“Faust complained about having two souls in his breast, but I harbor a whole crowd of them and they quarrel. It is like being in a republic.” -Otto Von Bismarck (according to GoodReads.com*)
That quote by Bismarck, if it truly is from Bismarck, sums up rather eloquently the position I find myself in trying to reach an intellectual consensus on my thoughts regarding yesterday’s post. While at first I could pass off this notion of 10 days to talk about my relationship with my father on the 10th anniversary of his death as gimmicky, I’m a bit concerned now that I won’t have any answers after so little time.
I find myself standing in a senate of voices, comprised of friends, family, movie characters, characters from literature, philosophers, and of course my father and Adam32. But unlike the half-circle amphitheater of the Roman senate, mine is more like courtroom in Superman. Just a circular, down lit, antiseptic disc of white surrounded on all sides by giant, disembodied holographic heads shouting their cases at me. A din of opinion focused solely on who I am. And at the center, I stand alone in a groovy kinetic sculpture of hula hoops as they hold their mirrors of bias out for me.
I’m still trying to cut through the tide of opinions and make sense of it all. This endeavor is turing out to be less straight-forward than I had hoped. Maybe I need to take things back to an even playing field.
That’s us. Dad and the two Adams. Roughly the same age, dad a little older. But I think I’ve always skewed younger than dad.
We were born 40 years and one day apart. Dad on November 15th, 1933. Me on November 16th, 1973. We both had round faces with half-moon eyes that look sweetly innocent or capable of unspeakable evil depending on your interpretation, a trait we would carry into adulthood. And that’s where the similarities ended. Dad came from a family of siblings deep enough to run a co-ed basketball team with an ample number of subs, while I have but one sister. His family did the whole “Grapes of Wrath” thing out of the Arkansas dustbowl when dad was just a boy, while my mom still lives in the house I was brought home to from the hospital when I was born.
Dad was something of a loud mouth and a punk, I was quiet and shy with aspirations of being a loud mouth punk. Dad alternated between brilliant and dumb as a box of rocks, and would later in life boast about “winning” contests when he was a kid to see who could keep a beam of light from a magnifying glass cooking their skin the longest. He would always go first, and all the other boys would give up immediately after his heroic time. I still remember the look on his face when I told him, “Dad, you burned yourself for the amusement of other children who only pretended to play the game.” He was not pleased.
I alternated between cunning and gullible. I was a quiet instigator, and would come up with schemes that I’d have others do while I watched, but would also fall prey to simple traps. Dad got into scuffles, I reasoned with bullies. I was known to put myself into trash cans up through high school, stare a bully in the eyes and say, “There is no dignity you can take from me that I won’t take from myself first.” I had a lot of mustard and mayonnaise stains on my pants, but I never took a punch and never got robbed.
As he got into his teen years Dad continued to walk what Spinal Tap once defined as “the fine line between stupid and clever. His mother, a diminutive firebrand of a woman named Myrtle, would wield authority over the household of towering teenage boys she found herself up against with the use of a broom handle. My father decided one day when he was 15 that she would have no power without the broom, so he devised a plan to take it. He was being a particularly salty punk, and Myrtle cocked her broomin’ arm back threateningly. Dad used his reach advantage and snatched it from her hand, cocked it back behind him and said, “who has the power now?” My grandmother Myrtle responded by evoking the power of crusty Ozark Cherokee and in a single deft move snatched the broom back from him and began to beat him mercilessly about the head and shoulders with it until he dropped to the ground and apologized. He crossed the line back into clever and never tried to take the broom again.
To juxtapose that, at this same age I was a member of the Latin Club, the Marching Band, and began to wear ties and short sleeves to school because I felt someone should be wearing ties. I lived more for my own oddball style of self-amusement, but followed every rule to the letter.
I don’t think my father would have liked me as a boy. I think I would have either been convincing himself to burn his hand with a magnifying glass, or more likely, he would have been intimidating me into servitude.
I haven’t ever put that together before, that my father would have likely been one of my biggest bullies, but it does speak with some volume as to what I’m going to write about tomorrow.
Perhaps a voice is cutting through the din after all.
But the answers are still lost in cacophony.
I miss you Dad. Thanks for spending the time with me.
*It is strongly against my nature to post a quote that I have not first verified, but time is short.