Two themes to address this morning: number of people seen since I began walking regularly around the urban jogging trail, and bonding (or not) with Dad.
First, the urban jogging trail and the faces I’ve passed. I began walking down there regularly in 2001, when Olivia had made me feel like a stranger in the home I owned and was busy getting busy in other men’s homes. January 2001, I made it a point to begin going down there at least once a week with the dog. This started out consisting of walks that maybe went a mile or two at the most, often not encompassing an entire loop. There were periods in these past seven years of walking and jogging where I missed a weekend, because I was working or drinking too much, but I would have to say that as a solid average, I’ve been down to the urban jogging trail twice a week for seven years, or roughly seven hundred times. Each time I go down there to walk or jog, I might see half a dozen faces at the very least, or upwards of a thousand faces when a festival is going on. But, for most evenings or mornings, I would say the average number of faces I really see–I mean, take a moment to recognize the face and consider its humanity–is probably about thirty per walk/jog. This means that since I started going down to the urban jogging trail, I’ve seen about two thousand faces. Of those, maybe fifty of them have interacted with me in the form of a hello or a smile. Think about the implications of that. What does that mean, in this reality, when out of two thousand people you might have liked to get to know a little better, maybe exchange email addresses and occasionally hit up with questions in their areas of expertise or go for a jog with them–out of all those faces, you’ve made it past a stare to a smile or hello about 2.5% of the time? And, as for actually exchanging any contact info, or having a longer conversation with them? Maybe a half dozen times at the most.
Welcome to my little hell. Where, I would love to make new friends but scare everyone away. Where, people are tiny islands (even islands are part of a larger earth ecosystem, but they are still islands) unto themselves. Hell must be like this, only not even a dog or an occasional best friend accompany you through the most terrible places and times. Some of this is my fault–to be for sure, I’m too shy, too set in my ways, etc. But, you don’t see everyone else down there making friends with fellow strangers. That, in fact, seems to be a rare gift that few possess. The few that come up to me and strike up conversations generally seem so crazy as to not even be a part of this reality.
The second theme that needs addressing is the bonding and relationship dynamic that has taken place with my father over the years. It seems to have hit its climax with the death of my mom, and now I am getting to know a man who in some ways seems like a complete stranger to me. You have the father of early childhood, who worked the night shift, and would often babysit me while my mom went to work. It seemed we were relatively close for awhile, at least until we moved to Missouri. Then, you have the father through the rest of my childhood who was simply the supreme court of the family. He arbitrated in those tough decisions that my mother couldn’t or wouldn’t make. Go ask your father, if you want it different. We’re taking this fight, this problem, this struggle to your father, and he can deal with it. And, my dad would be down in his little cave, reading a book, probably throwing back a beer or two–always keeping such hidden. Then, after we went to bed, we could hear him watching television for several hours into the night, and would sometimes discover empty beer bottles behind his chair in the living room. That father didn’t go on our summer trips with us, he rarely took us on weekend outings, sometimes participated in yard work with us, and occasionally would play the backyard football game. He watched football every Sunday with us–that was the real moment to bond with Dad, over some new kind snack food he got at the store, and a couple of games of football.
Then, you see this new Dad start to emerge about the time I craved independence and entered adolescence. The dad that wanted to be my buddy, even as I pulled away from the entire family. We went on a couple of canoe trips together, and right before puberty struck me, we bonded over computers–he would stick Pascal on the computer, and try to teach it to us. After Gus left, it seemed like he wanted to bond more–but, you know, I briefly thought it would be cool to have a dad who took me fishing and hunting and to ballgames–but, he wasn’t that dad. My mom hated guns and never allowed them in the house until we were all grown up and almost gone, and my dad hated fishing and baseball (and, while he liked football, he hated crowds). I should also mention that back in the above, there were also the Saturday trips to the public library–but, while a lot of this stuff was done with dad and family, the real bonding where you actually talk to someone and become more of a friend to them, that seemed to be mostly absent.
