Happy Birthday, Daddy!
He turns 79 today, but that’s not how we’re supposed to say it. He prefers us to note that he is “beginning his eightieth year.” This way he gets to say he’s 80 a year early, in the same way I started calling myself a teenager when I was 12. But we’ll honor the request. After all, he’s almost 80. That counts for something.
My father has been a profound influence on my life and on my writing. He is a poet, first and foremost. This means he sees the world through the eyes of a child, and his heart is pure, and his feelings are easily wounded. He is an alchemist who transmutes emotion into words into laughter and tears. He rages against social injustice and corruption and he cheers good intentions. He is a hopeless optimist. He does not suffer fools gladly. He is committed to the life of a Christian seeker. He is not allowed to touch chain saws, but he makes great soup. (There was a time when he made Very Bad Soup. The scene in SPEAK where the dad buries the nasty turkey soup in the backyard was inspired by one of Dad’s earliest soup attempts in the early 1970’s.) He likes Harry Potter. He has never forgotten the lessons of the Great Depression. He gave a poetry reading last month that left the audience in tears. He loves my mother.
My father is a great man.
In all honesty, I have to report that I did not think this when I was 13 years old. Our family went through a very, very rough decade (more like 15 years) and through much of it he confused me, bewildered me, infuriated me. I am sure I did the same to him. There was love underneath it all, but lots of pain was smothering it. So if you’re having a hard time with your dad or mom or whoever today, take a deep breath and count to 80. Try to talk about it. The pain can be washed away and the love will grow.