Pater

As I suggested earlier, my father was a genuine eccentric. Since I came along fairly late, I got to see him in full bloom, after a lifetime crammed with incident, as Lady Bracknell might put it. And yet there is so little any of us knew of his past. A few whispers here and there, a subtle allusion, occasionally an unusual early photograph, he was opaque in all respects except opinions.

Father was an engineer, the son of a vaudeville performer apparently, although that didn't come out until after he was gone. Calm waters run deep.


As a civil engineer and an officer in the Army, he was stationed in London throughout the Blitzkriegs, it being his responsibility to arrive at the scene of any bombed-out bridges, photographing them and assessing the damage. According to my mother, he was often right in the heart of it, the dust still settling. I can well imagine how living through that would be life-altering. By some accounts, he was a very different person after World War II.


Dig the pantaloons!
He never talked about the war to me, except once, describing the passage home from England. The military had commissioned some sort of commercial vessel to bring back the men just completing their tours of duty, an ill-appointed ship crossing the Atlantic, soldiers huddled below-deck, miserable in general. Except for Father. He told me that he stood out on the open deck, looking through the light rain, gazing at the rolling waves of the ocean, pondering things. And for hours, even days at a time. I have always been convinced that's from where I inherited my love of the rain. When the sky is dark, and the drops begin to fall, and you can catch a whiff of the ozone or dust being kicked up, and your face begins to drip, well, that's when I'm in seventh heaven. Father and I often took walks in the rain together, and at home the windows were always thrown open during thunderstorms.

I became a pluviophile thanks to Father.


But what else did he give me? Well, probably the most important is a love of books and reading. These many years later, I can still recall the incident to start it all. I would have been four or five, a very little boy. Every autumn, the Public Library--a magnificent old building fronted by an imposing entrance and grand curved double staircases winding symmetrically to the main floor stacks and whose rich polished wood bannisters looked like two gaudy earrings or perhaps gigantic treble clefs from a musical score--sponsored a book fair of sorts. The idea was to put on display all of the new acquisitions. And though new, one could check them out on the spot. It was like a sneak preview for connoisseurs.


My father and I teamed up this autumn night to explore the new books. To this day, I still recollect the cool crisp air, the smell of fallen leaves while heading out. We parked in the lot next to the Fareway supermarket and walked through the unlit alley, coming around to the front of the lovely Carnegie library. And then down the central staircase to the basement conference center, can you believe a marble staircase, where the magical empire lay in wait: long masonite folding tables holding tons and tons and tons of books hinged open and upright, entreating the two of us to jump in and sate ourselves.

I came upon a book I just knew I wanted to read! It was called A Fly Went By. This was my Holy Grail, and I held it in both of my little hands, hugging it to my chest like some intimate lover. After checking out our books (Father got a huge stack for himself), we retraced our steps through the dark alley, and I will always remember him saying something to me which became a lifelong motto:
"If you know how to read, you can teach yourself  to do anything."
I became a bibliophile, thanks to Father.

But there was just one hitch. I wasn't even in the first grade yet and had had no lessons in reading, at least not officially, hadn't met Dick, Jane and Sally. But, my father checked the book out for me anyway, and that night I took some of my first steps toward learning to read. My mother worked patiently with me all week, and remarkably rapidly the mist began to clear. This was fun! This was uncovering secrets! Even then with a child's mind, I unconsciously understood, this was getting inside someone else's brain. That syllogism led inexorably to a truth I'm glad to have learned early on: human individuality does not belong to society. Anything is fair game in the noble pursuit of expanded consciousness. A foreshadowing of θέλημα.
 
I became autonomous, thanks to Father.

Father could be quite philosophical at times. As kids growing up, brother Bill and I would groan whenever he chose to break the silence with some pithy, yet erudite aphorism. There is one in particular that at the time I thought was just plain stupid. It wasn't until years later, I realized that despite its ingenuous form, is just dead-on:
"Remember, people are so damn dumb."
My mother would always rail at him whenever he'd whip this one out for our edification, "Oh, don't tell the kids that." In many ways, she was unwilling to face facts.

One final quote. When I was nailed for the episode that led to the great migration northward, my mother ranted and raved for hours, or so it seemed. On the other hand, Father simply and calmly stated,
"If you want to stay out of prison, keep playing the piano, and tap-dancing."
I became a philomath, thanks to Father.

Next installment: Whitey

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