Dateline: Butte, Montana and 546 miles farther down the road.
I feel the need to explain something before proceeding. Although a writer is not bound to offer explanations for their work, I believe that such is necessary for this post. I want to avoid as much confusion and misunderstanding as possible. I know that readers come to any work with their own preset baggage, and view what they read through the prism of their own lived experience. It is something I have worked to avoid, and avoiding as many of our pre-existing prejudices as possible was part of my training in history. One must be on constant alert for them, or at least recognize that they can color our interpretation of anything we read.
What should be understood, if it has not become apparent already, is that I loved my father very much. He was on balance a wonderful, caring person. But I also have the ability to do what psychologists call “compartmentalization”. I can be in a given situation or relationship, “put” it in one part of my brain, and analyze it separately in another part of my brain. This can lead me to new or novel conclusions that others would not have considered. While this might sound kind of cool, my second wife can attest to it also being problematic.
Further, I do not accept the concept of having anyone as a hero. When we put someone up on a pedestal, we hold them up to an unreasonable standard and make them a caricature of who they really are. We take away their humanity and replace it with our own wants and desires for someone to follow. I cannot remember a time of having a hero, but rather people I respected and admired…people I knew had their own faults.
We all have faults. It is the essence of being human. I recognize a plethora of faults in myself, and while I try to work on them I realize I will never rid myself of them all. I can only minimize their impact. Knowing that we are all less than what we want to be, and less than what anyone who idolizes believes us to be extends to everyone, including our parents.
With mom’s illnesses in the 1970s, we learned at very young ages that our parents were not perfect, indestructible beings. We saw just how fragile we all are, including our parents. We understood that our parents were regular people, with their own flaws and shortcomings. I find it interesting that some people never fully recognize this about their parents.
Dad was no exception (none exist). As I mentioned yesterday, I know he had his own self-doubts. He was unsure of himself in many ways, and avoided taking any risks as much as possible. I believe this held him back, kept him from realizing much of his own potential. I accept it was his decision, but I also sensed some regret on his part.
Another aspect of my father that virtually no one ever saw was his temper. He had a terrible temper when he was younger. And most people do not know he spent a night in jail because of it. Those of you who know me from when I was much younger might also remember my temper, and my son has one as well. But we all learned to control it. Dad never gave anyone an inkling of what he was capable of, and both I and my son have our tempers under strict control that rarely gets loosened.
Dad avoided situations where his temper might erupt. He avoided confrontation as much as possible. He never disciplined us growing up, leaving that to my mom (who at 4’11” could still swing a paddle pretty damn hard). We were always told it was because he was afraid he would break our bones – he had rather large hands for a man who was at best 5’5″. But I think there was more to it. I think he was afraid of losing control.
Dad also had trouble with “caring too much”. He found it difficult to tell people “no” (guess who we went to first when we wanted something). He would give well beyond his ability to give and give too much. I know – he did with me when I was going through the roughest patch in my life. Just ask my brother and sister. This could often result in dad doing without and suffering himself. The problem was that he would do this when some of the people asking were not really in the dire situations they claimed and it would get him in financial trouble.
This wanting to please could also get dad in trouble with mom. He never was much of a heavy drinker, and almost always kept it to a few beers when he did go out. But there were a couple of times while we were growing up where he would stay out with some of his friends who came to town and drink way too much. I can only remember it happening once or twice, but it did (and to be honest it is rather funny to remember it now).
His dedication to being involved in the community could also be a two-edged sword. I remember times as a child when it felt like he was more a father to everyone else in town than to us. It could be painful at times.
But then as is very evident from all the support we have received the past few days, dad was creating a much broader legacy than simply in his own family. Everyone who has kept us in their thoughts and wished us all the best has a piece of my father living in their spirit. You are sharing his passing with us. Dad was never wealthy, never held any position of public office, and never achieved any lofty presence in business. What dad did was much more important: he helped make a community that includes all of us. He was not perfect, he was not a hero, he was not a caricature: he was a flawed, loving person who added to all of our lives, and I will miss him terribly.