How do we remember our fathers? For some, there is nothing to remember. He was already gone when their mother gave birth. For others, he’s just a vague image from early childhood. Some people have memories of fathers as absent, either physically or emotionally, or both.
Mine was always there. Sometimes it felt like he was there too much. He was like my golden retriever, in your face from the moment he saw you in the morning till you removed yourself from his presence at night. Lucky me? I do love golden retrievers.
Remembering father today on his birthday, I can’t help but reflect on his early years. Born in 1911 in Massachusetts from two people who had been born and raised in Ireland, a colony from which they fled for a better life. When I think about decolonizing my mind, I remember my Irish grandparents. They struggled to make a life for their six children born in the new world, but in March 1918 his mother contracted the Spanish flu and died that spring. Dad was still six.
He seemed traumatized the rest of his life and struggled to find his way, fluctuating wildly from joyous celebrations of the wonders of life to dark and dreary reflections on the miseries and sorrows of the world. He did his best but was tortured by the elusiveness of truth, beauty, and kindness that he felt were what made life worth living. He burdened me with his depressed, alcoholic despair and hopelessness.
He also instilled in me a hunger and satisfaction with the wonders of the world that feed the soul. Despite his inclinations to surrender to the seductions of suicide, he stayed alive until 74, bolstered by the love of a devoted partner and three loyal children. And inspired and perhaps released by my personal transformation he too lived his last years in a way that felt as if he had returned home in peace to be his true self. He went out with a burst of glory, finding the peace and courage to write poetry in his final years as he had always imagined himself doing.
Today millions of people are dying once again from a global pandemic. I can only imagine the suffering. And I know from my family experience how much the deaths affect countless others, for generations. We need to help each other more than ever to recover from this horrific tragedy, not returning to the old normal, but finding growth and transformation in our lives. How? By feeding each other’s hungry souls.
My father was helped by many people. His was the only Irish family in a neighborhood of Eastern European Jews, and his friends brought him home for dinner. Their mothers couldn’t give him his lost mother, but they could give him their food and feed his hungry soul. His hurt little spirit was nourished as he sat and ate with their families around the kitchen table. I learned about this because he called this “dream food” and once a week we had to walk to the Jewish deli to get his smoked fish, matzo ball soup and other delights.
If you don’t what to do to relieve the suffering all around you, just do what you can. My golden retriever makes it clear that the way to the heart is through the stomach. Let’s feed each other and nourish each other’s souls.