I mix mud with straw, invent a life of woven twigs, plaster it all together with fragments of memory; their edges sharp, the colors vivid.
This night, I assembled him from fractured recollections of years spent in the company of a brotherhood; this ritual that represented so much of what he used to be.
The white apron bordered in blue and the hollow sound of a gavel calling me to my feet, the mere mention of his name in this room bringing surprised tears to my eyes; the imagined pride in his sons on this special night as biting as the dawn on the November day that he died five years ago.
Sometimes I conjure him from thin air and a whiff of cigarette smoke, summon his memory from the sound of hard-soled footsteps on a wooden floor, see him in the glance of other men looking long over their noses and eyeglasses.
This is the gift in his death.
I have to try hard to remember him as he was in those last couple months before he died. Grown old and frail and vulnerable, he weighed nothing, asked for nothing, his face like an owl relief carved in worn rock.
I watch his head drop, his arm slide off the arm of the couch, a book slip from his lap. I wonder at this man who once held me aloft, in sky and sun, to look down on him. I feel sorrow and fear.
He was a changed man by that point. A flimsy quiet shell of himself.
There’s an odd comfort in knowing my brother wanted for those words, too.
In my father’s world, the edges of things were hard and straight. His way was to focus on the small things, the details. My way is different; I loved always to explore the sharp edges of his world with the soft fingertips of mine.
My brothers didn’t understand that about me, about us, I don’t think.
I carry this part of him with me: whole parts of myself locked away for safekeeping; an emotional reticence that I like to think hard to see, but which others sometimes catch glimpses of. Stoicism disguised as strength. Nothing but space and sharp light, the sound of footsteps echoing off hard surfaces, endless empty corridors lined with locked doors.
I see him alive in my brothers now, alive in his hopes for them.
This is the gift in his death.
“It is the same for all men. None of us can escape this shadow of the father, even if that shadow fills us with fear, even if it has no name or face. To be worthy of that man, to prove something to that man, to exorcise the memory of that man from every corner of our life – however it affects us, the shadow of that man cannot be denied.” –Kent Nerburn
The pic is of my two brothers… Brian in the funny hat on the left… Kevin on the right… on the occasion of Brian’s installation as Master of Philo Lodge #243… the first time in Philo’s history that a father and his sons all served in that capacity. Congrats Bri!
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If this reads as disjointed… well, I’ve been playing with it for months, since Father’s Day actually, and was finally moved to finish it, almost, by my brother’s post on the 5th anniversary of my dad’s death.