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.