Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Amelia Earhart and her Dad

Amelia's father was an alcoholic. And a charming man. "At one time I thought that my father must have read everything and, of course, therefore, knew everything. He could define the hardest words as well as the dictionary and we used to try to trip him and he to bewilder us. I still have a letter he wrote me beginning, 'Dear parallelepipedon,' which sent me scurrying for a dictionary." So writes Amelia. It sent me scurrying too. It's a three dimensional form according to the ever handy though fairly unreliable Wikipedia entry. Her father was a large presence in her life, that is until he began to fail, and then to drink. After that he became a confusing presence/absence. I am preoccupied with Amelia's father today, and with all fathers.

My friend lost her own father yesterday. I went by today as they were sitting shiva. Last night I dreamed of my own dead father and with a writer's true self absorption had him noting that I had rushed the ending of the book he'd just read, even as he was physically failing. In my dream I knew he was dying but he was still ready to critique my work. Ah fathers and daughters, what a tangled web we weave.

It's funny, because I only have sons myself. It's sons and mothers here and sons and fathers. But I think of my other family, the one I had before this, the one that only lasted a mere sixteen years, after that of course we saw each other but never lived together again. I couldn't stand to. I think of Amelia and know that my connection to her extends to this. Her father was someone she loved and felt incredible contempt for. His weakness exposed all of them to poverty. It made her mother miserable, and their marriage ended in divorce. Yet once when she was little, he was a god. How far our parents have to fall and fail to become human. It really is unfair.

So here's the end for Amelia and for many. If we're lucky we do outlive our parents. And we mourn them, even as they become our children. Amelia writes to her mother, "About Dad. The diagnosis was correct. . . he waged a hopeless fight against a thing which took all his nourishment. . . I tried and had always to please him, and he hoped until he could not move his poor hands.. . He was an aristocrat as he went-all the weaknesses gone with a little boy's brown puzzled eyes."

I love that, a little boy's puzzled eyes. To fathers and daughters everywhere . . . love.


  1. Having said earlier that every parent is deficient in his or her own way, I now find myself stumped in finding anything to complain about concerning my own dad. I guess he was a real rarity. Wonder how I got so lucky?
    Concerning Amelia's dad, I'm speculating that whatever his other alcohol-related failings, at least he probably wasn't abusive. Otherwise she wouldn't have been so loyal at the end of his life.

  2. Yes, I agree with you. I think mainly he was a disappointment, at least when you read the letters it seems so. And of course her mother was always so disappointed, it's hard to believe that her unhappiness with him didn't spill over.
    As for your father, that's lovely. Good to know it happens.