I met my father fishing. The version of my father that wasn’t in the office six days a week. Or on the road. The guy who’d talk about growing up, shooting pigeons and trapping muskrats with Mike and Steve on land given over to subdivision. Turkey hunting way back in the national forest with his buddy Dave, prying civil war bullets and cannonballs from gnarled, stunted shortleaf pine. The version of Dad that could discover and appreciate and express joy or fascination or wonder. The guy that relished life, instead of just punching a clock. I liked that version of Dad most.
I don’t think he ever fished here. There was always a dog-eared, coffee stained flyfishing guide parked next to the emergency brake on our fishing trips, its back pages dotted with county maps of wild trout streams. But I didn’t fish here with Dad, and I don’t think he’d have the patience to lose flies in brush for the sake of small rainbows.
Think of how much better you’d understand of your parents if you were privy to their childhood. I never asked The Siblings about growing up- I’m not sure they want to share their war stories, I’m not sure I’d get an honest account. Their funny stories of their childhood are really thinly veiled trauma, of physically or emotionally absent parents, of five kids navigating the world largely on their own. No wonder they’re so fucked up.
I wonder if The Siblings know how my father turned out so differently. It’d require them to wonder, to think about another person, and that isn’t their wheelhouse. It had to be the family Dad chose. It had to be Jane. According to Marylou her and my grandfather found for my father a very nice lady who took care of wayward boys, like it was a boarding school or Jane was some fairy godmother. Jane had nine kids of her own. Nine kids in ten years, and she still took in another. Maybe that was all Dad needed to learn to act selflessly.
When my mother met her, Jane came to the door in a gold polyester kaftan emblazoned with the sun in his glory. Jane was the one singing Pete Seeger tunes on a thrift store guitar. Marylou’s life was circumscribed within little boxes. No part of me believes she would’ve given Jane the time of day.
Dad was in and out of the hospital from the time I was fifteen until he died, a couple weeks before my seventeenth birthday. That offers a limited number of life lessons you get to extract from your father, maybe down to Don’t Smoke and Don’t Take A Minute For Granted. Maybe that’s enough. For the longest time I figured I was supposed to figure out all the rest on my own. Twenty years on, I’m beginning to realize that isn’t entirely the case. It’s just a decision I made.
The Siblings blame their fuckups on shitty parents. Being raised on transactional love, being sent to boarding school at an early age, lighting cigarettes and freshening drinks for parents who otherwise ignored them. I’m not faultless, I’ve used Dad’s death to justify some fuckups. Differences of degree, not of kind. But maybe you don’t have to inherit your parent’s damage. Maybe you choose to.