So much to write down, and I can feel what time I have left passing.
My father, bless his memory, saw all this coming.
He wasn’t one to man the barricades, but he had done political work in his time. He had worked with what he always called “the good guys”, trying, as he said, “to give folks like us a fair shot.” He never begrudged anyone their wealth, and didn’t particularly want to have exorbitant wealth for himself. He wanted mere fairness, so that my sister and I could have the same opportunities as our betters.
But he could see what was happening. Despite the work he did, and those like him, things kept getting coarser. Violence as a method of “persuasion” became routine. The “grass roots”—remember that word? So much of the previous time—agitated for a return to “simpler times” and “traditional values”. He thought he’d beaten them. But give enough people enough money, and buy enough politicians…
My poor father. I’m glad he didn’t survive to see what was happening. He was too gentle a man for these times. My mother was stronger, fiercer. He merely wanted to raise his family, love his wife, and live in a world where everyone had a chance of plenty. He was rabid to neither side of the divide. He considered ideology to be destructive of life.
“Give me a man or woman who believes in an ‘ism’,” he once told me in one of our private talks, “and I’ll show you someone who’s stopped thinking. Don’t give me dead theory; give me living experience. If you can’t, then don’t waste my time.”
I think—oh, let’s not lessen the blow. I know that I used that line in one of my books. I didn’t use it admiringly. I’m sure no one reads that book any longer; but I can see the text, and the text surrounding it, mocking the naïveté expressed by my dead father. All practice comes from theory, and the theory can never be wrong. It never fails us, we can only fail it; and if we fail it, we deserve what comes to us.
By the time he was dying, my sister and I were already lost to him. And he did something which I knew hastened his end: he told us to keep away from him. He wanted nothing to do with us. If he was going to die, he wanted to do it in peace, with the woman with whom he’d made a life, not the children who’d betrayed them.
Oh, at the time I was a different man. I scoffed, and washed my hands of my foolish old father. Now, as the breath escapes me, now as I sit here childless, loveless, do I know what a tear in his heart it was for him to do that. It was his admission that he had failed in his life, had failed as a father.
I failed him, of course. And my sister failed him. He failed at nothing, except at being unable to stop the tide from coming in. He died in my mother’s arms. He died before it all came to a head. Now, I envy him.