Archive for July, 2021
I have three daughters. Have I bequeathed a better youth to them than I had? They’d have to tell you. I can’t.
My first, Morgan, was a blessing beyond belief. I wasn’t ready for a kid (I’ve never been ready for a kid, never will be, never could be). During Julie’s pregnancy, our marriage was at one of its periodic nadirs, Julie pretending to attempt an abortion, than pretending suicide. I hated going to work each day at the Penn bookstore, hated even more coming back home to our two rooms and bath on Delancey St., in Philly’s Society Hill. In December we were married, simply because I didn’t want my kid to be labelled a bastard.
We walked to the hospital, about three blocks away, when Julie was having contractions. I was supposed to be with her for the delivery, but the floor changed shifts and nobody told me she was ready. I missed the birth, and I don’t think Julie ever forgave me (for much of anything).
We moved when Morgan was two months old to a narrow father, son and holy ghost rowhouse on Locust near 23rd. Morgan was the most joyous baby ever born. She constantly smiled and giggled and gurgled just to be alive. At six months (or whenever she could hitch herself up on her knees) she would look up with a big grin and actually say, “a-goo!”
Among her playpen toys were two or three cloth-covered foam cubical blocks, about four inches on a side. She would wait with quivering anticipation, and when we finally let loose with a block, bouncing it off her forehead, she would almost disintegrate with ecstasy.
Morgan was the first person in my life I loved in a direct, all-encompassing, unselfish way. I wanted nothing of her but her existence. She was the making of me as a decent human being (if, indeed, that has happened).
Erin came two and a quarter years after Morgan. With Morgan, I had expected a son – not wanted, just assumed, maybe because I was one of three brothers? Erin was planned, and I now wanted a daughter with all my heart – never again held interest in fathering a son. Twice I’ve had that wish granted.
Erin was born while we were still on Locust St., but somehow I can’t pin down the details of her birth. At least it was not beset by Julie’s games of self-destruction. For Erin I made the mahogany cradle that has since nurtured many a babe (she had the outlandish ability to project her liquid bowel eruption over the end of the cradle).
She was a different sort of delight, even a foil to Morgan’s incessant good humor. Once she learned to speak, she arose most days a simmering grouch that needed immediate feeding for alleviation. Yet behind that was the raucous sense of humor that’s followed her through life, an adventurous playfulness matched by a skewer-sharp toughness. She faces existence with a four-square certainty that amazes (and teaches) me.
Caitlin began 15 years later, recreating an aspect of my childhood which was highly peculiar in those earlier times – a third child who was a decade and a half younger than its siblings. By the mid ’80s it was hardly unusual, with so many couples re-formed in different combinations.
Linda and I had never considered having a child – we were both in our 40s (my father had been 48 at my birth). When she announced the unlikelihood as we parked whichever rattletrap car we had saddled ourselves with at the time, we both cringed: “Not another teenager!” She was delivered by a midwife – more on that later).
But Cait is ours, so completely and recognizably ours, an amazing amalgam of our interests, traits, strengths (and, yes, weaknesses). She has taken our lives along a path we could never have imagined, one that was denied Julie and me by the fate of an incompatibility comparable to gefilte fish and ice cream.
Morgan is now 54, Erin 52, Cait will soon be 37. How is that possible?
What have I given them? Something better than I had, I vastly hope. But I still have no concept of what a father is supposed to be.
There once was a little engine which was told to haul a long train filled with circus animals and spare parts to be used in a brewery on the other side of the hill. The engine looked at the hill and sighed. It would be a very long, exhausting climb indeed. But it was a brave little engine, and after building up a good head of steam it shifted into gear and made its try.
It huffed and puffed while the animals roared and the spare parts shifted because the boxes had not been properly restrained. After a great struggle, the little engine reached the half-way point, where the slope became even steeper. With all its strength it kept going despite the terrible strain on it’s pistons, which had not received their annual inspection in over a decade. It chugged almost to the top and paused for the final push over the crest of the hill.
But alas, just then a tie-rod snapped and the train rolled back down the slope, gathering speed as it went. It derailed on the bottom curve. All the circus animals that were not killed on contact ran through the town, tearing the arms and legs off innocent citizens. Flying brewery parts broke windows and severed electric lines, and the mayor was hit by a boxcar wheel while leaving city hall and decapitated.
Moral: Station masters should spend more time reading the rules of the road and less time composing fairy tales.
Linda and I got talking about pattern-recognition the other night. The conversation started because of a major plot element in the book I’m working on, then it veered into illuminating something that’s been flitting through my head off and on for ages.
It started with Bush the Younger. The general consensus among leftists (at least) was that he was just plain dumb. I’m not saying he wasn’t or isn’t, but watching his responses, what struck me as more likely was a learning disability. Maybe that response came from Linda having been a reading specialist who dealt with first-graders who had a rough time untangling written words.
There was one time Bush was pictured supposedly reading to a kindergarten class in Florida but looking like he was being held hostage on another planet. I thought then (and still think) that it was not only a really bad photo op, but that it fit fit well with that look of scrambled confusion that so often would cross his face when he was trying to make sense of something – less stupidity than, “Geez, what the hell?” Having difficulty comprehending the written word is not the kind of thing a major country’s leader is going to announce, but it would have created a hell of problem for those briefing him on anything complex.
More recently, massive amounts of time were spent on Beloved Seditionist Leader’s bumbling, nonsensical pontifications, analyzing how they reflect stupidity, ignorance, a racist mental rash, and/or narcissistic self-glorification. I’ll go with all of them, but I also think there’s some important underlying neurological problem. I mean, what’s really going on back there in Rump’s head? And what does it say about the man himself – who’s a unique entity, as is each of us?
When he mischaracterizes a fairly simple statement made to him, is it lying, deliberate misdirection, political gamesmanship, or simply failure to understand because he can’t form the words into a coherent pattern? When he rants against anything that doesn’t mesh with his pre-conceived ideas, is it (only) bilious arrogance, or that he can’t assimilate new information and so has to deny its existence?
He comes across as bad enough in interviews and briefings, but his staff have made it clear that he never “liked” to read anything put in front of him. What if he just couldn’t? I’m sure he can recognize individual words, but what if sentences disentangle from their meaning, run off the page and fornicate in the undergrowth? What if he can’t assemble a coherent pattern in a paragraph?
[Hell, I get that way with certain essayists. I was trying to read Francis Bacon last month and it was like somebody forcing my head under muddy water and yelling “Drink!” There are still a few scholars who want to credit him with writing Shakespeare’s plays; let me tell you, simply and flat out – “NO!”]
I’m making no apology for Dump’s behavior as President or as a more-or-less-human being. I’m just trying to find ways to explain some parts of it: because if you don’t know the cause of a given problem, you’re not going to find a viable solution. As for the larger issue of personal responsibility… many a soul with learning problems is fully decent. For any limiting physical or mental condition – no matter what the details – like the rest of us, some will be upstanding, most will be of average moral character, a few will be, by nature, rotten.
Morally, spiritually, Sump is a vile being.