"It is as if I am missing, am mourning, myself."
By Jason Dubow
S everal of my friends have lost parents, mostly fathers, over the past few months. At the funerals and shivas, amidst the grief, my mind wanders.
I’ll spare you my OCD-tinged litany and get right to the heart of the matter. I listen to other people talk about their dead parents and I think about what I would say about mine. About my lovely and essential Skeptic. I think about what my kids will some day say about me.
Or, if I wander too far, what I would say about them?
SmallerMan, in a conversation with Skeptic about taste, suggests that “sorrow” should be a flavor. If for Gabriel García Márquez, “It was inevitable: the scent of bitter almonds always reminded him of the fate of unrequited love,” what sensations will be inevitable triggers of memory for my boys? And of what will they be reminded? What does sorrow taste like to them? Fear? Desire? Confusion? Anger? Love?
Years ago I was given this advice: only write if you absolutely have to. I claimed not to understand. But understanding is beside the point. I have not written.
And then I had kids and got older and began to think more about mortality and what really matters. Perhaps I became so obsessed with figuring out what really matters that I neglected to attend to the very things that do. One day a year or so ago, I— a circumspect, emotionally reserved, rational man— had something of an epiphany. If, from this day until an age-appropriate death, I am able to spend time (quantity and quality) with my wife, my boys, their children, all of us painless, joyful, and at peace, I will die a satisfied man. It’s as simple as that. There’s nothing about money unearned, children unconceived, books unwritten. This is what I now know.
In a recent class , discussing Jonathan Lethem’s Fortress of Solitude, the relationship young Dylan and Mingus have with Superheroes, real and imagined, and the complexity of identity, the question was asked: if you could create yourself as a Superhero, who would you be?
I was a bit embarrassed by my answer, introduced it as “a little goofy.” Call me “Super Dad.” I would follow my kids around, unperceivable to all, and watch over them, help them along the way. My students thought this sweet, though one said, “Typical helicopter parent.” I explained that the difference was that I would not be physically present. Everything I helped them do or say, the path I cleared, whatever I gave them, would feel as if it came from within. I would be present but not present, tangibly intangible.
I’m not going to share my theoretical eulogies but I will tell you that it felt good, oddly reassuring, to “write” them. In the past, when mourners are asked to rise and recite the Kaddish, I have not stood. I will stand now: it feels right, in the world as I know it, to be in a constant state of mourning.
Last year, according to my iTunes, I listened to The National song “Santa Clara” 542 times (no joke). It’s about loss, as most of my favorite songs are. The line that most gets to me is this:
Yeah, they’re gonna be cool happy genius heroes/I’m gonna miss ’em so much
I am both they and I. It is as if I am I missing, am mourning, myself.
I feel, today and increasingly, thankful and mindful of what—and of who—I have. And I am even thankful for sorrow, real and looming: “Cause it’s all right, all right to see your ghost.” I am thankful for the opportunity to climb my mountain, though I may not ever reach its peak. I may never be the cool-happy-genius-hero I want to be remembered as (maybe SchoolLess and SmallerMan will be), but that’s all right.
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FAMILY & ITS (DIS)CONTENTS
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