So I have a kid running round my ankles looking up to me asking me to tell him this is a nice world – “Tell me the spiders aren’t scary …that they are nice sometimes. Why do cats chase mice – why do dogs chase cats? There was a ghost in that video, what is a ghost? Why don’t the big kids want to play with me?”

My Dad is slowly dying. It’s a degenerative disease and there isn’t anything to be done except take good care of him and try to make him comfortable and lessen his fear and discomfort. They figure he has 6 months to a year. I know these estimates can be wrong but I also know he is eighty years old and not feeling well.

When I was small he was the big angry one. And yet I remember adoring him. My love for Dad was always a little scared. He was huge and powerful and seemed angry a lot but I think there was a period where I was his little guy and he loved me too. I remember him lying on the bed and me (as a tiny little guy) pounding on his back. Just wailing away like a crazy thing and him laughing like it was charming. I always got a feeling like he loved whatever was fierce in me. We played soccer, my Dad, my brother and I in Central Park in New York and I would fling myself after the ball like a madman because he laughed with such pleasure at my intensity.

Then I lost him to fear. He drifted off into the fear of financial failure – and the rest of my childhood he was the worried drinking man who never had any fun with us. I think I learned that the adult world was a very bad idea from my Dad. As a kid I remember looking up at the building he was working in in New York and shuddering thinking about what he was living out. I remember trying to stay out of his way. I remember concocting ten thousand ways to make him laugh because he so badly needed to. I remember his wit flashing like a sword and trying to stay close but just a little out of reach. My Mom seemed like such a reasonable presence my but Dad seemed like a force of nature that you could only warily try to predict. I told him later how he seemed when I was a kid and he said: “You’ve got to be kidding, I was a pussycat!”

As time passed as an adult I came to see his inner pussycat – he really has a very tender and shy heart but it was masked by fear all those years – things hit him really hard and he gets shaken to his core by worry and worry makes him growl. In his cups when I was young he would tell me that when my brother and I were all grown up he would do himself in – as in “his work would be done and he could go”. I realized with a start one day in my twenties that that message equaled “If you grow up I’ll die.” Alcoholics say incredibly stupid things.

I don’t much blame him now. He was caught in a bad dream and he didn’t know how to climb out – and much to his credit, a couple of years later he did. He turned his life entirely around. I love my Dad very much though always with the wistfulness that I wish I’d had more of him.

I struggle to make grown up decisions. I tried to play an eccentric game nobody else was playing so that the rules and the outcome were up to me. I tried to dive between the cracks in the world and not get sucked into terminal adulthood and it turns out there is a terrible price to pay for it. It was an attempt to slip past mortality and limitation and the entire point of life in this strange world seems to be informed by mortality and limitation. If there is a spiritual equivalent for waste in this world I think it is the thing not used up: The spiritual virgin who will not be touched by life. We are fires and we are here to burn up with loving each other and exploring the mysterious world till there’s nothing left of us.

I never really understood love till Isaac came into my life.

I always knew too well what an ordinary, flawed person I was inside and how prone to disappoint. Anyone who was losing sleep over me looked like someone who needed cool compresses and maybe an aspirin. I think I knew when they were in love with me that it was a sort of dream and dreams seem far too unstable to invest in. I don’t know what I thought the alternative was: A cool headed love affair? A rational decision to love another person? I could never have done that but I think I was partly scared of the prison of the particular. What if this particular relationship isn’t really it? How do you know? How can you ever really know?

It’s not that loving a child is like romantic love but it is a state of being in love helplessly and truly and until I felt it I didn’t understand that loving isn’t at all about things making sense.

It isn’t even about truth exactly, – It’s about giving it up and surrendering to being a human animal and living out the mortal and imperfect life we have received with all the intensity we can give to it. If I could have learned it earlier I would have been a happier person. As it is, I’m grateful simply to know it and have an opportunity to experience loving someone this much. From the first time Isaac’s tiny finger wrapped around mine in the neonatal ward I have been wrapped around his finger. This tiny person knocked down the walls I couldn’t touch simply because he was mine unquestionably and I was his and it exploded any reason I might have sought to argue it or rationalize it.

As a teenager he will probably wake up from it and realize what an ordinary person I am, he will realize with horror what a flawed ninny I can be and recoil from the knowledge that he’s made of the same stuff. But it won’t matter much because he’ll likely discover another view of me later – I’ll just have to live with the exile when it comes.He’s a cub right now and he must grow up and he will and someday he will look back and know as a grown up person that he was loved as much as a child can be loved: That he brought so much delight – that we exulted in being together exploring the world…that being a tightly bonded baby and parent is as automatic as gravity if you let it happen. And I feel so sorry for the many Dads didn’t let it happen. Until he has kids of his own he won’t have a clear idea of how much it meant to me.

When my Mom was alive her love for me was like the sun shining on my life & I was so acclimated to it that I didn’t realize till she was gone the little extra bit of warmth that had always been there – it clicked off like a light when she died and a cold wind I had never felt before began to blow. What Isaac gave me was the chance as a sort of grown up to feel that sunshine again by giving it to another.

To live in this world
You must be able
do three things:

To love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your life depends on it;

And, when the time comes to
let it go,
to let go.

-Mary Oliver
from American Primitive
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