. This photo is from a few years before her death, visiting my sister in Oregon.
I remember him with neither love nor anger… but with an infinite sadness. As though the one most lasting part of himself he gave to me… was whatever it was that was missing.
A hole at the center that can never be filled. I think he doubted if anyone in the world really loved him, but my mother–and he was never quite sure he deserved that.
When I think about my father, I’m never sure that I’m talking about him… or myself.