Through high school and college, Dad and I fought and avoided each other. I hated him, he was a controlling asshole who wanted me to go off and become everything he couldn’t or wouldn’t, and I wanted to go off and become my own person, but part of me also wanted to please Daddy still. And, I resented that latter part of me, and I resented that he was paying for college, but I was too soft to just say no and go do my own damn thing. So, I hated myself for that, and hated him for being part of what made me hate myself, and to be truthful, these kinds of endless childish resentments stayed with me even after Roy died and Dad started to become more like a friend again, because Roy’s death just caused a huge repressing of that stuff, not a purging of it. So, I had to work with all of these latent immature feelings again a few years ago as they started to resurface, and the need to be supernice to my parents in the face of their overwhelming grief just kind of subsided with the passing of time. As I began to uncover and get rid of these feelings of resentment toward Daddy, thinking maybe I’d have that moment where I would just have it out with him, Mom got the cancer again two years ago, and then it seemed like it would be patently foolish to go throw a big tantrum to Daddy about things he’d said years ago that were never quite reconciled.
I hate to say it, but I grew closest to my father–the closest that I think I’ll ever be–during the last year of my mom’s life. Each weekend, I think we went at least once out to the garden with the dogs to throw the toy around for them, and as my mom got weaker, or was at church or work, we would discuss all kinds of stuff–I think he liked having someone to talk to about worldly things, as my mom had just shut herself off almost completely from everything that wasn’t her little world of cats, Bible, church and old people. I think right now Dad is looking for someone who can provide all of the companionship and physical stuff Mom did, plus all of the intellectual stimulation that I did–and, so, he’s kind of distancing himself from me again.
You could see this in the first dozen conversations we had right after she died. After the tremendous stress of talking through how all of the cancer and death had affected us, it was like we reached a point where we really had nothing more to say about it, other than practical matters, like disposing of Mom’s stuff that held no sentimental or monetary value, and purchasing the headstone. And, what with him trying to date all of these different women, he really hasn’t seemed too interested in discussing robots and politics and computers with me. He certainly didn’t have an interest in reading up on cancer research breakthroughs past the time of Mom’s death. Now, it just seems like he wants to go back forty years, and pick up where he left off–being a bachelor with a motorcycle seeing women and farting around.
Last weekend I brought my new laptop with Linux preloaded on it over, and he barely looked at it. After being a computer programmer for twenty years, and buying over a dozen computers, and talking with me about computer stuff regularly, and talking with Roy about computer stuff even obsessively–you’d think he’d want to look under the hood a bit, kick the tires, and take my new machine for a spin. But, no. He just kind of glanced at it, said it was nice–I showed him a few things on it, and he said cool. He was so proud of his motorcycle, though, and wanted to talk at length about that.
Strange, how if you cut back to that era of adolescence, high school and college, you see me using computers only when I absolutely had to–up until the latter part of college when I started to get into making websites. I was adamant about my work not having a computer as its central focal point–working in an environment where you didn’t stare at a computer screen all day. I embraced rock n’ roll, and wanted to do stuff with guitars and keyboards and drums. I wanted physicality in whatever I did. I mostly wanted to get away from computers because they’d been in our house since I was four, and I hardly wanted to be a damn bit like my dad. I guess it’s irony that my time spent at work is almost exclusively on a computer–outside of the occasional meeting or event, everything I do is on a computer.
Now, it’s as if our roles have reversed, though I hardly feel that much more enamored of the computer–it’s just a tool and job, I’d rather be out walking the dog and interacting with friends than spending all day on a computer–I still am so much more immersed in computers now, and require them to be a part of my life just to do everything I have to do. My father could care less about them–you wouldn’t know him to be any different than the next senior who only knows how to check email, browse the internet, and upload a few photos. He had all these little time capsules stuck in him, I guess, from the time he got married, adopted and had kids. Now, he’s digging them up, and breaking them open, and meanwhile, his son has more or less become the product of his actions and teachings (for better or for worse) while those time capsules were buried. I was raised to fear guns and motorcycles, to be this scholar and a gentleman, to clean up after myself, to be religious, fear God, hate crowds and mostly hate sports, but love computers and intellectual concepts. Sure, a lot of that was my mom, but my dad always seemed ready to pretty much go along with whatever she wanted when it came to raising us.
So, we just kind of go through the same routine of the visits from the past seven years–the ones where Mom was still very much a participant in the discussions, and the ones of the last year of her life where it was mostly just Dad and son struggling with the monster cancer creeping through a loved one, so creeping through our thoughts and words as well. But, the closeness, the act of two people being all they have in this world against an onslaught of terribleness (be it cancer, or every family member and friend that seemed to know what was best for us), that seems to be gone. In its place, you have a sixty-eight year-old man going on twenty-nine, and a thirty-two year-old man going on seventy-two. We really don’t know what to say to each other much anymore.