Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day...

... yesterday. I'm not much of a one for these "days" that have been promoted over the years by commercial interests until they have become matters of obligation and guilt. Still, it was a joy to hear from each of my three grown-up children in their variously different places--Matthew in Harpenden, just north of London; Jason in Coralville, near Iowa City, Iowa; and Sarah in Glassell Park, just across the 5 freeway from where we have lived in the Los Feliz/Silver Lake area of Los Angeles these past forty years. (It strikes me, by the way, as odd that we have no useful word for the oxymoronic "grown up children." "Offspring" is too clinical, and I never liked the word anyway. Should we not have a word for people who are certainly no longer children but to whom we are equally certainly still parents? I wonder if such words exist in other languages?

I spent a part of the day working on an essay in preparation for my trip, this coming week, to the Dallas-Fort Worth area, where I'm booked to give a lecture at Texas Christian University and a book-signing event of some kind at an artists' organization known as "The MAC." The essay is called "Nurturing the Artist Within"--the title of the lecture at TCU. I was using the occasion to explore the idea of "nurturing," and using the analogy of child-rearing to think a bit about how best to treat that "artist within" who so often gets abandoned or neglected by creative people of all kinds in the contingencies of life--a common phenomenon which leads to a great deal of unhappiness and frustration.

More of this later. In the meantime I have been noting with some bemusement to what extent I am becoming my own father. Every time I stand in front of an audience, I think of my father in his pulpit, or sanding at his lectern to read from the Bible. As I think I have said before in these pages, he was essentially a performer. He had wanted to be an actor before going into the church, and his acting instincts remained strong--in both his personal and professional life. Even as a child, there was a part of me that saw through his act: beneath the belief he needed to project in the work of his ministry, there was a deeply doubting man. And, in a curious but profoundly human contradiction, beneath the familiar act of Harry, the "humble parish priest" there was a man of a certain vanity--the one I recall as the "show-off."

Like most of us, I guess, at the earlier moments in our lives, I would never have believed that I could be anything like my father. Now, though, I find the preacher in myself as I go out to share my "wisdom" with various groups of people; and, as I have noted before, I have begun to discover the pleasures of the "show-off," too. I wonder. Here's a poem I wrote about this several years ago. It's called...


Sometimes I hear his voice
in mine: my father's turn
of phrase, a sudden, plaintive
note, a particular tonality,
a hint of affected modesty.
I hear it when I read a line
aloud, or start to preach
my version of the gospel.

Sometimes, more startling,
I hear my own voice in my son's:
a raising of the timbre to sound
a note of protest, indignation,
the anger carefully concealed
behind a conventional politeness
or a charming smile, the quick,
ingratiating deference of tone.

And thinking this, I wish now
I had heard my grandfather,
who died before I could recall
his voice. From his stern picture
I imagine it firm, but gentle,
the master copy of the voice
from which my father's
was imprinted, and my own.

And I hope now, too, to live
for long enough to hear in Joe,
my grandson's voice that echo
of the generations, father down
to son; and perhaps not least
for him to recognize in his,
when he is grown to manhood,
some echo of the sound of mine.

1 comment:

mandt said...

"Sometimes I hear his voice
in mine" Isn't that a wonderful gift? It often happens to me and I feel my Dad's presence and my loss less. A handsome, strong, poem! More...more... :)