Chesterton Tribune

Life and Opinions by Kevin Nevers: Pa

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Fathers and sons, they learn to make allowances.

Not when it might have mattered most. No, not then. Not in those why-donít-you-get-a-haircut days, those get-the-hell-off-my-back days.

Freud was onto something with that Oedipal stuff. Fathers and sons do compete, they scrap like junkyard dogs, over the one thing fathers never have enough of and sons nothing but: time.

Fathers hear the tick-tock, tick-tock something awful, responsibility and obligation sit heavy on their shoulders, whispering to them like dark angels to hurry, hurry, always to hurry.

Sons piss their days away like theyíre pitching pennies, thereís always tomorrow, next week, next year to make good, thereís never any point to doing something today when maybe you can slide by and never do it at all.

But in the end, fathers and sons, they learn to make allowances, to clear an uneasy space where they can rub shoulders without going for each othersí throats.

It works like this.

One day, you realize, youíre smoking the old manís brand and drinking his highball because it never occurred to you to smoke or drink anything else. Youíve got a taste for steak tartare and oysters Rockefeller because thatís what he liked when he was eating fancy. You shelve your books exactly flush and square the stuff on your desk just so because you hate oblique angles even more than he did. Somewhere along the line you stopped calling him Dad and started calling him Pa because thatís what he called his father. That panhandler on Michigan Ave., you find yourself slipping him a 10-spot because you canít count the number of times you saw your old man to the same thing. That sailor on the bar stool next to you, youíre buying his next round because the old man wouldíve gone a month without booze before heíd let a serviceman go thirsty.

Then one day, out of the corner of your eye, you see yourself in a mirror, only itís not you, itís him, the same goofy smile, the same double-chin, the same odd way he had of rubbing the top of his head when he was thinking.

And the brutal truth 2x4s you upside the head: youíre him, you are your own father.

Didnít see that coming, really got to laugh.

Now you hear the tick-tock, tick-tock, sounds like Big Ben tolling midnight in your brain. Youíre half a century old, youíve got the stroke gene in your blood like he did and his father before him, and now his wisdom is yours: it all just slips through your fingers, the years like months, the days like hours, all of your plans like fever-dreams.

And you want to tell him, I know, Pa, now I know, I get it.

Remember him now.

How he crammed himself into that tiny kidís bed of yours and tried to sleep all contorted, when you dreamed you were being chased by monsters on Gilliganís Island.

How, on the day you got chicken pox, he came home from work with a stack of DC and Marvel comics two inches thick and 50 packs of Topps football cards.

How, when you got it into your pointy head to be an oil painter, a model railroader, a golfer, he set you up and then didnít say a word when you lost interest or failed miserably.

How, after deciding to chuck a career youíd spent 10 years educating yourself for, he told you to come home, make yourself comfortable, take as much time as you needed to figure out your next move.

How he introduced you to the Hardy Boys, the Bowery Boys, the Blues harp, Tom Lehrer, eight-ball, Bourbon Street, Vienna sausages, Audie Murphy, poker, muskie fishing, Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, and firearms.

How he taught you the way to clean a basement.

The way to shake a manís hand.

The way to love a wife.

And you wish youíd written this not today but a year ago when he might yet have read it.

RIP, Pa.


Posted 6/17/2011