Friday, September 02, 2005

My one poetic act

How do we forgive our fathers?[1]

“That there is the south west corner post to the lot. The line then runs across that ridge and then down on the other side of that brown hill. Do you see it?

“I think so; it’s kind of by that dead pine?”

“Which one? No, not that one; it’s the one on the other hill.”

“Oh, I see it now.”

Every year we make a pilgrimage to my dad’s cabin; every year my dad takes me and the kids for a jeep ride; every year he points out the stakes that mark both of his 40 acre lots. It’s a passing-on ritual, father to oldest son, the son who will remember our land, who will keep it from marauders and bandits.

My father and I have little in common: he’s an electrician, I’m a professor; he can build or fix just about anything, I hire out. I like people; I work with people; I like to talk. My dad is silent; he seems embarrassed and awkward at every social exigency. I’ve feared and even hated him, but I’ve never craved someone’s attention more. Even at 22, a few months after my return from an LDS mission to Spain, I still so wanted to please him.

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Last count, I add up exactly one poetic act in my life, one perfect moment where the gods favored me, where my actions were crisp, efficient, symbolic, necessary and unambiguous. On a knoll above our cabin I watched each ravine on both sides as my dad and his friend brushed for me on the last day, in the last few twilight minutes of the last hunt I would ever partake in. Just about when it looked like they were reaching the bottom of the ravines, a four-point buck walked up on the hill about 100 yards away. I raised my 270 rifle, the first and the last time, took aim and squeezed off a shot. All the years of brushing, hiking, and almost-shots paid off. The deer dropped: one shot, one bullet, one four-point. I could see pride in my dad’s eyes as I cut up the belly of the deer from anus to chest and then reached in a yanked out the esophagus.

A Saturday morning, years ago, in our basement--me reclined, my dad coming in for a drink:

“What are you still doing in here?”

“I’m reading, Dad; it’s a really good book.”

“Some of us don’t have time to waste all day on reading; somebody has to work around here.”

How do we construct the past? Can we rely on our memories? I’m confident my dad hated my reading; I’m certain he was impatient when he tried to teach me how to build things or take things apart. Clearly I’m not like him. I like ideas; I talk; I interact with people; I’m uncomfortable with silence, with unsaid things: I’m confessional; I read to my kids, go to their soccer games, talk to them, pray with them.

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speakingor never being silent?

My father has gotten quite obsessive about his cabin in his “retirement.” He doesn’t quite feel like he’s accomplishing anything unless he’s improving the cabin. It’s a fortress with four sources of energy: solar panels, mega-sized industrial batteries, a huge gas generator stored in a horse trailer a half block away, a small generator in the garage; running water from a tank dug in up the hill; cleared and groomed land all around. He just can’t get to my mom’s muddy backyard where she’d like to put pavers, nor does he have time to accompany my mother to watch me complete a biathlon in Wellsville—there’s holes to be dug and walls to build at the cabin.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

Motivation, obsession, and meaning. In last 10 years, I’ve obsessed about running the Wasatch 100 mile footrace. I toiled away 13 hours on one trail run. I left our house at ungodly hours of the day; I’ve thrown up for days after a race but I just can’t quite get to the outlet my wife would like in the bathroom. How can this be? Son of a bitch: son of my dad.

Do we forgive our fathers in our age--or in theirs?
Or in their death?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

[1] “How do we forgive our fathers?” by Dick Lourie; read in the last scene of Smoke Signals by Chris Eyre.


Dr. Write said...

Wow. Impressive. I don't buy that hunting was your one poetic act. Face it, you're a poet!

Lisa B. said...

Yeah, me too. "Son of a bitch: son of my dad." Wow is right.

Clint Gardner said...

I was developing a pretty strained relationship with my dad when he died. For me it is not so much forgiving him but forgiving myself, if that makes any sense at all.

Counterintuitive said...

I wonder if there isn't always an element of forgiving ourselves when we are trying to forgive others--they seem so intertwined.