Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Remembering: Anniversary of My Father's Death

Today's the anniversary of my father's death.  He died in the wee hours just as December 12th turned into the 13th in 1969, as a result of injuries he had sustained in an auto accident a few days earlier.  If I'm not mistaken, the picture I've provided above is his college graduation picture, though I can't remember clearly whether it was taken for his undergraduate graduation or when he finished law school--the former, I believe.

I've shared on this blog that my relationship with my father was turbulent, and it remained turbulent right to the end of his life, even to the very last occasion on which he and I met little more than two weeks before his death, as he was in the midst of divorcing my mother and I opposed his decision to withhold any offer of alimony from her.  Because his early death ended in medias res any adult relationship we might have had, any recollection I have of my father now is inevitably tinged with more than a little sadness.  With wondering what might have been, if we had managed to get beyond the obstacles that seemed always to stand in the way of sound relationship as I was coming of age, and if we had begun to know each other as two adults.

To say that some powerful demons sat astride my father's back would be an understatement.  He had a serious problem with drinking from my earliest memories, and by the time of his death, this appeared to be strongly affecting his judgment and even his ability to think clearly.  Had I had my druthers, he'd have been a far more supportive and certainly a faithful mate to his wife, who did her best to raise their sons under the less than ideal conditions that my father's drinking, gambling, and philandering offered her.

Even so, my father is my father, and I owe my life to him, and I honor him for that reason.  And I want to remember him on the occasion of his death and to mark that occasion with due filial piety.

I cannot let myself forget, either, that my father had amazingly generous impulses, and a genuine concern for those on the margins of society--a characteristic that runs down many generations in his family, and is noted in a published biography of my four-times great-grandfather Mark Lindsey and his son Dennis, for whom my father and I were named.  On one occasion, I can recall my father setting up a fund and providing seed money for it, to obtain surgery to restore the sight of a boy in our town who had been blinded by lightning.

I recall clearly, too, that he often provided legal services for the indigent at no cost--a thorn in my mother's side, when the money he allowed her for household expenses and for her children was often minimal, due to the embarrassment in his circumstances that my father's gambling debts created.  

When my father died, we found in his top desk drawer a poem-prayer he had typed out at some point on his letterhead, and which he appeared to cherish, since he had saved it and kept it in a prominent place where he would see it on a daily basis.  I've tracked the poem and found it was written by one James Metcalfe in the late 1950s.  Metcalfe was, like my father, a lawyer, and it appears his poems often appeared in American newspapers in the 1940s and 1950s.

The poem speaks of our obligation not to succumb to despair, and to give the best we have to family, neighbors, and "all of humanity."  This poem would have come along at a point in my father's life at which he was trying--unsuccessfully, as it turned out--to get a grip on his alcoholism, reorient his family life, and restart his legal practice, which had failed a few years before that due to his inability to control his drinking and his abandonment of his family and other responsibilities for a period of time in the mid-1950s.

It strikes me as significant that my father's decision to keep this prayer-poem on hand for some difficult years of his life suggests that he tried--something we, his family, often didn't see or realize, as his efforts at recovery from alcoholism failed.  Tried and failed, as we all try and fail, in our own muddling-through and often unsuccessful ways.  And knowing that he struggled, that he was aware of his shortcomings, that he wanted better for his life and for his family, even when his best efforts appeared to come to naught: that helps me to understand and forgive.  Because I myself am all too much like him, in that the good I sometimes attempt to do succumbs far too often to the entropy and accidie of my less than stellar mind, heart, and soul.

And on this day when I remember my father's death, I join my prayers to his and pray that he has found peace and light now in the embrace of the all-merciful source of our being.

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