Finding Dad

American writer Sherwood Anderson, one of the most prominent American novelists of the 20th century, talks about his father. It is often heard that fathers dream that their sons will achieve what they themselves could not, but I believe that these dreams are no less characteristic of sons. The boy expects from his father what he himself is not capable of.

I remember how in my early childhood I dreamed of the kind of father that my father never became. The father of my dreams had to be able to walk proudly, speak little, be full of importance. When I saw him walking down the street, surrounded by the neighborhood boys, I wanted to suffocate with boyish pride: “This is what I have. My father”.

But he was different. He couldn’t be the way I imagined him in my dreams. I always thought he was a clown. When someone in our town offered to direct a play (and it happened often), the pharmacist, the co-owner of the shoe store, the vet, not to mention women and girls, always got their roles. My father always won the main comic role. If there was a play, for example, about the Civil War, he would play an Irish cartoon soldier and allow himself to do stupid tricks for it. And everyone would think that he played very funny. Everyone but me.

I thought my father would be ashamed. I couldn’t understand how my mom could like my dad’s jokes. But she laughed along with everyone. I might have laughed with everyone, but it was about my father.

Or on the 4th of July, a day of remembrance for all our war casulaties, there was a parade. Dad couldn’t help but be there: he rode in the front row, like a parade organizer or something, on a white horse borrowed from the city stable.

He couldn’t even sit in the saddle. Once he fell off his horse so that the crowd laughed, but he didn’t care. It even amused him. I remember how he managed to do another stupid thing on the high street. I was walking in a group of boys and they shouted and started teasing my dad and he answered them like a peer and everyone found it funny. I rushed down the side streets, red with shame, through the back yards of the shops, until I found myself next to the Presbyterian Church, where I had a good cry.

Sometimes, when I was already in bed, my drunken father would bring friends to the house. He hated being alone. Before he went bankrupt, he sold horse harnesses and his shop was constantly crowded with vagrants. Of course he went bankrupt because he was giving money left and right. He couldn’t help himself and I thought his behavior was stupid and undignified. And I even started to become estranged from him.

I thought that some of the men in our town could not but loathe my father’s company. Take, for example, a school inspector or a silent hardware store owner. There was also a blond gentleman, a local bank teller. But even they, to my great surprise, didn’t think it was bad to associate with an idler like him. I perceived him differently. Now I understand what attracted people to him. The thing is, life in a town like ours was impossibly boring and my father enlivened that dreary life. He could make people laugh. He was goodat telling stories. Sometimes they even sang songs next to him.

Sometimes in the evenings, the men went to the river. We sat on the grass, cooked, drank beer and listened to father’s stories.

My father always talked about himself. About one and another remarkable event in his life. He wasn’t afraid to make a fool of himself. It didn’t bother him at all.

When an Irishman came to our house, my father immediately declared himself Irish. He told about what county in Ireland he was born in. He remembered stories from his Irish childhood. They proved so reliable that if I had not known of his birth in southern Ohio, I would have believed them myself.

When a Scotsman came to us, the same thing happened. Dad started to pronounce r’s in full Scottish fashion. He might as well have been a German or a Swede. He was ready to become a compatriot of every guest. The guests, I think, realized they were being tricked, but they seemed to enjoy it. I couldn’t stand it as a boy.

And my mother … How did she put up with him ?! I wanted to ask her about it several times but never got around to it. She wasn’t the kind of person to like that question.

I was lying in my bed upstairs in the room above the porch and I heard my father singing like a nightingale downstairs. Many of his fairy tales dealt with the Civil War. If you believed him, he participated in all the battles. Personally knew Grant, Sherman, Sheridan and god knows who else. He was a particularly close friend of General Grant and so when he went east to become commander-in-chief of the Northerners, he took his father with him.

– I was serving as a janitor at headquarters and Sam Grant took it and said to me: “Irv, I’m taking you with me.”

Then the general took him aside and they drank together. That’s what dad said. He said that on the day General Lee surrendered, General Grant was nowhere to be found.

“You must have heard,” said father, “of General Grant’s book, his memoirs. Perhaps read how he recalls the headache and how after the news of Lee’s surrender it disappeared. BUT? I was next to him. I stood leaning against a tree. It was already raining. And the booze was just right for that moment. Grant was searched everywhere. At last he rode, dismounted and went into the forest. He walked right at me covered in mud from head to toe. And I had a bottle in my hand. But no problem! The war is over. I already knew we had won.”

