Saturday, June 18, 2005

FATHER'S DAY. My dad died when I was little. They didn't know at the time, but the tumor that gave him a coronary at 40 came out of the genetic syndrome that I struggle with to this day, passed down through uncounted Edroso generations.

The absence of a father shifts much weight upon the mother, and mine had a very tough job. She kept my sister and me in line, alright. She was harsh, maybe too harsh, but around this time of year you won't hear me say so, because I'm too busy defending her, in an indirect way that she probably wouldn't recognize, from the crackpot idea, revived in recent years with the help of right-wing think tanks, that only Ozzie and Harriet families are true. There are all kinds of ways a person can be fucked up. Mine was a two-hander rather than a four-hander. In the eyes of the Maggie Gallaghers of the world, who reduce all things, my hard-working, beleaguered mother might as well have been a gay divorcee or a crack whore. That's not the only reason I hate Maggie Gallagher, but in the last ditch it's probably the big one.

All I know about the father I can't remember was that he worked hard but had trouble keeping work. His father had been a sailor, had come to America and married a Hungarian woman he met on the trip, had opened a cafe for longshoremen in what is now called Chelsea, had taken the money he made and moved the family to Bridgeport. Connecticut. There my father grew, went to school, worked in factories, and could not find (perhaps for some of the same reasons as I have) a direction in life. He waited as long as he could to get married, but finally succumbed to a factory girl from Canada who lived with her Aunt. They were both in their thirties, which was strange for that era. My sister and I were born downtown. Dad moved us into a tract house on the North End, and was driving trucks part-time for General Electric when he died.

I grew up in that little house, and felt bad that he wasn't around, and fought tooth and nail with my old lady, but I never imagined that a government program promoting marriage would have made our life, or hers, any better. That thought never occurred to us, as we were growing up in an era before people had totally lost their minds. The men my mother knew -- in a dying factory town crushed by poverty and resentment -- would have made lousy fathers, and I think my mother knew that. That may not have been her only reason, but I'm sure it was a factor. And I'm sure a marriage counsellor sent by Uncle Sam -- in his current, psychotic incarnation -- would not have seen that at all, and would have informed her that if she didn't get some fool to marry her tout suite, we wouldn't get any food money. (Have I mentioned that I hate Maggie Gallagher?)

I went on to become the shell-shocked dispenser of eloquent outrage that you know. Had some proto-Bush managed to force upon my mother an unemployed, abusive, drunken husband, who knows what graveyard I might be inhabiting at the present moment.

Well, I would marginally prefer to be here than nowhere (though I have always thought it a tragedy that she lacked the social support to abort me -- how much better off we all would have been!). And as long as I am here, on the weekend containing this greeting-card holiday, I would like to thank my long-dead father. Not for the grisley accident of my birth, of course, but for the jam he showed in trying to keep my family alive. He was not an up-and-comer, it seems. He went from job to job, and never got far in any of them. But, bless him, he kept on plugging. He worked long and hard on the little house we occupied; sweat and headaches -- symptoms of pheochromocytoma, we now know -- did not stop him. He took whatever work he could get, from whatever employer would have him. He did his bit right up till the night he collapsed on the living room floor. And if he could have gotten up and soldiered on from there, I know he would have.

Dad, I don't know what you would have thought of the mess I've made of my life. I expect you would spend a few moments comparing it to the mess you made of your own. I would have loved to have heard your assessment, but alas, that can never be. I mostly think of you when I'm in the hospital, having my body cavity checked for your legacy.

But I also think of you when I'm trying to make important decisions -- not because I'm wondering what you would decide (your decisions, it would seem, were crap), but because I recognize that you also had to make decisions just like these, and that your excitement and anguish might have been like mine, because we were both born male, and the same kind of absurd expectations were placed on both of us.

And sometimes when I am very happy -- when I am flying down Grand Avenue in Brooklyn on my bike, or when I have written something of which I'm especially proud -- I think of you then, too; partly because I know that your hard life kept many such pleasures from you, but also because I know that at times, despite all your troubles, you were happy -- because I see your happiness in some old, crinkle-edged, black and white pictures of you, when you were playing cards with your friends, or when you were dandling me on your lap -- and I imagine -- I hope -- that my joy reaches back and touches you.

But if, as I suspect, there is no reality but the present one, then I will imagine my happiness is your bequest. It is a stretch to imagine it in a way -- you were, they all tell me, very simple, so how would you understand my precious, literary epiphanies, or approve my bohemian rambles, my extramarital sex, my pleasure in opposition? But in reality, it is no stretch at all. The simplest man will want for his son a better life than he had, no matter what it entails. A guy I went to high school with became an obviously gay clergyman. His father was an old-fashioned Italian shopkeeper. He was very butch, but in the face of his son's behavior, of which he could not have completely approved, he was very understanding, even meek. Come to think of it, every gay man I grew up with got the same confused but loving approval from his father. Is this just a coastal, evil Blue State thing? Or are fathers a lot more accepting than we give them credit for?

Well, Pop, in honor of the occasion, I will try to be happy. It is not such a bad goal, paticularly with so many forces arrayed against it. In fact, in your honor, I will keep it up as long as I can. I won't live in a tract house. I won't die of an undiagnosed tumor. I won't cave in and have children. And as you avoided expectations for so long, until they engulfed you, I will avoid them longer still. And as long I can outfox them, even unto death, my victory will be yours.

Roy Bernard Edroso Sr. 1920-1960. In pace requiescat.

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