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June 20, 2004

Fathers’ Day





This page has always been dedicated to what is generally understood as a feminine power. Mother Nature; Mother Earth; the Goddess… however conceived, it is the vessel of conception that has fostered my conception of an Arboretum flowering in the middle of the City. But just as in nature, the counterpoint of paternal power has played a crucial role in animating the whole. No Mothers without Fathers, and certainly no sons.

When I first addressed Fathers’ Day in 2000 I gave thought to how my own father had helped to shape my sensibilities. I already knew then that his health was failing; he’d been on dialysis for three years, a situation that cannot be indefinitely prolonged, but even an end long foreseen somehow comes as a surprise, and I was not really prepared for his quick decline and death in the Fall of that year.

In part that was due to his indomitable zeal for life, by virtue of which he remained independent and vital up until almost the very end, even as his body fell apart around his living spirit. In retrospect I can now see that I was thereby spared the agony of a long, feeble decline, but the time I spent attending on his demise remains the most wrenching experience I have ever gone through.

I wrote about those days extensively in this space, and it was through that effort that the page really came into focus for me. I’d started off with a sort of almanac notion, trying to keep up with whatever was going on in the Park at a given time, spinning off sub-philosophical riffs and looking for the roots of the holidays within the cycles of nature. I didn’t want to sound too pious or new age-y, so from time to time I tried to inject a little humor by making a slightly over-serious attempt to adopt the viewpoint of a plant or a bird, but I was also adopting a writer’s persona, rather than speaking directly from the heart.

That was fine, I suppose; it was not my idea to write a journal or a confessional. The web has plenty of that, and I was attempting something broader. But the wide-angle viewpoint is a luxury, and I found my world shrinking as the year and my father waned together, drawing me into my own little family drama. Unable to keep up with the schedule of the outside world, I turned inward and began discussing the events at hand, hard as they were, and more or less outside the framework I’d set myself.

And it was good for me, as cliché as that sounds. They always say it’s good to talk about troubles, that the weight of them is somehow lessened in their expression. I had much comfort from my friends, but gaining sympathy is not even the point; it’s more in the saying itself: a sort of incantation that displaces pain into words; a spell that dispels.

And I learned something about the web too, maybe going to the point of why it is so suited to personal writing. One can talk, and one can write, but most of speech evaporates into the air, while writing has traditionally been either public or private. A real diary has a lock and is rarely revealed; words written for the public often leave something out. The online world lies strangely in between. The web is public, but self-selective: anyone can see my page, but few are likely to. I am not anonymous, but neither do I declare myself widely. I feel no need for restraint, but I am also concerned to produce something that is more or less responsible as literature, since it might be read by anyone. The discipline of online authorship does not favor either public or private faces, but allows the self to emerge in the dialectic between the two.

None of which has anything to do with my father specifically, but it was a good lesson for me to learn, and one that I like to think has improved my writing, (poor though that may remain.) Nor were my original intentions really violated, for I started out with the notion that we have much to learn from nature and its cycles, but I was only talking about what I thought I knew, whereas I ended up learning more through my own direct involvement in that most natural cycle of generational succession. Being a participant, rather than an observer, made me perhaps a better reporter. That’s not journalism, but neither is this news; just the same old story, as told to (or rather through) yours truly. In the end, this page is not so much about some big idea as it is about simply having someplace to put my stuff.

So I thank my dear old Dad for one last lesson, and I’ve continued to write about him each year: the mourning of 2001 giving way to a more distant wistfulness in ‘02, until by last year he had become once more a protective presence. I will think of him always, but this year I want also to look beyond my own life, and send my best wishes to a couple of friends who have recently become first-time fathers. They have the resources to teach their children many things my father never knew. And no doubt they will pass on some things that only they know, but I will also trust them to teach, as my Dad did, the universal lessons that they too must earn; truths only learnt through the ongoing Mystery of fatherhood itself.

Mike, Steve:
I send my best
In father and child
One cycle crests
Another rises
The wheel is turning
Yours to seize it
Enduring all
The theme reprises

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