I found my father's little tape recorder today.
Dennis Rivers, 1994

    I found my father's little tape recorder today.
    It was in a box that I had been moving around
    and intending to take to the local thrift store.

    Curious, I fiddled with the thing
    and finally got it working.
    Well... Unbeknownst to me
    my dad had taped several of our phone conversations
    from the early Eighties.

    I miss him a lot these days.
    And there was the sound of his voice
    telling me to finish my M.A.!
    (something I still haven't done and itís 1994)

    It seemed strange 
    to hear the sound of his voice again
    because I had just been looking at some pictures
    of my father 
    as a young man in his 20's.

    I am so much older, now,
    than he was, when I was little.
    I look at him in those pictures and think,
    what a young guy!
    struggling to find his way through life.

    My dad had a deep ambivalence
    toward us, his two children,
    which I imagine I may understand now
    as related to his experiences
    as a baby in an orphanage
    the illegitimate child that no one wanted
    rescued by his maternal grandmother
    only to be beaten and humiliated by her
    as the living evidence of her familyís disgrace.
    Out of the sorrows of children, I imagine,
    come the tormented ambivalences of adults.

    He tried to leave my mother (and us two kids) 
    several times when we were young
    but my mother implored him to stay
    and he relented, somewhat,
    only to leave in another way
    withdrawing into his architecture practice.

    There is a part of me that feels sad 
    about that history
    sad that stayed with us another ten years
    only out of duty
    and against his inclination.

    We all so want to be wanted.

    But there is another part of me
    that feels just sorry for him.
    He was overwhelmed by life at age twenty-four
    and wanted to escape.
    So was I and so did I.
    Although I did not have children
    I definitely want to escape from life.

    The ashram was the place where I tried to do that
    at age twenty-four in 1965
    alone in my monastery-like room
    meditating on a transcendent love
    and trying, unsuccessfully, to avoid people
    and the unmanageable feelings they brought into my life.
    Itís easy to be compassionate
    in an empty room!

    And perhaps to avoid facing the Vietnam war
    and certainly to avoid facing myself
    I lost myself in the beautiful drama
    of East Indian mysticism
    with its infinite absolution from living:
    since this is only a dream existence,
    all my problems are only dream problems!
    (Good luck with that one on the bumpy road of life.)
    My father had lost himself in astrology
    and Tibetan Buddhism,
    two peas out of the same pod, he and I.
    As the old hymn says,
    "Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
    Let me hide myself in Thee..."
    and hide from all my sorrows
    it never works for very long.

    Its hard for me to be angry
    with my father's state of being as a young man
    when I myself was so much like him.
    But each turn of the spiral
    seems to have its own truth to tell
    the child who wanted love and company
    the adult who understands more
    about the ambiguities of life
    are both alive inside of me.

    A few months ago
    my mother let slip
    in a rare, unguarded moment 
    that it was she and not my father
    who had wanted a second child
    the second child who became me
    one more piece
    in this pattern of light and dark.

    My dad finally did succeed in leaving us
    left us in several ways, in fact,
    eventually moving far away and staying out of touch
    for years at a time.

    When I heard that he was ill
    and didnít have much time left
    I realized that I myself didn't have much time left, either,
    to mend whatever could be mended between us.

    I took a leave of absence from my job
    and went to live with him for six months
    taking care of him, day and night,
    as his lung illness ran its erratic and fatal course.
    In the middle of all that
    hospitals and oxygen machines and bedpans
    it seemed to me that we had entered
    into a strange time warp
    in which he had become like the little Dennis
    he had tried to leave so long ago
    in need of help and love and hugs
    and I had been transported to his bedside
    by mysterious agencies of grace
    to undo the separation that had grown between us.

    My father probably did not want a second child
    but life can be forgiving as well as unforgiving.
    Things started for the wrong reasons
    sometimes turn out right... sometimes...
    partly because people change along the way
    and partly because life,
    like a great kaleidoscope of souls,
    casts us into new relationships with one another.

    The shock and force of his illness
    and his desperate efforts to breathe
    did that for the two of us,
    cast us into a new relationship with one another,
    freed us both, in those few months,
    from pride, guilt, resentment and consistency.
    It was too late for all that.
    We had entered into the eternity of now
    through the doorway of the Emergency Room
    in the glare and din of which we discovered
    that no matter what painful history
    had brought us to this point
    we loved each other
    and that was all that mattered.


Dennis Rivers
133 E. De la Guerra St. - PMB 420
Santa Barbara, CA 93101