The man who took on the role of my dad worked steady and hard but liked a drink to his detriment and mine. Believing himself wise, he would boast about being self-taught, all the while remaining rather pedestrian in his style. He excelled as a salesman having inherited the Irish “gift of gab” but fell short as a communicator. He lived well, supplying his family with a large, modern home, housekeepers, gardeners, and winter’s in Florida, but was a slumlord. He seemed to love his wife, his mother-in-law, and his children. He gave the impression that he cared for his neighbours and the broader community, but, as he aged, he gave voice to his inner bigot, homophobe, and misogynist. In retrospect, I can see he fit perfectly into the stereotypical “Mad Men” of his generation.
The man who accepted the role of my father wasn’t an enigma. He wasn’t the strongest, smartest, or most honourable man. He was neither evil nor good, mislead nor misleading. He was merely a man who lived a certain kind of life in a certain kind of place at a certain time in human history. His convictions and practices were an amalgam of societal norms and edicts handed down by an assortment of authority figures which, of course, included the church. He believed those select few who became leaders had an almost divine obligation to serve the greater good. Defining the specifics of “greater good” wasn’t always easy. Suffice it to say, he believed they did their best. And I believe he felt that way because he did his best. He did the best he could. It was his divine obligation.
The man who was challenged in the role of my father, never quite forgave me for being at my mother’s bedside when she died. That should have been his place. He never looked at me the same way again. Ensuing conversations, strained and brief, invariably ended with him asking me why I was there that night. What I told him never satisfied him. Eventually he did stop asking. He also stopped talking about her. I assume it had to do with the fact that he had remarried. In less than eleven months he found someone to accompany him down the aisle for the second time in some forty-five years. It was a gentle, respectful service, and a pretty day overall. I wore a peach-coloured dress. It covered my lonely, broken heart.
All of us take on roles. We wear any number of masks, don countless costumes, change our hair and makeup, make adjustments to our sets, and alter our lines. We are, each and every one of us, as prolific as Shakespeare, writing, editing, and staging our singularly singular, extraordinarily extraordinary, perfectly imperfect lives.
Whatever the role, it’s important to relish it, own it, spin it in ways that bring joy. If you can’t remember your lines, if the stage direction becomes faulty, find another role that suits your specialities, your gifts and talents. A role that doesn’t suit you isn’t worth your time. Give back what you receive and watch it grow. Always remain generous. Sidestep manipulators, finger-pointers, complainers. Put aside scripts with no plausible, workable, or helpful storyline. The protagonist who is selfless and wise, grounded and a dreamer, is a role worth reaching for.
The man who was the only father I would know in this lifetime, regretted the role he had picked but played it with all the passion he could muster. He was older when I came along and yet his energy and enthusiasm remained that of a much younger man. He, however, had his limits. For a good part of my life, he told me he would live until I was thirty. His hope was that I’d be someone else’s charge by then. He thought, you see, that I couldn’t take care of myself. In some ways, I fulfilled his prophesy for me. In most other ways, I proved him quite wrong. True to his word, my dad’s final curtain call came just nine days after my thirtieth birthday.
My wish, my sincere desire for you all, is that you find roles to inspire. Also, that you award yourselves with repeated bravas, and lots of standing ovations for your efforts so far.