What Do You Want to Know?
Whenever I run into anyone I haven’t seen in a while, someone from my distant past, the first question out of their mouths is never, “How are you, Andra?” It is ALWAYS, “How is your Dad?” Roy makes quite an impression on everyone, without revealing much about himself in the process.
Trying to get an answer to the question ‘who are you?’ is maddening. I even cornered an author once, Alexander Stille, and begged him over dinner to tell me the secrets to getting my Father to tell me who he really is. Or, who he was before I met him.
Here’s what I know:
- My dad is the fourth of five children and the only son of an alcoholic womanizer from outside of Cleveland, Tennessee;
- His dad was a dairy farmer, and his original farm is buried under the TVA;
- Both of his parents dipped snuff, and he tried it when he was six or seven to ill effect;
- My grandfather took my toddler father to his various drinking holes, where my two-or-three-year-old Dad got nickels and dimes for cursing and smoking cigars;
- My Dad did some acting and played basketball when he was growing up;
- He served in the Army because of the draft during the 1950′s; he was stationed in Germany. In the blog photo today, he is the boy-man on the left, patrolling somewhere in Germany in the years after World War II.
Asking my Father more questions about his past only renders circuitous discussions, where I find myself answering invasive questions. (How much money do you make, huh? When did you last talk to so-and-s0-who-you-aren’t-friends-with-anymore?) Maybe he sees my questions as similarly inappropriate and responds in kind. I don’t know.
My Dad is turning seventy-seven this year, and I feel like I’m running out of time to know him. The child who entertained the masses in bars. The boy who watched his father be unfaithful to his mother. The man who still treasures a turkey call and some hunting paraphernalia that belonged to his father, a man I never knew, yet who never once went hunting in the entire time I’ve known him.
One thing my Dad has expressed is a wish to return to Germany before he’s gone. This year, around Thanksgiving, I want to try to fulfill that desire and travel there with him. Yet, I have no idea what meant anything to him when he was there in the 1950′s. I don’t know where he was spent his time, where to take him.
How do we recreate meaning for someone who means something to us? I love my Dad enough to try, stranger that he is to me. Even then, I know I will be left to fill in the blanks on my own, to imagine the backstory of a man I’ve always worshipped, who flits just beyond the tips of the fingers of my paltry imagination.
Too Much is Just Enough: Trying Harder When We Want to Give Up