I’ve been thinking lately about fathers. It’s a train of thought that was first sparked by my interview with Tetsuro Shigematsu about his new one-man play, Empire of the Son (see page 2). When he says, “Even though I like to believe I’m the captain of my own ship, I find myself inadvertently following in the footsteps of a man who I didn’t understand at all. I’ve come to believe that our parents’ experience, even if they remain unshared or unspoken, affect us like shipwrecks in our psychic lagoons. When waves roll in, they crest and break because the water suddenly gets shallow due to the reefs or structures beneath them.” I think, “Yes. Exactly.” I couldn’t have said it as eloquently, but yes, I understand what he means.
When my own father died seven years ago, I can’t say that I knew him well, not in the way that his few close friends perhaps knew him. Yet when my sister called from Nelson to tell me he’d slipped away out of this world, I felt a big hole open up in my chest and an unfathonable sense of loss. I realized in that second that he was a part of me in a way that transcends words like “love” or “family.” Like Tetsuro’s father, mine never told me he loved me or was physically demontrative, and like Tetsuro, I have lavished an ocean of affection on my own children – not as a repudiation of my upbringing, but because I could, in a way my own father coudn’t.
I wouldn’t presume to generalize about the father-son relationship based on the one I shared with my own father, but I’m pretty sure that I am not alone in my conflicted feelings towards the man who helped shape me. But really, whether I am consciously working to be different or unconsciously emulating him, it doesn’t matter. It’s not a matter of forgiveness or understanding, but more of acceptance.
Several years ago I wrote a song for my wife, Amy, that said, in part, “You are your mother’s daughter, I am my father’s son, we are the sum of all these hearts, when all is said and all is done.” My father wasn’t around to hear that song, but it was as much for him as anything.
I am going to be there at the opening night of Empire of the Son. I will be there as a son, and as a father. Then I’m going to come home and text my son an “I love you.” Because I can.