Friday, December 4, 2009

fathers and daughters

Last night I dreamed I was in the small cottage in Westport where I spent the happiest days of my childhood. This is the house I was married in, the house I consider my true home. I was there surrounded by my family, and by cousins. One cousin showed me a tattoo she'd had done, a remarkable piece of work as much video as two dimensional art. I'm pretty sure this is because my son is getting his first tattoo next week as a birthday present. And because tattoos have come to represent something else, but once they were the province of sailors, true adventurers. My cousin is from the former Soviet Union. She's traveled the world over.

In the dream, my mother was around but I didn't see her, and my father was clearly gone. It will be six years since his death, six long brutal years of mourning. I never knew it would take me this long to accept losing him. Or that it would hurt this much. So this is for you dad.

Amelia's father was clearly a vivid presence in her childhood. She writes about the letters he sent her, his love of language, the stories he invented that became dramatic plays. Every child in the neighborhood was an active part, chasing down the bad guy, (Mr. Earhart) and surrounding him. He'd turn, fake six guns blazing, giving them a thrill as he died a thousand brilliant deaths. Both Muriel and Amelia make it clear that when they were children, he was a vivid presence, but then he began to drink. He ended up changing their lives, ruining his marriage, and offering his daughters the freedom to pursue a different course. His failures predicated their successes.

By the time he discovered religion and sobered up, his marriage was over. He'd made a new life in Los Angeles, had a new wife as well. When Amelia made her fortune, she bought him a house, and when he died, his new wife lived there, but the deed was in Muriel's name. Perhaps we all have to learn that our fathers aren't superhuman. We all do have to grow up. At least some of us do, because in my own family, my siblings still imagine our father was perfect. I saw him differently. He was a mix of many things, stringent, and demanding, loving and seductive. He was my father, I loved him dearly and I wish I'd had an opportunity to carve out a place that was mine in his heart.

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