I believe in all fairness, I should follow up with my previous thought about my Mother and tell you a little more about my Father.
Before I begin, those that have followed along and those who’ve know be from before and know me up until now will also know that each time I refer to my Father, I refer to him as The Old Man.
I have different reasons for this. In part, The Old Man is short for The Old Man of the Sea. I say this because my best memories and most heartwarming recollections of my Father are connected to the ocean.
As a matter if fact, I have a clear memory of me, young as ever, a little kid, dressed warmly and hobbling along in the frigid cold on a New Year’s morning.
The Old Man created a ritual with me, —and each year, no matter how cold, he and I walked along the beach at Point Lookout.
We started from the rock piles and headed west towards Long Beach. I was never sure how far we walked. I never thought much about the distance or the cold, which at times, the wind was like a whip and the air was sharp like a cold razor blade.
In most of my recollections, the sky was often overcast and the beach was empty and alone in its cold weather hibernation. I always loved the vacant feeling of a seasonally empty beach.
There was no one else here but The Old Man and me. We would find things that washed ashore. We would look out to sea and sometimes watch the outgoing boats, the draggers and the commercial fisherman that went off to places unknown.
I could see them and always imagined what the captain must have looked like and imagined them alone in his wheelhouse, steering a ship out to sea.
I envisioned the captains as gray-haired and bearded with a captain’s hat and a thick white turtleneck sweater beneath a yellow coat.
Out there, somewhere, are the fishing grounds—or to me, there was paradise, which is where I have always imagined The Old Man would be if I were to actually look for him now.
Certainly, I understand where The Old Man is; however, funerals and cemeteries are limiting in my opinion. Therefore, I prefer my idea and place my Father elsewhere.
Before going onward, although there is warmth in my intent and love in my description; it would be inaccurate to define my relationship with The Old Man as good or even decent. The truth is we struggled.
It would be inaccurate and dishonest of me to paint a picture that depicts us as close. Truth is we were not close. The truth is however, we always wanted to be. We just never knew how.
We wanted to get along but there was a communication gap. There was a struggle for me to reach him and him to reach me.
Nevertheless, even the wildest storms have moments of calmness. It is true, we never saw things quite the same way. It is also true that my disorders were difficult to overcome. I was challenged in school with learning disabilities. I had bouts of severe depression. I was also labeled with the inaccurate diagnosis and called emotionally disturbed.
Mothers are more enduring sometimes and certainly more patient. Fathers on the other hand only know one way to endure.
But when endurance runs thin; when control is not an option and no matter how smart or physically capable a man can be; when it comes to fatherhood, often times fathers yell or scream because they don’t know what else to do.
Often, fathers yell because they are yelling more at them than their children. Dads yell out of frustration. They yell out of helplessness; and also, they yell because somehow, all roads lead back to rejection, as if them or their love is too imperfect. Their children’s faults are their fault. Keep in mind though; this has nothing to do with rational thinking.
Quite oppositely, this is all the internal workings of fear and concerns of inadequacy. This was a factor in my relationship with The Old Man.
Plus, The Old Man worked hard.
He had his own hang-ups and insecurities. He hated feeling helpless. He hated feeling old or incapable. I watched many afternoons where The Old Man took on a project in the yard. I saw him yell at a lawnmower for a good portion of a morning.
I remember an afternoon when The Old Man was building a shed in the backyard. The sky changed quickly as storm clouds approached. The humidity was off the charts and the heat was unbearable. Sooner or later, the sky would have to explode to relieve the tension.
The Old Man was frustrated. He needed more time to build the shed, He needed the rain to hold off a little longer. Unfortunately, the rain came sooner than later.
I remember this clearly.
It was the kind of storm that began with a few raindrops and then quickly multiplied. The raindrops were the fat kind, like tiny water balls crash-landing and spattering against the ground.
I recall The Old Man running in. He was upset about something; only, I don’t think the storm was the only reason upsetting him. I suppose life was too much for the moment.
The Old Man ran inside. He watched the rainfall come down. His skin was tanned from the summer sun. His hair was swept to the side, salt and peppered and beginning to gray.
He had the burden of the world on his shoulders. He looked through the window of our back door. His eyebrows folded downward with such intensity. The wrinkles in the center of his forehead crinkled together. Then he inhaled through his nose and exhaled loudly through his mouth as if to signify a symbol of resignation.
The Old Man turned around and exited the kitchen. He quickly returned, wearing a bathing suit and carrying a bottle of shampoo. The rainfall was so heavy that it triggered an idea.
The Old Man decided to take a shower outside, as if the heavens were able to wash away his frustration
And it worked . . .
I watched him shower in the rain. He washed his hair and upper body. Then my Father let the rainfall rinse him clean. He was cleansed and felt better. And shortly after, the rain went away.
I never forgot this. Perhaps this might be why I have a warm spot in my heart for rainy days. Sometimes, we just need something to come along and break the tension.
Sometimes we just need to feel cleansed and let the rains wash away the dust from our crazy little lives.
I will share this last piece with you which comes from the most special of places.
This memory comes from when I was a young and sickly little boy. Mom was home all day. I was vomiting and nothing stayed down. I was uncomfortable and tired. I was small and young. I was back and forth to hospitals.
Mom was at the end of her rope. She was frustrated and needed a break. I had been crying and sick for a long while. Finally, The Old Man arrived home after a long day at work.
I could hear Mom talking to him when The Old Man walked through the door. She told him to take over. She told him to come upstairs because she felt too helpless and I was too sick.
I remember the smell from my Old Man’s clothes. They smelled from his shop at work, which is a good smell to me.
He came in my room and talked to me. I was too uncomfortable to answer. Then The Old Man lifted the side of my pajama shirt and pointed out my ribs. I was very thin at the time.
He told me my ribs were like piano keys. I began to listen with curiosity . The Old Man gently poked at my ribs like the keys to a piano and began to tune and prepare for a song.
I was sick and uncomfortable, but yet, when The Old Man began to sing to me. Somehow, I felt comfort in a truly uncomfortable time.
He sung the song, “Tea for two and two for tea.”
I don’t know much else of the words except, “Me for you and you for me.”
The Old Man pulled off his trick and somehow, I fell asleep.
Although, I have disclosed some of the more difficult features of my home life, I will fast forward to December of 1989. I was only 17 years-old.
I remember The Old Man’s last day with us. He was uncomfortable. He needed to rest but there was no comfort or rest in sight.
As his son, I felt the responsibility to repay him for all the love he gave and all the love I missed.
And just as The Old Man did for me, I knelt by the side of my Father’s hospital bed, pointed at his ribs, and then just like he had done for me, I played a little song to help him rest.
Tea for two and two for tea
Me for you and you for me
Pop died later that night. The Old Man finally slept and wherever he is, I will always imagine him as that captain out at sea until we meet again.
Safe seas, Pop
We miss you