Thursday, March 18, 2010

Freudian Slip

I woke thinking about my father again today. I suspect he spent much of his early life in an inner conflict with his ego--between a part of him that wanted to "show off" and another part that wanted to hide. I mentioned yesterday that before he went into the Anglican priesthood, he wanted to be an actor. I forgot to mention the in-between part, where he wanted to be a monk. I believe I remember right, that he had already signed on as a novice when he met my mother. As he told it, it was meeting her that deterred him from the monastic life.

Here's the story I found myself remembering this morning: it dates from the time, again, like yesterday's story, when I used to serve him as an altar boy. After the communion service we would recess solemnly to the vestry, where my father would remove the ceremonial robes that covered his cassock and re-hang them reverently in the closet; and then would sit at the table to fill in the registry, first with the date and time, then with the type of service just conducted, and finish with his signature, Harry L. Clothier. (The "L" was for Legg, a matter of some slightly embarrassed amusement for me as a child.) Well, there was this one occasion when he sat down to perform this ritual, wrote in the name of the service, Holy Communion, then thoughtlessly signed his name with a flourish, "Holy Clothier."

Talk about Freudian slip! We had a good laugh about that--he was not without the healthy ability to have a good laugh at his own expense. But it did say something about the man, and about the self-consciousness with which he played his role.

I suspect, too, that he had a healthy id--and that he judged it unhealthy. Or at least felt very uncomfortable about it. I judge, in retrospect, that he had a real battle with his sexuality. (I remember once when he told me, out of the blue, somewhat later in his life, that he had never been much interested in masturbation!) I believe that, like Jimmy Carter, he "lusted in his heart" after the several young women who were assigned by the War Department to live with us in the Rectory with us during the war (WWII, that is!) They were working, we discovered much later, on the Enigma machine at nearby Bletchley Park, de-coding Hitler's messages to his armed forces.

All these thoughts and memories were sparked, remember, by that observation of myself as "showing off" in my speaking gigs. The ambivalence I feel may be something inherited from my father, either by having watched--and perhaps emulated--his behavior, or simply in the genes. And I suspect more and more, as I grow older, that we tend to find more of our parents in ourselves, sometimes even to our own dismay. I am certainly--and unexpectedly--finding something of the preacher in myself; and I find co-existing in him, the preacher, both the show-off and the genuine investigator of the human soul.


michael w said...

Hi Peter, One night last week I was thinking of your father and dear mother. I recalled their features and way of speaking to the minutest detail. Some of my happiest childhood memories are thanks to them both, and yes of course yourself and Flora.
God bless----yes the first time I met your father was as 4 year old, refugee recently arrived from Spain at Aspley Guise, at the Vicarage Sunday Scchool, and in walked... who else.. but signing Holy Clothier was perhaps not so odd!! Happy memories!
michael ps enjoyed the monk paintings..will send you photos I took in Tibet 2008

PeterAtLarge said...

Michael, good to hear from you, and thanks for the lovely--loving--memories...