I am not certain what for … but was my father a fallen angel? He is pictured here, age 3 with his teddy bear. This bear and wool jacket still exist … once the jacket was freakily hanging from the rafters in their basement on a little satin-wrapped hanger with the sun and the sun-seeped cobwebs nearby catching the light just so. It was ghostly, but angelic. Like the photo of my mother shirtless on the pony that I posted recently, this is a favorite of my father. Something is behind his left shoulder … looking a lot like a wing, an angel wing, looking ceramic even … as if he’s a Hummel. Since he is three here, I am thinking this is pre-BB gun for him. Therefore it is pre-shooting the eyes out of the sockets of his sisters’ animated dolls dad. I bet the BB gun would be a good reason to make this innocent, squinting, teddy bear toting, lopsided angel fall. I say this in the most admiring way … I love my dad and his giant array of eccentricities, even that he still tells the same jokes now that I am 30 that he told when I was a 5. When you tell the same jokes for 25 years it shows a stamina and maybe also a Sisyphusian burden.
I wonder if this photo was taken in Darlington, Pennsylvania where my dad was born (and I can see my grandmother snapping it, kneeling down in her Sunday best) … or if it was somewhere in Ohio. The landscape behind him I love like a Wyeth … that little window in the top of the photo implying both escape and imprisonment. He is a man like no other … but I think we all think of our fathers that way. I told him “happy father’s day” and it was an uncomfortable moment like it is to say “I love you” before we hang up. But through the years, my mother and I have been able to inject emotion and expressing it gradually into the house (my father’s family being a orb of suppressing of emotion and secrets) … little by little. There’s mom and I sneaking through the dark, sleeping house with syringes full of emotion: squirt squirt into the molding … squirt squirt into the floorboards.
Since the day I moved away from home my dad has told me the sports scores of Ohio sports teams on the phone. I have never been a fan in any respect of sports … but I listen to him, or try. But maybe not well enough. And sometimes I think he notices my fake response to the Cleveland Indians’ losing streak and says simply, I don’t understand you. That is both a heartbreaking and a renewing declaration for a parent to say to a child. It leaves me thinking again: So who am I anyway? Remember, dad, I came from you … I look like you … having the “McGath eyes” everyone oogles about at reunions … your eyes, nose, anxiety … and you say how I am now becoming a haunting living memory of your sister, Shirley (the one who gave me a little mind disease you will not acknowledge) … remember me?
And then you bought me a Thoreau quote on a placard to hang in my new apartment … and I thought, Oh, you were listening.