Friday, November 20, 2009

Daddy's Hands

I wrote the piece below for a speech in class. Some of you may recognize some of it which I borrowed from my short story titled, "Daddy's Hands." I think . . . you might like it.

This picture I added?  Well, that's my Daddy on the left.  That grin?  That slouch?  Yeah.  That's my Daddy.  

There are those in my lifetime who have taught me lessons unintentionally. I have learned that bitterness has no place with peace. I have learned that anger must be, and can be, controlled if one desires good relationships with others. In the words of Andrew Bridge, I have learned that love and failure can exist together. I have learned the value of forgiveness.

These lessons I have learned from the difficult relationship with my father. If I were to listen to the pop culture icons, I would stand before you boldly proclaiming my right to be a victim. I would win your sympathy if I treated my children the way I had been treated. I could justify a cold heart and harsh words from the hurt I had received.

But that isn’t what I learned.

Sometimes memories have a way of surfacing at the most unusual moments. Two years after my father’s death, I was standing in a prayer circle when I felt the unconscious touch of my friend’s thumb along the back of my hand. For a moment, I was a kid again holding my Daddy’s hand.

My Daddy had big strong hands. He had fought to survive on the streets of our city, and did. His hands were scarred from barroom brawls, rumbles, and work. But when he took my hand and I walked next to him, the strength was gentle, reassuring. Often, I would feel his thumb rub along the back of my hand as if to say, “It’s alright, I’m here. Don’t be afraid.” His hands were like a fortress that surrounded and protected me.

Everyone knew him. He was big with a commanding stride, but that’s not why they respected him. He was friendly, kind, giving—if he was on your side. He was generous to a fault, giving away what he could have saved to build on. And Daddy made everyone laugh. He found something to joke about in every situation. One would think he was Italian the way he told a story with his hands; gesturing wildly like a pantomime to get his point across.

Daddy was wound up tight. It wasn’t safe to sneak up on him. Even when he was sitting “still,” his hands were always moving—tapping a Zippo on the table to the B.B. King beat in his mind.

I enjoyed being with my daddy, but then the bitterness in his soul began to eat at him. He almost seemed jealous (or was it ashamed?), when I began to prosper. Or, was it I that was ashamed, and Daddy that couldn’t bear it? Time and circumstance pushed us farther away from one another.

I wished for those younger days when I thought my Daddy could do anything, but found it difficult to watch him sinking into despair with me unable to help him. It was simpler to just live my own life. Certainly, there would be time to fix what was wrong. Years passed without a word.

I happened on him once at a store. We talked, like old days, for a little while. I wished again to find a way to bridge the gap, to feel the comfort of my hand in his bound together strong against the world. But Daddy was caught up in his world, and I in mine. As I left him, I kissed him, like always, “I love you, Daddy, call me and we’ll get together, okay?” Momentarily, he held my hand.

Seven years ago those hands stopped touching. The bridge too long untended could never be mended again. People told me that the best characteristics of my daddy would live on through me and my memories of him.

For a long time it was hard to remember the good. Like an archeologist digging for buried treasure I had to pull up the years of separation and all the hurt it caused; sift through the hard, uncalled for words; remove the anger directed at me that I didn’t create. My heart’s hands were dirty when at last I found the sculpture that remained in the mirror. He had molded me to be strong, love laughter, feel secure in an uncertain world and to love deeply, if not sparingly.

I was reminded of my Daddy’s hands the other day. I was crossing the street with my granddaughter when she reached up and said, “hold my hand, so we don’t get lost.”

I think I have my Daddy’s hands.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Words Dancing Across My Page

So. Here I am. At Dunn Bros. Writing. Because I can.

It’s a new season, I think.

Surrounded by a babble of familiar voices I have never heard. Encased by familiar buildings I’ve never ventured within. Sipping tea and tapping my heart.
But with a new sense of purpose. A new sense of identity.

The barista said, “I can’t write.”

I answered, “oh, I’m sorry. I can’t not write.”

His co-worker laughed in complicity. He understood.

Words don’t leave me even when I’m trying to leave them. I don’t always like my words, you know. I wish they would leave me alone and let me just go on without being so pushy, forceful, demanding.

And so I’m listening to writers talk about issues and friends talk about relationships and I’m letting the words have their way. Like a wild horse let loose to run in the field.

There go the words. Free. Beautiful in their own confidence. Not as if they had ever been reined in and made to walk properly. I can almost see the wind following behind them as they frolic.

I’m really enjoying listening to the writers talk about writing. I wonder what they would say if they knew I was writing about their words, about their thoughts. I think they wouldn’t mind. After all, writers like to be heard. That’s the point of writing.

Well, maybe not the point, actually. But the impetus, the thing that pushes us to the paper. The thing that wakes us in the morning with a song suddenly waiting to be written. The thing that pushes paper to pen – whether the paper is a napkin or the back of a bulletin or a scrap tossed aside and the pen is a pencil or is black or blue or orange. The words don’t always have to be heard, but they must always be recorded, left behind.

Now the writers are discussing a poem and the memories to which it belongs. It makes me think of the bridge at Jackson Park that I just visited. I tried to explain the bridge to someone who didn’t really understand. He tried, but the connection was too ethereal, too disconnected, too much water color and not enough pen and ink.

I wonder if my words are heard like that by most people. Do they float too quickly beyond what people expect to hear? Expect to see? Do they require more definition and people don’t want to work that hard to understand? Or are the ideas and the topics too personal and don’t translate well?

I don’t know if anyone will ever want to read my ramblings, but I still can’t not write. The words live on their own and grow at their own pace.

Mostly, honestly, I do enjoy them.

Like I enjoy sitting here listening to the writers talk about writing and the friends talk about relationships and the students talk about classes while the jazz softly plays and the tea cools.

I’m a writer. And I write because I can’t not.