Saturday, October 29, 2016
A Son Does
He extended a thickly muscled leg while offering a hand four times the size of mine to use as a counterweight.
Unbelievably, maybe even miraculously at the time, I let myself trust his bulk enough to begin the climb up the face of his body. I leaned back, perpendicular to his flexing plane of ascent, to get grip from my bare feet and take step after step, from ankle to shin to knee (sorry about stepping so hard on your knee, dad), to thigh, crotch (ouch again), before abdomen (ripped six-pack from days as Golden Glove boxer workouts), to chest, and then, unbelievably, shoulders.
There I stood, king for a moment, on top of everything, almost banging my crew cut against the ceiling, my perspective changed. I looked down on the living room, my mother, my brothers and sisters. I was almost four years old, and he was about to leave for Korea.
Now, over eighty years later, he is the one who walks like a toddler. He is palsied, liver-spotted, exorcised of his Golden Gloves cockiness; he stumbles with words, looks for them when they fail to come. He falls. He wears diapers.
I am not going to lie. I don't look forward to seeing him this way, but I know I must go. The flight I can't really afford has been booked, rental car reserved. Time blocked out.
It's time to go. I am not all of the man I hoped to become. I have been angry at him for what he couldn't give me.
A son has to own his role in falling short of his dreams.
A son has to give up blaming a father for his failures.
A son pockets his anger.
A son lifts the heavy tongue of the wagon that carries his father into his final days. He leans into the weight and forces the the wagon to roll ahead, inevitably.
He may want to quit, to avoid, to cave in to habits too old to forget. But a son shows the father that he can, that it is because of the father that he heaves against the weight, finds peace in the pulling. A funereal pyre and a long rest wait at the end of this final journey.
My father dreams of his father, of the warmth of a barn full of horses, cows, sheep, goats. He smells the manure and it is rich and muted with hay and corn. Outside the wind howls. It's January in northern Minnesota, and the father of my father carries incredible weight with hands four times the size of his son's. He teaches his son to play cribbage to pass the time, to work, to never back down.
My father was a giant, a tree, a mountain, a fighter. He and I fought. I landed a few. He gave me coils of rage that I have yet to untangle.
A son begins the work to untangle. He shows his father that he loved the boy into a man.
A son finds in his father a gift that no grief can ever repay, that no shame can hide.