Each of us views the world through our own particular lenses, and these are crafted by our experiences.
My father is an intelligent and difficult man. He was raised in a hard household, and he made certain not to pass on certain experiences of his own, for which I am exceptionally thankful. While I have written of my father’s experiences as a child, it was done through a filter, and with the goal of keeping some elements of the family’s history private.
That being said, there were certain expectations placed upon me as a child and as a young man. I am the eldest of his sons, the first born, the one to carry his father’s name. It was my responsibility to not only protect my younger brother, and to shield him from the world as much as possible, but to produce children and carry on the name when it was time.
My father was raised in a Greek home, and learned the lessons of patriarchy well. Add to this the ferocious demands upon males in American culture in my father’s generation, and you will understand some of the pressure I felt as a young man. In addition to this, there is a history of mental illness in the family.
Expressing emotions – other than devotion and loyalty to my father and brother – was not only frowned upon, but ridiculed. Acknowledging pain and fear was taboo as well.
My mental image of my father has always been that of a man of stone. A frightening God at the best and worst of times.
He has, in no small way, affected my life. It is difficult to move beyond some of those experiences, to write past them, and to be an adult who has emotions and fears.
Over the years my father has begun to change. To soften. And it is frightening.
Imagine seeing a great stone edifice slowly crumble, with large chunks breaking off suddenly and for no understandable reason, and you will understand my sense of shock each time my father makes a statement completely out of character.
Years ago, when I was riding shotgun in a snow-plow, during a particularly brutal nor’easter, the plow I was in passed by an accident. This wasn’t a minor fender bender, or even a car off the road. Someone had lost control of their vehicle, and slammed into a telephone pole, breaking the pole in half.
People were beginning to stop, trying to get to the vehicle to check on the driver.
I asked the driver of my truck to pull over, to see if we could help. Even if it was nothing more than parking our large vehicle behind the wreck and directing traffic around it.
My driver wouldn’t. He shook his head and said other people would help. I was furious, but could do nothing as he turned the truck onto another street and left the scene.
Later on I learned the driver of the car had been killed.
When speaking with my father several days later, I told him about what had happened, and how I was angry that the driver of my plow didn’t stop and try to help.
And my father surprised me.
“He was afraid,” my father said. “Some men can’t deal with death. You have to cut them some slack, kid. They’re not made like you and me.”
My father’s compliments are rare. His understanding of the fears of others, and his acceptance of them, was something I had never seen before.
And like everything else my father has said and done in my presence, it has affected me, and its effect on my writing can still be seen when I craft my characters, and seek some understanding for their actions.
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