31 July 2009

My father: in memoriam

My father died three weeks ago. He succumbed struggling with numerous complications after a three-month fight following open-heart surgery. At the end his body simply shut down. His final fading was accompanied by family members and a joint recitation of the Lord’s Prayer. When I touched his head and said: 'Go well father,' it was cold.

He was retired. Ten years ago he left as head of a Wall Street investment firm. After college he had risen from salesman to managing director in charge of business development. He also handled investor relations. He managed the New York headquarters as well as offices in London, Europe, and the Middle East. His success has been attributed to uncommon drive and talent, which he certainly had in abundance, but I suspect luck also played a part. As an ambitious, educated white man with connections starting out in the 1960s--before the era of racial quotas, feminism, and mass immigration--he would have been a total idiot not to have achieved something of note.

He was an extremely generous man with an abiding dedication to family. His was a lively spirit with a mischievous sense of humour. He was much given to practical jokes and pranks. His bad temper was notorious. Even now his former colleagues and subordinates talk about it.

My father and I never met. We were strangers. We were too different, with opposing views of life. He ridiculed my accent, bookish inclinations, cultural interests, and taste in girlfriends. Where my father was sociable always seeking a party, I was a loner most comfortable with two or three close friends. He was not an athlete by any means, though he was a sports addict, especially of football, including the Harvard-Yale game; indeed his example has led me to theorise that a man's athletic inaptitude is directly proportional to his enthusiasm for televised sporting events. He loved watching baseball, basketball, and football, none of which he could play, whereas I preferred rugby, tennis, squash, surfing, and polo. He was a decent tennis player and keen fisherman.

Partly for this reason, I believe, as well as a few others yet undiscussed here, today I have murder in my heart. It stays there like a mussel glued to wave-washed rocks. I attribute it in part to his neglect and pure bloody-mindedness. Over the years I have suppressed it by an irregular course of self-medication and isolation, the results of which, I suppose, can occasionally be seen here. But I am not one to blame others or to point fingers; they do the best they can and for that we must be grateful.

He was descended from an English Catholic family in the North of England whose roots can be traced back to the 11th C.. In his family tree can be found farmers, knightly landowners, Catholic and Anglican priests, and, in recent decades, classical musicians, portrait painters, and surgeons. His father—my grandfather—was an international oil company executive who arrived in the US via Toronto, Canada. His mother was a titled Baltic German, alcoholic, and drug addict.

The burial itself was an exercice in simplicity and grace, attended by about 25 family members and close friends on a sun-filled day overlooking the ocean. A Roman Catholic priest officiated, to the well-suppressed consternation, I am sure, of my WASP mother. The memorial service last week, attended by about 400 family and friends, also occurred without incident, though I was tempted to add a bit of colour; when the moment came, however, I did not act. I am not given to ornate displays of emotionalism. For my father I would much rather have liked a funeral pyre in the style of the Vikings, from whom our family is descended. For myself I prefer a simple grave in a plain field. Memorial rituals are for the benefit of the living as much as for the dead.

Every family is a ruin. It is left to the survivors, the living, the walking wounded, to pick our way through rotting legacies and crumbling memories as best we can. If we are fortunate enough we will have found in time a healing love, a blessed connectedness, that eases our God-provided mission.

26 July 2009

Lutetia Dandy Club