Friday, June 26, 2009


From three years ago. The distance has helped.


I understand Hamlet. He wasn't mad at all. He wasn't wrestling with his conscience. He was religious. It's not that he couldn't make up his mind. It's that he had proof of an afterlife, yet he still grieved. Old Hamlet's Purgatorial ghost. To be or not to be? It's hardly ever performed with understanding. It's a fancy way of talking about suicide. So why is it a speech? He's not introspective, not philosophical. He's depressed. He knows what death is like. He's not declaiming, not musing -- he's talking to himself. Why don't they get that? I guess because they're acting.

The name Hamlet comes from Amblodi, Icelandic for madman. But in the play within the play, the prince is named Lucian. Lucid. Sane. When I noticed that, years and years ago, I thought it was pretty interesting. Shakespeare had a son, you know. Hamnet. Funny. Except that the boy died before Shakespeare wrote the play. If I had a son who died, I don't think I'd name my greatest tragic hero after him. But maybe I would.

I've been thinking about one of my stories. Real life stories. Toying with the idea of writing it up. But they're so painful. When I sat down to write, just now, I had no idea where I was going. Usually the case. It seems I'm going to tell one of my stories.

Hard to tell a story without using any details.

After a long nightmarish series of escalating crises, one of my boys ran away. Good riddance, you'd think. But that's not how it works.

That's the end of this story.

There are other stories, of course, from later, when he was found, as it were. And what happened. Much worse stories. Pointless, as far as I can see. The point of the fascinating running away story that I just entrusted to you, is this. When he was gone, I went and lay down on his bed. Nothing Michael Jackson about it. Just a way of grieving. I know a woman who kept her dead husband's old sweaters, because they smelled like him. Hamlet kept his father's ghost. I kept my grief.

I used to tell them, no, they weren't the sons of my body. They were the sons of my heart. I hope that's how God feels about us. And here I am, a runaway. Does God grieve for me?

Oh damn. Another story. A little more detail, in this one. Yes, I have a father. When I was sixteen he told me he regretted that he'd named me Jack, because that was his name, and he was sorry he'd named such a faggoty little nothing like me with a real man's name. What if his friends saw me -- how embarrassing for him. Huh. Seemed kind of harsh. No, he didn't drink. It sounded like his real opinion. But maybe he was just angry. About something. For some reason. We might excuse it that way. We all say hurtful things, sometimes. I guess the fact that I read books was the basis for his "faggoty" judgment. And I listened to Classical music. Some might call that faggoty. I would hope that was his meaning. I'm afraid it wasn't. In fact I know it wasn't, but that's another story.

Nine years later I was living in Australia, and had a new baby son. Got news that my father had just had another son too, by a recent wife. Now, guess what my father named his new son, twenty five years after I was born. It hardly seems possible, doesn't it. Is it even legal? Jack. Jack. I, Jack, have a half brother, younger than my own son, named Jack. Isn't that funny? I'm dying.

I'm sure he didn't even remember his little critique, his pep talk from a former decade. He had a convenient memory. I think he grieves for me, now, after his fashion. But that's because he's getting old and he hasn't seen me since the early nineties. Well, we did meet by accident once at the hardware store. My son was just going into the Army.

So you'll understand, then, why I took being a father so seriously. I'm not capable of forgetting. I remember the JFK assassination. I remember toilet training. Anything with an emotional content, I remember, vividly. Ouch. It's like electricity. I have an inconvenient memory. Alas, my view of fathers was shaped long before I became one. So it's hard, always been hard, to trust God. I have lots of stories. That I can't forget. And always, later, somewhere in my awareness was the decision, the resolve, the fierce determination to honor the sacred duty of fatherhood -- to cherish the precious and vulnerable child that had been entrusted into my care. God, I can barely write this.

Everything is so ironic.


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