Sunday, June 20, 2010

father's day

how was your father's day?

mine had a very weird trajectory. if you traced its shape, you'd get something like a parallelogram, connecting these 4 points:

1) a call to my great-grandfather
2) an encounter in a supermarket
3) a conversation over "run, lola, run*"
4) a call to my father

and, er

5) an article in the ny times magazine.

i'm not sure if i want to count 5 yet. in theory we still have our parallelogram.

it started like this: woke up in the morning, blinked my eyes open at the ceiling, happy but with the vague sense that something important was about to elude me.

father's day!

sat up in bed, dialed my great-grandfather. we usually speak once a week, but since i had been in england** for almost two weeks, it felt like forever. my grampa david is as bright and as keen as ever, although his jokes are still very flat. he wants to know if i had tea with the queen. he wants to know if i met any oxford men. i give him what i've got, about the castles and the plays. i tell him i love him very much and wish him a happy father's day, not really thinking too hard about either of these statements, because after all, i mean both and he knows it. i call home to wish my father a happy father's day, but he's on call and not around. oh well - try again later. feeling accomplished and proud of myself, i set out to the grocery store to restock my two-weeks' empty pantry.

en route, i am intercepted by someone with whom i have had a serious but difficult relationship. it did not end well and we haven't seen each other in a long time, and after the initial shock it becomes evident that our encounter is going to be every bit as painful, prolonged and frustrating as our relationship was. i emerge from the grocery store without many groceries, disoriented and adrift in a surge of self-pitying defeat. i will never be in a happy relationship. i never want to see a guy again. i will never be worth the things i aspire to. etc.

angry at myself for going down this road again, completely blanking on whatever i am supposed to be doing, and desperate for a distraction, i call a friend and end up crashing on her couch. we like trippy movies and are in the mood for some kick-butt, so we watch "run, lola, run." if i tried to briefly explain what this movie was about, both your head and mine would probably explode, so i'll just call it a german action movie/groundhog day mashup for now. the protagonist lives a certain crisis over and over until she learns how to achieve the outcome she wants. needless to say, this mesmerizes me, and i find myself wondering if it's a superpower or a curse, to be able - and compelled - to do a thing over until you do it right. one obstacle in the heroine's path is her father, who is a) cheating on her mother b) mean c) possibly not her real father d) unhelpful in her darkest hour.

"man," says my friend. "that is one scumbag dad."

"yeah," i say. "can't relate. my dad is awesome."

"mine too."

duh moment: "but i'm apparently an awful daughter, because i completely forgot to call him today."

"it's okay," my friend says. "you'll call him when you get home."

so i call my dad on the walk back from her apartment and tell him about run, lola, run, and the conversation above. confused, he says, "so her father is bad because he doesn't give her the money, but i'm a good father--"

"not what i meant," i interrupt hastily.

our conversation is brief (my dad is busy) but reassuring. my brother has made him a steak and my mom's made him apple pie, so he can't be having an altogether bad day. he makes at least two ewok jokes over the phone, so he can't have changed too much since i last spoke to him.

feeling oddly comforted and a little confused myself, i flip through my mail. the new york times magazine lands on my kitchen table, and i find myself unable to put it down until i have finished reading a terrible piece by an author whose father dwindled away of dementia, enabled by the wonders of modern medicine to outlive his personality and dignity. the author seems to blame medicine for allowing him to survive incidents that should have killed him, to live a humiliating existence that drained the life from his closest family members.

you can think what you want of this piece, although i think no one can judge. i sat for some time reading and rereading it, grappling with everything i had experienced and all the disconnected pieces of my day. like puzzle pieces, bits of thoughts flashed though my brain: my father is a doctor, who heals people and helps them live long lives which may prove frustrating. but my father is also a man, who gets older, G-d willing, like anyone else. my great-grandfather is very old, k'ayna hara, but still very much himself, very much alive. but he worries daily about the loss of his essence and the descent into mindlessness. my father and my great-grandfather are wonderful men, devoted to their families. but today i was reminded at least once of the rarity of such men, and i was afraid that i wouldn't merit to know others like them. i also became so engulfed in that doubt, however briefly, that i just forgot the men who have been pillars in my life, forgot to congratulate them or enjoy them.

i think again of my father, a doctor, a musician, eating steak out in our backyard with my brother; and i remember my father's father as i knew him, in his later years, an ailing man who was difficult to know, but who linked me to my own father.

i guess there is no clear upshot to any of these thoughts, or this post. (i also guess my parallelogram is really more of a house-shaped pentagon. figures.) but it seems remarkable to me that during just one day, without specifically looking for it, so many fractured angles of fatherhood have connected to me: what it means to be a good father or even just a good man, when you are young and single, when you have children in their twenties and a demanding career, when you have great-grandchildren and the fear of an experience no one can describe to you. i saw everyone - my father and grandfathers, guys my own age - on a timeline, arrested at certain points, but moving, slowly, when i least expected them to, changing places.

maybe that is something father's day - a day like that - does for us. it allows us to see and recognize the people who fill critical roles in our lives, and to notice also how they shift and change to fill other roles, to vacate the ones we found them in, sometimes.

i don't know. but now YOU know what my brain looks like on "run, lola, run".

*a severely trippy film. this post would probably make more sense if you watch the chase scenes first.

**can't write about it yet. too big. weird, right?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

yes, i wrote a starbucks napkin about london

storms blow over london, like
dreams across your sleep
flickers of doubt and plumes of shadow
sail and fade across the sheets.

we scurried wet across the walkway
over the thames and riverweeds
umbrellas boom like jungle flowers
but in our hoodies we just freeze, because

this climate, this climate, this climate
is strange to me
spots of light and dark and rainbows across the sea.
where we are from, it only comes down when it pours
where we are from, we learn to weather longer storms.

as colors close up, we fold up our hoods and watch the sky
before we even reach westminster abbey our shoes have dried
i like to think this is a secret i'll learn to keep
each storm will pass, a flash of sorrow in a sound sleep.