I walked past my father’s face in the hall mirror the other day …
Or that’s how it seemed as I glanced in passing into the reflective surface, as I do every day, at some point
Several times, actually.
Okay, damn near every time I pass this looking glass.
And, yes, often stop and scrutinise.
Vanity, you say? Maybe …
This time I was on my way to the front door letter box.
This time I stopped and went back.
It was only me … the lines I have long grown into and barely see, but always notice. The frizzled, lighter hair; greyer — more white, really — of beard.
The usual me … except no longer singular, a strong sense of being no longer a solitary me, but a step or a stopping off point in an unbroken, unbowed family tree.
Both the leaf and the tree.
Equal parts reassuring and discomforting …
A sense of being looked at as much as looking.
Reflected and refracted through the prism of the generations.
No longer the glib and callow middle-aged youth who told that evening class group he would be “immortal till the day I die!’
I felt more a part of a dynasty … without the opulence or obvious influence, but a dynasty nonetheless.
My father never passed this particular all-seeing glass … but I imagine he would have passed many in his time.
And in his prime.
And maybe stopped to look and scrutinise.
What would he have been looking at … or seeing?
The young man in those brittled, concave ancient photographs, when he had to sweep back his great mop of hair … hair I knew he was once proud of.
Not like much later when he would run his fingers across his arid pate, the stubbled wasteland after the harvest, and smile as he put ‘me curls’ back under his omnipresent hat.
There was vanity there, always.
And damn right.
The more I looked at myself in this moment of observation now, the stranger I looked to myself, at first, and then, more familiar than ever.
Familiar. From family.
Me looking at me, as me and as individual. A part and apart.
The shudder of realisation that I was well older now than the first time I looked at my Dad and saw an old man.
But really, had I ever, ever seen him as young?
He was just Dad.
The Dad that never changed, only as I did.
The object of my teenage disappointment and downright revulsion, at times.
But the one who was always there. Who endured, both as in continuing to be there, and in putting up with his prodigal’s deviations and detours.
And latterly, the object of my exaggerated affection as I grew older.
Especially when I spent longer and longer periods away from him.
The exaggerated affection I never got to spend on my mother, who long, long ago left a disaffected and absorbed young teenager to his fate(s).
We never even got the chance to be apart.
The circle almost completed with my father, though, as he died months before my first child was born.
He’d have loved her, found some pithy descriptions and points of admiration. As he did with all the grandchildren he did get to know.
And here I am all these years later after he is gone, and thinking never less than often about him.
“I dreamed I saw Joe Hill last night, alive as you or me. Says I, ‘But Joe, you’re ten years dead.’ ‘I never died,’ said he.”
Lines from the old folk song about the Swedish-American union activist made famous here by the great Luke Kelly.
So my Dad has never died … not while I can see him, hear him, even smell him.
And my brothers and sisters still share our Dad stories and quote his Dadisms …’Sure, you’ll have that!’ … (Us kids scoffing at some high-faltutin’ opera diva, and him berating us) ‘It’s regarded as good’, or (when we would turn up our noses as he fired out a lump of extremely well done steak out of the frying pan onto our plates) ’A pound a pound’ — as if the price of the meat made its less than haute cuisine preparation more appetising to our hardly gourmet young palates.
And we’d quote his own phrases back at him, for devilment when we were young, with affection when we gathered as grown ups at his table.
Dad to us all, but a different Dad for each and every one of us.
But will he be remembered after we have passed on … how will my own pair remember a granddad they’ve never met?
But he did make a positive impression, a deep jet-ski ripple across the pond that still laps up on our memory shores … and I only hope I will … eventually.
But it’s those memories I keep coming back to, and that sense, when he was alive, of him … just caring.
Even if he got it wrong, as I do …
Like the time, when I was doing psychoanalysis training, and had strong thoughts of working as a therapist …
And my Dad, who would have more interest in Frosty The Snowman than he would in Herr Sigismund Freud, cutting out that job advertisement in the newspaper and sending it on to me — roughly hewn and wrinkled, of course — with the key word ‘Physiotherapist’, rather than ‘Psychotherapist’.
How I smiled, and how my wife and I laughed, but so struck by the sweetness and kindness of the gesture from a man in his 80s.
God, how I miss his … heart!
And I feel him in my body now too, every aching twinge as I step out of bed, and hesitate, as he did, before running up the stairs.
That tilt of the pelvis, brought on by stiffened haunches I notice now in myself …
Fooling myself I could still play football with the other codgers, until my tricky ankle put a stop to that slow canter …
But I smile with acceptance now and maybe even gratitude, for my parental ancestry, and for my wife and circumstances.
I’m hardly about to wink at myself as I leave the mirror behind, but I can at least look myself in the eye. And him.
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