Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Put this up the first of January, two years ago. My son was deep in indian territory. Now he has been home -- well, back, for almost an entire year. That other life has passed as a wakening from a dream. Circumstances change, and we change with them. But for all that, we mustn't suppose that we wouldn't change back, if circumstances changed back. If character is a rock in the tide, personality is the sand. My point? We find what has worth, and cleave to it. Everything else is sand.


My former wife was an artist. Always had a camera. If it had been left to me, there would be exactly zero pictures of my boy. As it is, there are untold millions. But I don’t have them. That’s okay with me, but it’s nice to get a photo now and then, especially given current circumstances. And he just sent me some. But you wouldn't be interested.

What’s that you say? You want to see them? Well, thanks for the interest, but... Oh, you insist? Well, it’s very flattering, but I... What’s that? You won’t take no for an answer? Really, your desperation is quite charming, and I’d hate to be rude -- it’s just that... Oh, you’d be devastated if I didn’t share them? You say life would hardly be worth living? All sweetness and beauty would flee from your soul? Only bitterness and anguish would remain? Oh alright then. You’ve talked me into it. I certainly don’t want your life to be ruined, as you so pathetically assert would be the result of my declining to share with you a few pictures of my wonderful son.


It is traditional to send out a Christmas picture.

A day at the beach?

My, that's a big one.

No wonder they hate us.

Didn't believe me, did you.

This is what we did before there was cable.

So there it is.

I find myself in an odd position. I knew that boy so well I could practically read his mind. Now my son has acquired a set of life experiences with which I have nothing to compare. He must be an utterly changed man. In many ways, he will be a stranger to me.

Of course I miss the little boy I knew so well. But my son will return to me and the opportunity in that return is that I will meet him as an equal, now -- insofar as that can ever happen between father and son. The challenge for me will be to come to know my son as a man, and as a friend.

This is no small thing. I'm not good at making friends. If we hadn't known each other for so many years, I don't know that I would be friends with my son. That's just me. There is some number of people that I like, with whom I will never be friends -- that level of trust and shared experiences and intimacies ... how could I ever have that? But I am not some other father, who must make enemies of his sons.

Yeah, that came out of left field. A couple of days ago I remembered something from my middle teen years. My father came up to me and ripped off my shirt. Tore it right off my body. Buttons went flying. He was trying to shame me, for some reason. I don't remember the details -- it happened over thirty years ago. Isn't that an odd memory? The didactic point he was attempting to drive home was that I was a weakling. But I wasn't. My hairless bare chest didn't support his premise, given that I had significant muscular development. Didn't diffuse his anger, but it undermined his point. Don't recall any more details. Except that he would have found something else to be angry about, or some other way to drive me away, as he did with all his sons.

No, I'm not actually bitter. It's an ugly and troubling story, but I don't have any emotion about it. It's just a weird memory. And it stands as a symbol of what I knew I would never be. My son always knew he could trust me. That's worth more to me than anything. Now, when he returns, I will find pleasure in his company, and I will tolerate with patience and love both the irksome habits he will have developed and the youthful arrogance he will still have -- as I will take pride in his character and his strength and his excellence.

Here I was, thinking I was doing you a favor, after you groveled and pleaded so prettily to see these pictures. But you have done me a favor. Thank you. Sharing them has made me glad. Thanks.


How much of this old Jack H, or this younger one rather, remains? All of him. And his son, N? The same. The thing about being an adult is that there are no more transformations. We are finished. Almost finished. Not many things can change us. I can think of a few things, like tragedy, and grace -- but these are by definition rare. We coudn't survive a lot of either. One would destroy us, the other would so refine our spirit that we would perforce be translated out of the world. We exist only because life is mostly commonplace.

Did my predictions, or expectations, come true? Wrong question. Rather, did I know my son as well as I thought. Answer: he is a full grown man, and I know him as well as I can. I am not disappointed, save in that I don't see him as much as I might. We can't cling, though. We can't cleave, beyond a certain point. This truth causes me no pain. I must suppose I am no longer the rock, that a little boy stood on. Now I am a lighthouse in the distance. A present comfort. It is enough. It makes me smile. The way love should do.




Anonymous said...

One might argue with that categorical "always, never" and the like) Yes, we can change (although not necessarily will). Life, responsibilities, family, environment and so forth...Even the possibly wisest man in the US Thomas Sowell used to be a delusional Marxist, and now he is a sober conservative. Didn't you object yourself to "always"??))

Jack H said...

I find only two alwayses in this post -- my former wife with her camera, and my son who could trust me. Likewise with the nevers. You must have noticed my use of rocks and sand. We can't trust gravity, if you want to get right down to it. What is trust, or belief, or faith, or sanity? Yet we continue, and are for the most part sane. There's trust and there's trust. There's always and there's always. I've made that obvious point enough times in these pages that I don't need to make it every time.