Like a lot of men, my relationship with my father was somewhat complicated. That’s not to say that it was bad good or indifferent, just complicated. It was complicated further by his sudden death 11 years ago at the age of 63. He went out fishing one afternoon and died in his boat. In a lot of ways it fit him. He caught his limit, and then just slipped away, the pole still in his hand when the park ranger found him the next morning.
In some ways, his death was as closed to me as his life was. My mom didn’t have an autopsy done, and so I don’t know why he died, just that he did. We suspect a heart attack or massive stroke, given that he smoked, had high blood pressure, and I suspect sleep apnea. All things that are or have been part of my life.
I think sons take after their fathers in any number of ways, some conscious and some unconscious. I catch myself imitating some of his mannerisms. His sighs when frustrated, his tendency to say “Well…” when disagreeing with someone, his love of wit, his love of puns. I recited the same silly rhymes to my kids, have committed the same poems by Housman and Service to memory.
With rue my heart is laden
for golden friends I had,
for many a rose-lipt maiden
And many a lightfoot lad.
By brooks too broad for leaping
The lightfoot boys are laid;
The rose-lipt girls are sleeping
in fields where roses fade.
He had a strong sense of melancholy about him, my father. Another thing I inherited from him, though I was finally able to come to terms with the fact that it was clinical depression, and not just simple moodiness. Being able to accept that instead of trying to justify it was one of the most important breaks I made from my father’s legacy.
Dad was distant and judgmental much of the time, I think because he didn’t really know how to be an involved or supportive father, at least not the way I needed him to be. But then I don’t think I was the son he needed me to be either. I wasn’t much interested in hunting, though I greatly enjoyed fishing. Stomping around in the woods didn’t appeal to me at all. I never really found spectator sports all that interesting. I was more interested in politics and ideas. His tastes in reading ran to World War II histories and biographies. Mine ran to science fiction and fantasy. In a lot of ways we were strangers to each other. Long after I moved away from home (or more accurately, home moved away from me) he told my mom he didn’t think I got anything from him, unaware that I was indeed his son in temperament, in my sense of my humor, my love of language.
None of this is to say I don’t think he loved me, and I know I loved him, but I think it was perhaps a love borne out of obligation rather than out of prioritizing his family above his own needs to be alone, to have time alone with his thoughts. I am guilty of the same things, only I think I recognize it as something I want to change about myself.
I think it would be easy to try to blame him for everything that’s gone wrong in my life, my lifelong search for mentors to take his place, but I’m not like that. There isn’t any reason to try to blame things on him when I’m perfectly capable of accepting responsibility for my own life.