Jewish World Review June 14, 2002 / 4 Tamuz, 5762
http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | This happened to me about eight weeks ago and I wrote it down at that time so I could write it in this space in June.
I was washing my hands and I looked in the mirror and saw a little of my dad's face. I am 38 years old, and I am only now starting to look like my dad. I don't think I would have noticed that glance in the mirror but for the fact that a few days prior, I suddenly noticed that my voice at times sounds like my dad's voice. I was a little pleased, a little flattered, but then I got curious.
If I sound and look like my father, and my son will sound and look like me, then my son reflects something of my father. And since this is true for these three generations, what about the generations that came before me? Do I sound and look like some grandfather of my own a hundred years back? Is there some picture or painting somewhere of an old man who looks just like me? How much do we change from generation to generation, really? I wonder how much of anything is new. My guess is, not much. Right down to the way we look.
My dad was a pastor. He had laid out the church bulletin for the next Sunday's service just before he died. That day, he and my mother went out for Mexican food, then to an electronics store. He took ill there and died a few hours later in a hospital. That was five years ago. My father absolutely loved electronic gadgets and eating in restaurants. I am happy that the last things he did involved those favorites. We tend to think of death as coming in a movie-style moment, but it comes for most people in the middle of the most prosaic parts of life. That's one reason I think the prosaic parts of life ought to be steered as much as possible toward what one likes most to do.
In the mid-1960s, my dad was fresh out of seminary and, it seems to me, too young to be a minister. (Not just him-anybody. Twenty-something ministers are pretty common, I know, but I can't imagine anyone in his mid-20s having anything useful to say about anything in the realm of spiritual and personal guidance. Except, of course, my dad.) One Sunday he wandered way off the prepared text of his sermon and extemporized something like this to the small congregation. "There are three kinds of people in the world: those who are here in church every time the doors are open; those who show up when it's convenient; and then"-this part isn't paraphrased; I know it word for word because he told me-"there are those who just don't give a damn." My dad was the Rhett Butler of the Matthews, Missouri Christian Church, crossing the language line just like Clark Gable; he who also "just didn't give a damn." Dad knew he had, umm, made a mistake. "Nobody was offended," he always said. "Though a few people said they were concerned about the children hearing."
My dad is responsible for the central emotional challenge in my life: the problem of resolving concerns of spirit with demands of reason. He encouraged (all adults over the age of 35 know that "encouraged" in one's own childhood is a euphemism for "threatened mercilessly") me to learn how to think clearly and for myself. But he also radiated his confidence in God. My great difficulty in life has been to reconcile logic and faith. Most of the time it is not so easy.
My wife and I have three children, and though I never thought family would be the center of my life, I am glad that it is. Parents try to do their best, but you never know how you're doing until you're close to done. That's why I have fun every day, for my kids and for myself. Great religious precepts aside, I believe in living like today is all you get. And I take comfort that children are condemned to love their fathers no matter what. That's just the way it is. You can screw up a lot of things, but that one's out of your hands.
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06/06/02: Stay Awake, Grads, I'm Almost Done Talking: Life, and How to Live It