I have a vision of a multitude, a host of souls waiting in a giant station wagon as my father and his brother chat on some porch of purgatory.
But these souls are not upset with my father for he provides each of them with valuable information: the date of their birth, what the weather was like that day and the license plate number of the car that drove them home from the hospital, the nurses name.
I imagine around the world there are other sons doing as I am, discussing the loss of a father, describing how he taught him to be a man. Such a son might relate moments of harsh discipline, unimaginable strength, indescribable pain endured, courage, accomplishments, success, victory. This would lead up to the conclusion that he, this son, could never live up to the great and distant example that was visited on him. How he would never hope to surpass this model.
That was not my father.
My father spent his time wishing, hoping, praying I would guess, to be surpassed, that life would be fuller and bigger for all of us than it had been for him.
For by the standards of many these sons, the standards of the world than my father was not a success. He experienced no particular triumph. He did not seem particularly brave or courageous. Though tall, he seemed at times almost delicate and therefore did not give off any feeling of great strength. He lacked any hubris and had really no sense of social status or rank. He was entirely incapable of any guile and was so unsophisticated as to be fascinated, rapt by the simplest of life’s pleasures. I’m sure he was regarded by many as a small man.
The night before my father died I took my son to the baseball game. Hugh hasn’t or doesn’t much care for baseball up to now but the tee ball was about to start and I thought it might help him understand and become more interested in the game. I was sure by his age I was already in love with the game. My father loved to go and he loved to take us. Hugh fidgeted throughout and drove me crazy and I yelled at him. I hissed through my teeth at a four year old to sit still.
My father wouldn’t have done that.
After I heard the news that he had stopped breathing, I left work, went home changed and got in the car to drive home. It was late in the afternoon so rather than get stuck in expressway traffic, I drove down western avenue. It was full of potholes and unfinished construction and bad drivers. It was run down shabby and so much had changed I found it at first sad but then it made me angry and I swear if one more driver had done something stupid, I was going to get out and punch them in the nose.
My father wouldn‘t have thought that way. He would have told you a story about the car dealership that used to be here or there and the salesman who was the cousin of somebody his mother knew.
My cousin Dave came over to the house that day and related a small story. We were 9 or 10 years old and I did something particularly 9 or 10ish and my father yelled at me and David described being both stunned and fascinated because he had never seen my dad yell before. In 9 or 10 years.
I went with Bun and him to the soup kitchen one day to help out and it seemed both hopeless and mechanical as we served one homeless person after another. And then I looked over at him and he was managing, no, not managing, he sincerely was cheerful and looked at each person and talked to each individual as a real, actual person.
And then I went home, driving back to our neighborhood. Matt was with me and as you might guess we said little. But it was a warm night as I neared my house and I began to notice young men out and about, foolish peacocks, strutting macho, standing on corners and riding motorcycles, full of themselves and pretensions and I felt like they were insulting his memory. He was never like that and would have found their actions it stupid.
But even then I was wrong, he would have just ignored them.
And so you see, he continues to visit me.
Proud of his children but proudest of their happiness
Kind when social convention does not award kindness
Brave enough to have the courage of his convictions and to be honestly concerned about what is fair and what is right.
Strong enough to do what seems foolish.
Wise enough to be not judgmental.
I only aspire to follow his example.
We do not, we can not know the place where the soul goes to rest. We have only our weak imagination to blame for worldly construction and dimension that we ascribe to such a place. But I know that they must strain to accommodate all the love and virtue of this small man.