Thursday, June 30, 2005

My Father Turns 75 Today

The Friday before Fathers' Day, I wrote a post about my father's legacy to me. That post turned out to be one of the most widely read so far at A Better Nation, and several friends suggested I write more like it - "more personal posts, please." Here goes...

My father turns 75 today.

When I wrote "Things I've Learned From My Father", I felt downright daring. I'd say it is the closest I have ever come to summing up my father's life, as I see it, as I think it should be seen. But I'd be very anxious to have him read that post. It just seems too damn honest to me, and when it comes to speaking truth to power, no one has more ancient and enmeshed hooks in me than my father, whom I call "Dad." But "Dad" here seems too informal, too friendly for how I think of him - and really, I'm sure, how he thinks of me. He's certainly never called me "Son," or if he has, it doesn't feel as if he has. "Father" is more like it, like the Germanic authority of the Fatherland.

My dad was born June 30, 1930. He was a tender nine years old when World War II began and, I am sure, an impressionable 11-15 during America's participation in the war. Perhaps he hated the Germans. He certainly said later that he'd wished he were older so he could have gone to fight them, preferably, in him Walter Mitty life, from the cockpit of his favorite airplane, the P-51 Mustang, for which he has held a lifelong passion.

But the irony is, he used to try to joke with me as if a lieutenant in the Gestapo, using a Hogan's Heroes German accent, and the "You vill do as we say," kind of joshing. But it always struck me as half true. He wanted more authority than he had at home or at work, fronts on which, as I said before, both his career and his family faltered. He seemed to crave the kind of cutting, curt yet cartoonish command of a German officer, pumped up with position but as much bluster as genuine authority.

When I write about my dad so openly, it makes me proud to be able to get these things down "on paper", but it makes me anxious, too - not wanting (1) to make him mad but also (2) to not make him sad, to not hurt his feelings. I am too mature now to want to do that. So I have these contradictory feelings - both to get my story out but also to pay homage to how life is, how my life has been (for me, to me), and how I see others' lives have been around me.

Of course, it's my view. But I work hard to make my view a nuanced and compassionate and appropriately, respectfully complicated view, full of whatever simple myths and myriad contradictions an engaged and engaging life contains.

So I'd have to say growing up with my particular father for a father was very difficult for me, for all three of his children. But we become interesting and compelling in life not so often through love and like as we do through challenge and ambition and ideas. My dad challenged me. He challenges me still, when I get onto the family radar. Even as a kid, I sensed his frustrated, almost latent and certainly tragic ambitions, the despair and disparity between how the world is and how he wanted the world (and his life in it) to be. And ideas. So many ideas. A family full of ideas, all of us, teeming with ideas and creativity and skills, perhaps all akilter, but skills, yes, abounding. And ideas.

So here again, on his birthday, I feel compelled to salute my father's complex legacy. I have to say I feared and fear him, hate part of him, a part of him that was worse than it is now, if he has softened as a sage, which he has, a little. And yes, above all of those parts, I should say, even want to say that I love him, love him because to really love life as much as we want to love it, we need to love our parents. We don't have to adore them unconditionally or be loyal to their betrayals, beck and call. But because it is through the contorted lens of our parents (for me as for you, too, dear reader, through your own parents) that we learn to love what we were born into - life itself.

Without him, I would not exist. Without him, I would not be me. Perhaps trite but profoundly true.

That is the love of a problematic and challenging and creative, insightful and honest first born son, a grown up child who was once a little boy.

Happy 75th birthday to Gene Cowden Walker, of Fort Worth, June 30, 2005.

BIRTHDAY UPDATE: I was wary, but I called my dad for his birthday about an hour ago,a nd it was actually quite pleasant. He was very appreciative and said so several times. So age softens old wounds, and we of all ages, little by little grow up.

*** Thanks to you, dear readers, for hanging with me.


At 7/01/2005 8:36 AM, Blogger heidi said...

Happy, happy birthday Mr. Walker and congratulations on reaching such an auspicious turning point!! May the next twenty- five years be even more fruitful and vibrant than the past seventy-five.

Much love and cyberhugs from this distant stranger....

At 7/02/2005 3:10 PM, Anonymous rq said...

Thank you again for the honest, heart-wrenching portrait. Another favorite post!

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