Friday, March 19, 2010

Fathers and Sons

Mark Steinmetz

In three words I can sum up everything I know about life: it goes on. --Robert Frost

I planned a vacation for myself, but that vacation was cut short.

I was only going to Chicago, where my father lives. I had two meetings in Chicago on Thursday, and so it wasn't a real vacation, only a chance for me to get away for a couple days.

On the first night (Wednesday), my younger sister met me at my father's apartment a couple hours before he arrived home from work. We sat on my father's couch . . . at first she was distracted, playing with her i-Phone, she'd look up at me while we were talking and then look back down at her phone to text message or check her email.

When my father arrived, he came into his study where Mandy and I were sitting in front of the computer. He quietly left the room.

They made dinner for me as I sat on the couch reading the newspaper. Secretly, I marveled at how well they got along together, cooperating on making the dinner with the fun of a happily married couple.

There was a time when I could have been a part of the Chicago picture; I could have lived there, and maybe developed a closer relationship to the family.

People often tell me that my problem is I don't live closer to people I care about. I don't have a robust social network in real life (online I do), mainly because I choose to live in Central Illinois. But I've tried to tether myself to people before, and it doesn't work for me. I prefer the simple rituals I have which don't rely on an abundance of friends.

That night my father and sister watched home movies while I sat on the couch, continuing to read the newspaper. My father's latest project has been to transfer all of the home movies he made between 1979 and 1998 onto DVD. It's an enormous archive, and when I come to visit now, I'm tacitly expected to watch a video from the archive. But Thursday night, I had no interest. He filmed nearly every major event, and a great number of non-events, everything from Christmases to birthdays, recitals, vacations, parties, sporting events.

Last time I was at his apartment I watched an hour or so of the videos, and the repetitive version of my family history bored me, even though I got to see my mother, who passed away. The family, through my father's eyes, and perhaps my sister's, reflects something of the "good old days," but I see a different picture in the slew of tapes . . .

It seems my father has changed dramatically in his attitude toward me. My impression is that all of my issues over the years has led him to think of me as a burden. He saw me through many bad times, and he used to be committed to me, despite what happened.

Today he shows little commitment toward me as a son. He's swung to the opposite extreme, presenting a cool exterior, which I interpret as unloving. If my actions in adolescence, and some continuing into adulthood, caused my father to detach himself from me, then I can only respond with a detachment of my own.

On Friday morning, we broke into an argument. Certain things I say irritate him. He doesn't like me talking about my job, or my financial situation. I understand why he wouldn't want me to complain, but it's hard to hide my resentment.

I returned home that day. I stayed in his apartment for only one night. This is the usual duration before either one of us becomes so angry we can't be around each other.

I never thought that my relationship to my father would go through so many reversals.



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