Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Advice from my dad

My dad was a keen observer of my birthdays. Whatever happened on my birthday would be a great observation of it.

The year I turned 15 I received a letter from the governor of Texas, congratulating me for having been born there. When I was an ardent piano student, I got an informal pic of Vladimir Horowitz, personally inscribed to me, and the next year, the same from Arturo Toscanini. Another year there came an original Pogo strip, with an inscription to me from Walt Kelly as well as a letter from him.

At other times, Daddy would make a point of taking me someplace and introducing me to someone he knew I would find interesting. One year I was taken to meet Leo F. Grandmontagne, a geologist (I loved the fact that his first name was Leo, because I, of course, am a Leo). Leo F. Grandmontagne gave me some selenite crystals for my collection. Another year I met a taxidermist and yet another year, a man who made prosthetic arms and legs, who showed me how his own worked.

Because it was summer, some birthdays I was off at camp. And there were several tough years when my dad was in the hospital. But after I was grown up and had left home, letters came instead. One year I was told that precisely at 3.28 a.m. "...all the docs at Brooke General Hospital stop what they're doing and turn toward the maternity department and bow."

When I found the box with "old stuff" -- the one with the water pistols? and the egg? -- it also contained a letter which I received on my birthday 40 years ago today. It was the one time my dad actually gave me advice. I remembered the advice, but finding the letter itself was a thrill, because of all the offhand comments he made (most of which can't be printed here). It's too bad more parents aren't as open with their children as he was with me in this letter. After telling me that the United States would not have a violent revolution, he wound down with these comments:

Who do you like most? He might have been a
son-of-a-bitch. Who do you dislike the most?
He was probably a nice guy if you talk to him right.
St. Francis of Assisi was probably a lousy neighbor,
but he was a saint.

Danny the Red? Now that he's a tycoon with a Rolls,
he has no time for the canaille. A buck is the
best way to assuage any of the potential
revolutionaries, and as long as the economy keeps
feeding the animals, you may be sure there will
be no revolutions ...

You don't know what to do? You see everyone
doing their thing successfully? You may be
sure they have their fears and doubts just as
you and I and Adolf Hitler and Aldrin and Collins
and everyone else. Bigger ones than ours, too.

When I was your age, I fell into that trap of wondering
why everyone else seemed to be having more fun than I was.
Now, with a melancholy air, I know for a complete fact
that had I gone off to school, gotten a PhD in birds,
painted all I wanted, I would now be rich, famous, and
everything else. Ironically, I see those who I sorta envied,
completely lost just about the time I know where the hell I am,
and now, I feel it's too late.

I should have had the wonderful
fun of looking at Kennicott's willow
warblers on Adak when I was 30 ...
not when I'm 54.

So, dammit, do what you want to do most and like
best. If you can't do something and don't like anything,
then, dammit, cultivate it. Nothing invented by the
animal is anywhere near perfect much of the time
(including you).

What I loved about my birthday letter forty years ago was that my dad was giving me permission to be myself. He was of the generation that had finished high school at the depths of the depression, then gone through a war, and fear of and for the future marked many of their parental judgments.

Forty years on, I am sure this letter made me a better parent when my time came. Getting your parent's permission to displease him sometimes was a wonderful gift. Thank you, Daddy, for this and so many other things.

Gypsum var. Selenite crystal in clay matrix, crystal measures 3.4 cm (specimen Joseph W. Vasichko) Clay bank along West Branch of Meander Creek, Ellsworth, Mahoning County, Ohio.

The image of the Kennicott's willow warbler is from http://www.sofnet.org/index.asp?lev=964&typ=1

1 comment:

Sort Quench & Dump said...

Happy Birthday Diggitt! What is the exact day - perhaps you were born on the feast of Saint Christina the Astonishing.