It's been about three years now since my father died. I devoted a lot of blog time early on to complaining about the son-of-a-bitch. Sure, I was angry, but not without reason. There was very little to recommend him as a father. He had become disinterested in family life early on, and after that we hardly saw him and he never spoke with us, his children. (If cornered, he would speak at us, in long monologues, but never any real conversations.) I overheard him several times in conversation with my mother, but I wish that I hadn't been listening. Those were unremittingly negative affairs, and his references to me were degrading and disheartening.
Those years of the blog are full of awful recriminations, based on the fact that he obviously bore some huge grudge against me, as though I, and my mother for sure, and who knows, maybe my little sister too, had personally ruined his life. He always saw himself as being perfect, and he rarely found anyone who could live up to his standards for a reasonable human being. My mother failed miserably in his eyes, not an altogether unreasonable conclusion, and my sister and I went down the drain with the dirty bathwater. It was a real shit-show. In a final act of contempt, he left me completely out of his will without so much as a fair-thee-well.
Why bring this up now? Why today of all days? Simply, I saw him in a dream the other night. It was one of those mostly unremembered dreams that went on and on, including chapters where I revisited old jobs, scenes where I was again undergoing military training as a recruit, nothing remotely realistic, old bosses being surprised to see me, fellow boots being surprised to find a seventy-year-old in their number. Dad did a walk through, I forget the details. It all made me wonder, though, what would I really do if dad walked through that door right now?
Setting aside, for the moment, that I do not believe that the dead have any future at all, no future of any kind, only the dreamless sleep of eternity, identical in its specifics to the future of a dead dog, a dead tree, a dead worm, a sunken ship, or a dead mushroom. There is no afterlife, and there are no ghosts. Okay, back to our story.
What would I say? After so much bitterness and disapproval? I knew immediately what the answer was. I would greet him cheerfully, give him a hug and tell him that I loved him and that we had all missed him. I would ask him what his requirements these days were for the perfect chair. (He had terrible arthritis in his back, and he was never really comfortable.) I would apologize for the absence of bourbon in the house and offer him a short vodka, which he would accept. Would that be hypocritical of me? Well, no, not really.
Even assuming that the dead would be privy to all that I had said and written in the meantime, that is the greeting that he would prefer and expect. He was always one to create his own world, where he was king. Besides, we had had a wonderful relationship, to all appearances, for the last thirty-five years of his life. I hated and avoided my parents as a teenager and through much of my twenties, but after that I decided to take the high road. They were my parents, after all, and just as I had when I was a very young boy, I loved them. I was them! I was a product of whatever had masqueraded as love in their relationship. Acceptance and cheerfulness are required of us. We are expected to be grateful for the gift of life, however little we make of it or care for it. If our parents were not perfect, well then, who is? Not me, I can tell you. Who am I to judge? (There is a terrific argument to be made that I am in a perfect position to judge, having witnessed the entire conspiracy with all of its acts in furtherance, and all of its crimes. Let's save that discussion for another time.)
My father, hopefully with his hearing restored, would give me a rousing lecture about something, perhaps a full book report on Tristram Shandy, death having finally allowed him the time and inclination to finish it. I would smile, and eventually the conversation would turn to certain great meals that he has missed, and other drawbacks of being dead. I would occasionally try to get a word in edgewise, but he would, as usual, begin to gaze out the window until it was his turn again. I would smile at that and encourage him towards a subject that I knew he liked. Like boxers from the 1940s and '50s, the strange fish-based soups available in Spanish restaurants, or newspaper humorists from the 1920s and '30s. And I would listen, happy for the attention.
And that, my darlings, is why I am such an approval whore to this very day. Let his words and his tone be insincere or even malicious. Let them only mimic approval and I will be well satisfied.