Blog #17: Fathers: Always A Part of Us (Part 4 of 4)

All four of us, too, feel the strain of anticipating Dad’s death. As he did with mom, we want to help him to live as long as possible, we want him as a bulwark against our own demise. We chivvy and badger him to take better care of himself, even as he wonders why he is still alive. For all his sensitivity and perceptiveness, he fails to see how much his company and his example mean to us. I marvel at his indomitable spirit, his vitality, his integrity, his courage, his stoicism, his sense of humour, and the way he still wakes up every morning with a fresh song on his lips.

Like Margaret Atwood, we know that sooner or later “There will be a last time for this also,” sooner or later we too “will have to give everything up,” “even the sorrow,” “even the anger,” and yet we fool ourselves into feeling that we can protect and preserve him against the gradual diminishments of aging and the inevitable abduction of death. If Stevenson’s bottle imp existed, we would gladly pay the price, no matter how little. Common sense is overwhelmed by fairytale feelings, and I fear that as dad moves closer and closer to his inevitable death one or the other of us will do everything they can to deny him a “consummation devoutly” wished. Much as we love him, and much as we usually love each other, we will, as we did with mom, use him and his dying as a theatre for our hopes and fears.

A sorry thought, and yet not a tragic one. Again the anthology and the perspective it provides come to the rescue. To Lessing’s insight about using our parents “for love or for hate” are added Seamus Heaney’s wonderful words about how “today / It is my father who keeps stumbling / Behind me, and will not go away.” As long as we live, our parents will continue to live in us. As we age, we may reinterpret or reinvent them, but as long as our minds continue to function mom and dad will always, irreducibly, be part of us. As the dying father says to the son in Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, “If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.”

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  1. The sense of my father helps me repair malfunctions in my home. It seems he keeps adding to the banged-up, old green tool box he filled when I moved from home.

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