Most of the folks who read my posts recognize my natural inclination toward self-righteous sarcasm. I know that sarcasm is toxic – Mr. Clark (the Editor) tells me almost every day. Sarcasm does serve to drive home a point. But there is a cost to being the negative reflection of the world around us. And sarcasm is a negative reflection.
My mind is racing today. My problems are actually small – if measured in terms of capitalism and material comfort. The problems that race in my head are in the context of needed affirmation by those I care about. Somehow I think this relates to my relationship with my father.
I shall tell a story here that has never been told. I am the only person who knows this story and I have never spoken of it. I am the third of seven children – six boys and one girl. We lived in a four room house until I was fourteen. (I have to note that I had two older brothers so one might expect that they were more impacted than me. But this is not about them.) My mother did not work out side of the home. She had none of our modern conveniences. No washer and dryer. No dishwasher. No microwave. Virtually no freezer. And a percolator coffee pot. She worked hard every day just to keep up. Que sera sera!
My bed was close to the kitchen door and I could hear the coffee pot percolating in the early morning hours. My father had to be at work at a fire house at seven o’clock – where he would remain for 24 hours. His shift was 24 on and 24 off. On the off days he would come home at seven and get ready for his next job that started at eight thirty. My father rolled his own cigarettes to save money. It was the only luxury he afforded himself. All of his resources went to my mother who managed the bills. He would sit at the kitchen table, rolling a cigarette, waiting for coffee. I could see him.
My father was very important to me. I craved his attention. We really only saw him every other evening for a couple of hours – he worked a lot. I do not recall him ever taking a day off from work because of any illness. He might have been sick now and then but I never heard him complain. He was not a man to shirk a task.
In some ways I was luckier than my older brothers. They were eighteen months apart in age. I was two years younger. My next sibling did not come along until I was three. I don’t remember this but I suspect my father held me in his arms before my younger brother was born. I suspect I received much of his scarcely available attention. I suspect he rocked me in those powerful arms on the evenings he was home. But I do not know this. I do know that he was a troubled man.
I followed my brothers around and learned from them. When I went to kindergarten I could write my numbers from one to one hundred. I did this one evening while my father was home. The sense of pride I felt while walking up to him was immense. I showed him the paper with my numbers. He glanced at it and said, “The numbers are all run together. I can’t tell which way to hold the paper.” He did not know that I was crushed. I studied my paper and struggled to figure out how to write the numbers smaller so they would fit on the page and have space between them. I was five years old. I did not understand he had just come home from a horrific day of frustration and pressure.
There was surely a way to get his attention. I understood by the time I was five that there were two younger siblings that absolutely required attention – one was two and the other an infant. (No pampers or disposable plastic bottles). But I craved his attention. I do not recall my father ever striking any of my brothers or my sister. I do recall him being angry and frustrated with me. I remember my mind racing, trying to figure out what to do next to please him – or at least gain his specific attention. Am I whining around here? Might one say it is time to grow up and get over it? Would that be a reasonable request for an old man reflecting back on his life? Some say that when we reach a certain age that we can no longer blame our parents for who we are. Buck up and take responsibility.
I did crazy things. When five years old my older brothers and I were sent to the neighborhood bakery for something. We were eight, seven, and five. While walking home I decided that I could cross the street before the car arrived. I ran. I was wrong. I woke up at home. I was on the couch. The doctor was sitting beside me. A policeman was talking to my mother, taking notes. Apparently I was knocked out – my brothers ran home and told Mom. She made them stay with the two year old and the infant and ran to the scene of the accident, snatched me out of the street and ran for home. What was I thinking? We had no need to cross that street. My life is littered with impulsiveness. Some of my greatest joys came from impulsive behavior – and my greatest failures and hurts came from the same.
There is a defining moment in my memory. I was about ten years old and we had been visiting relatives. My parents played cards with my Aunt and Uncle. On the drive home I fell asleep in the back seat of the car. I remember my father waking me- not intentionally – he was picking me up to carry me into the house. I remember him holding me in his arms. I pretended to be asleep because the strength of his arms were comforting – he was holding me. Just me. This was a moment alone with my father. I savored every second, every step to the house, his gently laying me in my bed.
My mind is racing today. There is a haunting feeling of abandonment, of being alone, of not being loved, of fear that life is to cruel. I know that I am over sensitive. That, I am told, is a characteristic of immaturity. Great – more shame. I am over sensitive. Some say I have great empathy for others – a blessing that allows me to be of help when there seems no hope. Some say I am immature. Does it really make any difference?
I am alone and my mind is racing. Some say the pharmaceutical industry has solutions to this sort of problem. Yikes! Just what I need – more confusion. Some say that being honest about who we are is rewarding and helps us grow through our pain. I admit I never told the story of my father carrying his sleeping child – it always seemed so personal – no one’s business but my own. But I wonder today, this day of a racing mind, what I might learn from reflecting on my youth.
I think I shall share this story. The process may not help me but perhaps someone else will relate and it will provide a moment of comfort.