Monday, June 20, 2011

Happy Father's Day

It’s Father’s Day and my day begins with a Skype chat with my daughter in Argentina. I talk to my other daughter from the Mt. Rushmore cafeteria. It looks enough like the one shown in Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” for me to get a little vicarious thrill of recognition and share the moment with her. Out the window, carved impressively on the mountain, are two of the Founding Fathers and their descendants—Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt, subject of yesterday’s entry. Of course, all reports of Teddy at the Monument are extolling his accomplishments of extending America’s political and economic muscle. He was the first president to leave our shores, but it turns out, mostly to put his foot on the neck of other countries and extend our power. In some ways, he opened the door to our domination of the Philippines, Chile, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq—always under the flag of freedom, of course, but mostly to get what adds to our coffers and rarely (if ever) actually contributing to democracy in those countries.

But it’s Father’s Day and I have other things on my mind. It’s the first Father’s Day that my wife will experience without her Dad. And for me, it’s been four years. I’m wearing my Dad’s purple shirt and writing to him in my journal telling him the news. I do this on special occasions or whenever the spirit hits, taking seriously the ancient idea that we must live at least part of our lives on behalf of those who have left us—speak for them, walk for them, sing for them, dance for them– and then tell them about it. Since they no longer have bodies and voices, we can use ours to not only do what we need to do, but to enjoy on their behalf what they used to do— eat certain foods, go to special places, speak select poems, play and sing specific songs.

The other day, I played one of my father’s piano compositions for my Mom. As a young man, he dabbled both in composition and painting before the business world swallowed him up. One of the best things—as he would often remind me—I did for him in his later years was to play and record his compositions. He would listen to that tape most every day of the last five years of his life and yet more often in his last months. He had a good ear for a decent melody and accompanying harmony, but without training and perseverance, his development was technically weak. But still, they were his notes and his attempt to express feelings habitually left unexpressed in the business world of the 50’s and 60’s. Like a good American man of that time, he locked them away, but these tapes were the key that reminded him of a world beyond the conventions of merely bringing home the bacon and mowing the lawn.

So in honor of his memory, I’m including his favorite poem, one he could speak at a drop of a hat and often did. I now speak it out loud on several occasions, to the delight of those who haven’t heard it before and to the first hint of an eye-roll from those who have had heard it often. It’s from an obscure novel by Philip Wylie titled “Finnley Wren.” Read it out loud— like all poetry, the music comes out better when spoken.

And think about what poem you’ll be remembered for and pull it out on all family occasions, eye-rolls be damned! We’re here to leave our footprint on this earth and to be remembered as only we can be. 

Happy Father’s Day, Dad—your legacy lives on.

Life is just a passing spasm
           In an aggregate of cells;
Kiss me, pretty protoplasm,
            While your osculation dwells.


           Glucose-sweet, no enzyme action
            Or love-lytic can reduce.
Our relations to a fraction
Of hereditary use.

Nuclear rejuvenation
Melts the auricle of stoic:
Love requires a balanced ration—
Let our food be holozoic;

Let us live with all our senses
While anabolism lets us—
Till—with metaplastic fences
Some katabolism gets us.

Till, potential strength, retreating,
Leaves us at extinction’s chasm:
And, since time is rather fleeting,
Kiss me, pretty protoplasm.


            

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