"Lotus Opening" by L. Folk

Friday, October 11, 2013

Remembering My Father: His Half of Me

It would take a book or a lifetime to write about how a father can influence a daughter.  I've started that writing awhile ago, beginning with a poem I wrote when my father was alive.   The last few lines I find especially pertinent now and probably will always:

he, protector made me a safety circle
wrapped it tightly around me
me, a young girl, lived, played, hid inside it
as time passed, life dissolved it,
but i now woman, competent and like him
have realized his half of me,
his strength within me.

Without him here, I am left with the him that is part of me and part of my brother and sister, and now my son and daughter.  It is uncanny sometimes, the way he flashes across a face, be it my sister's or my son's or my brother's.  There he is, I say to myself, as I regard my son and the way he watches cartoons with his lips in a semi-smile, his eyes alighted and depicting casual amusement, or as I regard my sister and the crinkle in her brow that shows up when she is perplexed, or the way my brother regards his car, meticulously, as my father did his.  There is the Viteritti part, I say, the part that is my father.

There have been many journal entries, essays, poems, novel excerpts, already; these are my attempts at understanding his influence, like this one from the novel A Portal to Vibrancy :

I am not just like my father when I study Engineering, I am him.  He slips into my body and moves it around, mumbles to himself over the equations, moves my arms so my hands clasp behind my head.  I stare into the wall, thinking with his brain.  When I am him, I feel certain about my life; I move from one equation to the next, like stepping on rocks to cross a river.

Recently I've taken up tennis.  I am impressed by how much I think of the sport, how it is becoming an obsession.  And there it is again, the Viteritti part, the Dad part, the part that wants to excel, to make the body move with finesse to master a swing and hit a ball; there it is the competitive part that wants to win and impress.  I imagine my forehand, the position of the racket when it contacts the ball, how to follow through and I remember how my father did his wrist exercises during a long car ride, readying himself for a base hit.  "Think wrists" he once wrote on the concrete wall in the basement where he practiced his swings.

My father was a model provider for his three kids.  He not only put a roof over our heads and food in our mouths, he supported us in our studies, spending hours tutoring us in math and science.  Being a teacher now, I realize he was actually a pretty good one himself, exercising patience and diligence and orderliness.  He went to our games, taught us to love the woods and the outdoors, to respect and honor our elders (did you kiss your grandmother?  That "she" is your mother, don't forget that, he would say).  My father was not only meticulous with his car, he was that way with pretty much everything, especially his tools.  Every tool had a specific function, had a place to be hung on the peg board by the work bench, next to his collection of weights and the bullworker he bought back in the seventies to shape his muscles.  My father knew just the right cereal to milk ratio to not leave residual milk in his bowl. 

Most importantly, my father had a playful sense of humor and was a formidable tease, as my mother, who took the brunt of his teasing, could attest.  She spent years being pinched, splashed and caught off guard by his antics.  Once he went so far as to lay a ladder across the back lawn and himself beside it so my mother would think he had just fallen off the roof.  Just when he heard real concern in my mother's voice, he started cackling.  His laugh was infectious. 

He called people by silly nicknames, Butter Mella for my mother, Dud for his mother-in-law, Ditizy for his own mother.  This was his way of being cute and loveable.  Confident.  Close.  I wrote about this in an essay titled "Balanced Rock":

Butter Mella was a name my mother's family called her because she looked like a butterball when she was a baby, cute and fat.  My father did not start calling my mother Butter Mella until after they were married and he was fully integrated into her family, enough so to learn all the childhood stories.  He called her "Hon," sometimes, a full "Honey" when they were having a disagreement and he wanted to persuade her to come around to his side of seeing things.  Rarely did he call her by her real name.  When they first started dating he asked her if could call her "Kitten" and she sneered at him for being so oblivious.  Before her he dated girls, little women with mousy faces and voices.  My mother, he soon realized, was no kitten; she was a lioness who liked to lounge, sleep late, and go for the jugular when she believed someone was taking advantage of her.  My father knew full well the meaning of "once bitten twice shy" and he respected her.  He learned to voice his appreciation, to communicate, because this is what it took.

I can speak for the three of us, my sister, brother, and myself, when I say we are grateful to have my parents' marriage as a model marriage to follow.  I am not saying it was perfect, but it had longevity; they knew how to consider one another.  In fact, I can honestly say, it was a marriage based on consideration.  Here's another excerpt from "Balanced Rock"":

My mother had to put up with my father's family's eccentricities.  My grandmother and grandfather used to fight and grumble at each other overtly like bulldogs and this created numerous uncomfortable situations.  Having learned to respect family no matter who they are, she called my grandparents "Mom" and "Dad" and reminded my father of his duties as a son, to call them on their birthdays.  They had been known to call him on their birthdays and my mother knew this made him feel bad, so she saved him the guilt by reminding him.  These are the sorts of things you do in a marriage.

At times, I have a bad attitude about my father's death and I take on an almost existentialist perspective: he's dead, I'm alive and I feel nothing.  Time has buried him.  What I have realized is it's up to me to keep him alive by recognizing him in myself and others, by writing, by reminiscing, by meditating.

Once, while guided by a teacher through a meditation, the presence of my father was so strong, it was as if he was inside me orbiting my heart.  Tears streamed through the lashes of my closed eyes.  It had been awhile since I acknowledged him; I had been busy, but more so, self-involved, dejected.  What amazed me about that meditation was that I could feel his eagerness to come through, as if he had been waiting awhile for me to get with it and pay attention.  And this is what a daughter must do: pay attention, no matter how old she is.