Sunday, June 15, 2008

Happy father's day

David Deida admonishes men to "live as if your father is dead". This may be good advice for some women, as well. It is for me.

This doesn't mean "treat your father as if he was dead" but that one should free oneself of the competition with and criticism from ones' father. So, this being Father's Day, I sent my father an e-card and called him on the phone.

My father talks more than I do, though I probably talk just as much (or more) than he does with others. When we speak, he sounds like he's been starved for someone to bounce ideas off of (which brings to mind my psychiatrist and perhaps that's why I'm comfortable with him). However, my psychiatrist may have more interest in what I say (or maybe he's a better liar). When I say my father wants to bounce ideas off me, the picture you should imagine is of a person playing handball alone. I, as the wall, should only utter the occasional murmurs of agreement.

Today's phone call was a bit startling. I had not brought up any of the subjects that my father went on about. What was particularly unnerving was his rant about lousy writers, starting with Kerouac. That's strange enough, for I mentioned Kerouac a few posts back. My father mentioned that Truman Capote (a good writer in his opinion, and I agree) said of Kerouac that he was "just a typist".

He complained about the increasingly sub-standard writing of most authors, which started with the Beats, in his opinion. "Spontaneity is highly overrated", he said, adding "Good writing has a beginning, middle and end. It is thought through." I don't agree that it is as black and white as this, but I must agree to some extent, for I wrote in another recent post that I'm not a writer.

In fact, I did say I was a fast typist who let the words in my mind "just fall out". I've never thought of this as "spontaneity", but I suppose that it is, by definition. I suppose it is akin to jazz improvisation, where I start with a germ of an idea, start typing and see what happens. I had said I don't craft my words, so to extend the musical analogy, I am not a composer.

But I do not aim to be, just as someone who is riffing on some simple melody is not composing. Now, here's where I differ from my father, and it's too bad we can't actually talk about it (for it would be interesting). I do think there is merit in improvisation or spontaneity, whatever one calls it. Some people, like my father, think one should keep their half-baked ideas to themselves. If one hasn't honed what one is going to say, write or play musically to a place of perfection (whatever that may be), it's garbage.

I will not debate my father. He breaks every rule of debating there is, resorting to name calling, disparagement of character and the like. He must be right. Though he will occasionally say that some idea he had in the past was "idiotic". Really, his opinion of people is pretty plain: we're all a pack of idiots, who, upon occasion, will come up with a good idea. There are a few who are exceptions to his rule, such as Emily DIckinson, but he must always remind who he's talking to that she was probably "as crazy as a bedbug".

Personally, I love seeing mistakes and I even love making mistakes. My past perfectionism (and guess where I got that from?) was a great impediment to my doing anything, or at least showing it to anyone. No, the worst part wasn't a fear of what others would think or say, but the sheer impossibility of living up to such high standards. My fuzzy thinking was not tolerated, though interestingly (to myself, of course) my father's fuzzy thinking was considered, by him, to be perfectly fine, for it was (and is) informed by intense study.

I find it sad that my father and I have such a lop-sided relationship. Though he occasionally says something nice to me, my father's opinion of me isn't all that high. I wouldn't go so far as to say he thinks I'm stupid, for if anyone asked him if he thought this, he'd say with surety that I wasn't. He does treat me like I am. If I've read a book he's read, he'll say I don't understand it. If I have an interest he doesn't understand, he says that it is of no worth. I am not allowed to disagree with him. Nor is anyone else, so I really don't take it personally. But it still hurts at times. And it is a shame, for we could, in an imaginary world, have fantastic conversation. The saddest part is that my father is dying for someone to converse with and I love conversation. But it's true, when I'm with him or on the phone with him, my end of the conversation is pretty dull. I will not set myself up for attack. He will never refrain from attacking me and it's not worth it.

I know that he will die without ever really knowing me. It's not that I care all that much about being known by him, though, of course, it would be nice to affirmed by my father. I do affirm him, though no one I know can really understand why I bother. It's because he's my father, for one thing. He is not mean spirited, even though he can be terribly cruel. The other reason I put up with him is because he is very interesting and, in fact, I am quite grateful to him for what he's taught me. Without him, I would probably never have read all the great books that have graced my life, or learned to appreciate art. Sadly, I can't share the joys of either with him.

At this point in my life, all I can say is it's his loss.

This was, I'm sorry, a rather humorless post. I can tell hundreds of funny stories about my dad, but today, being Father's Day, I suppose I am not feeling all that light hearted. Though I found my conversation with him earlier today to be interesting and he was in a good mood, I knew that at any moment, I could have said the "wrong thing" that would have set him off. If I had been as honest and open as I am with everyone else in my life, I probably would have said at least one thing that might have even made him consider never speaking to me again. So, I've learned to be fairly quiet, acquiescent, and shallow. Huh, it just occurs to me that my being female may be part of the equation. . .and, um, well, my fuzzy thinking and allowance of bringing up half-baked ideas that bubble up out of (seemingly) nowhere is now going to force me to end this post like the last one: suddenly, leaving you, the reader, hanging.

Isn't there a wee bit of a possibility that that's okay? I think so. Why should I come to conclusions when you can draw your own? And why should I even come to a conclusion, anyway?

Photo note: I tried to find a painting of my father playing chess on the web. There is one out there, by a fairly well known artist. Unfortunately, I can't recall the artist's name and my web search proved fruitless. Instead, here is a photo of Bobby Fischer, once the greatest chess player in the world, and a person whom my father has cited many a time as a proof that even the greatest genius can be a complete idiot. I must admit, I agree.

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