Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Questions My Father Left Me

It’s said that children are great observers of life but lousy interpreters of information. The memories of my father are primarily negative. I knew him as a quiet, non-communicative man. So much so that his tombstone reads (in part), “A quiet but funny man.” In the framework of my father I’d wondered why he had gone away so long when I was young. Why he’d not written or called. Then last night, in a box of my moms’ stuff, I came across these letters. Many long letters where he chronicles his days, his struggles, his loneliness.

When parents die they leave behind cartons of memorabilia; boxes of questions we didn’t know we had. Going through mom’s stuff I came across a pile of letters dad had sent her. It was 1967 and apparently there was no local work in L.A. for a plumber so dad took a job in Rochester, NJ.

“ They knocked off the night shift. Come anyway and we will have a good time.” “You should get a check for $300.00 Live it up or pay off some bills. Buy a small bikini, or a girdle, or a dress.” “I have been staying at a motel but it is 5 dollars a day so it gets expensive.” “I move to the new apartment tomorrow.”

Then this: “It seems I will also have to send you some stationary. It has been two weeks since I received a letter. I think you can find a little time to write…..The apartment is big enough for the kids also. Explain again to me why they can’t come for the whole summer? See you in 14 days. Love, Len.”

The letters, only read now four decades later, and the man that lived in my house make me wonder what happened. My dad could be exceeding gentle and extremely violent. Yet I have no memory of his being communicative. There is this box of letters that shouts otherwise. How did he go from reaching out to shutting down?

There is no way for me to know the answer. Character flukes are evident in the letters; evidences of strengths and tenderness as well. The crisis my father faced began a life of shutting up and shutting down. May I respond to crisis with the heart of my father; being open, transparent and available.