Dad convinced everyone that he was the one who told Grant about Lee. The warden Lee, who was passing by, also informed him about the surrender of the Southerners. The warden knew about Grant’s friendship with his father. The news surprised Grant.

“Irv, look how I look. I am covered in mud.”

“And then,” said father, “we decided to drink for the sake of victory.” They took a few sips.

“Sam Grant is no longer alive, so I can tell the story now,” my father continued.

It was one of his many stories. Of course, he was aware that it was all fiction, but the audience didn’t care.

When we lost all our money and begged, do you think my father became a breadwinner? He would have changed himself. When there was no food at home, he wandered around among the guests. He was expected everywhere. Sometimes he would disappear for weeks at a tim, and the responsibility of feeding us fell entirely on my mother’s shoulders. Father brought home a piece of ham given to him by a farmer friend. The ham fell on the kitchen table. “I hope you don’t doubt that I will make sure that my children do not starve,” he said and mother only smiled. She never said a word about his long absence, about the fact that father did not leave a penny for the family. Once I heard her say to a woman on the street: “… So what… but with him there is never a dull moment and there is nothing to talk about with other men. But mine knows how to cheer like no other.”

But I didn’t like him and sometimes I wished I had another father. I came up with it myself. To protect my mother, I invented another husband for her that no one knew anything about. As if her real husband was some railroad president or congressman who married my mother because he thought his first wife was dead, but later found out she wasn’t. Therefore the marriage was kept secret and therefore my father was not my real father. Somewhere far away lived another father, very peaceful and absolutely wonderful. My real father. I almost believed in these fantasies.

But then evening came. My father had been away for two or three weeks. When he came in, I was sitting at the kitchen table reading.

It was raining outside and he was completely wet. He sat down next to me, looked at me for a long time and was silent. I felt unsettled by his sad look, I had never seen him like this. He sat like that for a while, water dripping from his clothes onto the floor. But then he stood up.

“Come with me,” he said.

I got up and went out of the house with him. I was drawn by curiosity, there was no fear. We walked along a dirt road that led to a ravine about a mile from town. On the way he was silent. My father had never been silent before, but here he didn’t look like himself.

I didn’t understand what was happening and I felt like there was a stranger next to me. I don’t know if my father wanted it. I do not belive.

The pond was quite impressive in its dimensions. The rain did not end, lightning cut the sky, followed by thunder. My father broke the silence when we were on the grassy bank, his voice sounding different than usual in the darkness and rain.

“Take off your clothes,” he said. I, still curious, obeyed. In the light of the lightning, I saw that he had already undressed.

We entered the water. He grabbed my hand and pulled me along. I remained silent: perhaps out of fear, or perhaps because it all seemed to be happening not to me. Up until that moment, my father had had nothing to do with me.

– What next? I was thinking. I wasn’t a very good swimmer, but my father put his shoulder under me and swam into the darkness.

He had broad shoulders and he was an excellent swimmer. In the dark I could feel the movement of his strong muscles. We swam to the far end of the pond and back to where we left our clothes. The rain did not stop, the wind blew. My father rolled onto his back, but each time he put my hand on his big shoulder.

I saw his face in flashes. It seemed to me the same as in the kitchen recently – sad. Face in a flash of lightning, then darkness again, wind and rain. And I experienced a completely new feeling. A sense of closeness.

I had never experienced this before. As if there was no one else in the world but the two of us. There was no me, no school, no world where I was ashamed of my father.

He became flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood; a strong swimmer and I, a boy, clunged to his shoulder in complete darkness. We swam in silence, didn’t break the silence while putting on our clothes and going home.

When we entered, the lamp was on in the kitchen and mother saw us while pouring water on the floor. She smiled. She called us “boys”.

What did you do she asked, but  father didn’t answer. We started in silence and ended in silence that night. He looked at me and left the room with a new dignity I had not seen before.

I went up the stairs to my room, took off my clothes in the dark and went to bed. I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t sleep. For the first time in life I felt like my father’s son. He told stories and I was destined to repeat his fate. I might have even laughed quietly in the dark. If so, what made me laugh was the realization that I no longer needed another father.

Source: Обретение отца (hristiane.ru)

Happy father´s day