Friday, December 16, 2016

On My Father

This is one of the very few photographs of my father and me. He would have turned 70 last month. The above was taken when he was either a late 34 or an early 35. I turn 36 today.

To him I was a hypothesis. To me he is an unfinished book based on research that I have conducted off-and-on with little discipline for the past 30 years. Some sources are reliable. Some are not. He was an avid camper, runner, cyclist, and hiker, an amateur ornithologist and photographer. He was an engineer for Exxon. He wasn’t much of a novel-reader, but from one of his letters I know he was a fan of Philip Roth. He would have lived long enough to have read Portnoy’s Complaint, My Life as a Man, and The Ghost Writer. If he had lived, I’m sure we would have had an interesting conversation about American Pastoral and would have avoided at all costs any discussion of Sabbath’s Theater. We have hours of amazing footage of various parts of Southeast Asia during the two years my family lived in Malaysia in the 1970s. He loved Joe and Eddie. He liked to do what he liked to do, and he cared not for social capital. Unlike me, he didn’t think all that much about other people’s opinions of him. He was the kind of even-keeled dude who would leave a party when he got bored whether or not it was appropriate. From the picture above, the only thing about my life that wouldn’t have surprised him would have been my attendance at his alma mater, where he played on the fencing team. From what I can guess, he had the same mixed feelings about his classmates who engaged in protest -- I heard he took a lot of photos of the 1968 demonstrations, but I don't think we have them -- as I have of mine. He met my mom, a student at City College, when they were 18 on the green in front of Butler Library. They married two years later. He had a wry sense of humor which most people liked. His funeral was well-attended.

In a piece for The New Yorker a few years back, Robert Angell catalogued the many things his lost loved ones didn’t know. Following Angell’s lead, I can say that my father knows nothing of my world. He does not know that Reagan was re-elected or that the Cold War ended. He doesn’t know about the AIDS epidemic, let alone gay marriage. He doesn’t know that a Baby Boomer was elected about 10 years after his death, or about the oral sex that Baby Boomer received in the Oval Office. He doesn’t know about our idiot president, the black president whose middle name is Hussein, or the tyrant. He doesn’t know about September 11, 2001, the Iraq War or the forever war in Afghanistan. He doesn’t know about E.T. (Steven Spielberg, 1982), Ewoks, Thriller (John Landis, 1983), hip-hop, Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993), G.I. Joe, He-Man, Sierra games, Nintendo, Tetris, Ian McKellen's Gandalf, Pulp Fiction (Quentin Tarantino, 1994), The Simpsons (1989-), and South Park (1997-). He doesn’t know that his two sons are looking forward to an environmental catastrophe of biblical proportions, or that they refer to the Exxon and Shell gas stations a mile away from their childhood home in the Washington-area as the “devil and his brother.” It would have stunned him to know that his younger son has spent a year of his life in Vietnam and that he studies animation -- “Animation, really? Animation,” he says with interest and amusement – in the former Yugoslavia. He doesn’t know about the birth of his brother’s two daughters.  

His favorite movie was The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner (Tony Richardson, 1962). But it’s my birthday, not his, so I get to pick what we watch. Hey, dad, I get the sense that you didn't take full advantage of the '60s. Let's make up for it.

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