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Thoughts on fathers and sons

One of my many college screwups was messing around one semester and registering late for classes, a shortcoming that in order to fulfill the then requirements of my major, resulted in my having to take a course in — of all things —Russian literature.

Neato torpedo, right? Russian literature. Dreadful and depressing.

I had read a little bit of Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky — enough to know I wasn’t looking forward to a whole semester of gloom, despair and agony — but truth is, I could not have been more wrong. I had a great professor who not only provided an expanded understanding of the works of the two previously mentioned literary giants, but also introduced me to another, Ivan Turgenev, most notably through what is generally considered to be his signature work, “Fathers and Sons.”

Complicated subject matter, that.

I have always felt that some of the more controversial musings of Freud notwithstanding, of all traditional human relationships, the one between father and son is and has been perhaps the least understood. This, I suspect is particularly true when it comes to the actual humans within those roles, the fathers and sons, themselves.

All of this I share, I suppose in preface to the hard, cold fact that last Sunday marked the seventh year since I have had what I recognized even then as the good fortune, if not the sheer joy of being able to call my father on the one Sunday in June we annually set aside for officially appreciating our family patriarchs.

Yes, it is a part of life and the normal progression of things and all that Hallmark-quality tripe, but dammit, something is just not right when you can’t talk to your Dad on Father’s Day. The ache of emptiness which is there all the time becomes an out-and-out pain capable of eliciting tears on that certain Sunday in June.

I think in my case, and as the good Mr. Turgenev sought to advise us in many others, at least part of that is due to the amount of time we wasted, Dad and me, letting our differences get in the way of our similarities and our frustrations get in the way of our respects.

As a young man, I can recall frequently thinking and unfortunately, once or twice saying, that there could not be any two people on this Earth any more different than Dad and I. (The fact I had not yet lived long enough to realize that was not really true, didn’t help a bit.)

After all, Dad was dogmatic, narrow minded, more than a little authoritative, quick to make absolute judgments and highly resistant to changing those opinions once he’d formed them.

Best I could tell, just about the only thing in common we shared was that my Dad, a little banty rooster of a man, had passed along to his boy the traits of not always knowing when it might make sense to be a mite scared and of coming to believe that he somehow increased in size proportionately with his becoming progressively angry. Considering that neither of us ever saw 165 pounds a day in our lives made for some interesting times for both over the years.

My Dad, I had to concede, could be consistently to the point of being infuriatingly right about the little things, but the man just clearly failed to grasp the big picture.

I, on the other hand, may have fallen victim to a few bad decisions, made a handful of mistakes when it came to money or women or business or career moves, but any fair interpretation would conclude I was without peer when it came to that all important big picture.

Then one day — I ’m not sure what day or even what year it was — a funny thing happened. It was a day after I had married and had a family, of course, a day in which I was wrestling with one of those confounded little things related to rearing my own children, that it hit me with all the subtlety of a lumberjack’s axe: How in the world did Dad pull this thing off?

How in the name of everything holy had Dad managed to make a living, be a good husband, rear and educate three kids and somehow manage to retain his honor, his sanity and his sense of humor throughout it all?

How had he managed to do all of that without killing somebody kin to him?

Me, for instance.

I spent the night in the hospital with Dad before the morning of his death, just the two of us, and would take nothing for that final time together, for the things I was able to say to him and for the things he was able to share with me, freed as he was from the shackles of self-imposed pretense and propriety.

“I am proud of you, son,” he told me and “I love you, Pop,” I said in return.

And what I wouldn’t have given Sunday just to hear his voice, and as Springsteen advises us all, I wish I could have told him one more time what he meant to me, “in the living years.”

Since he’d clearly come to fully grasp that big picture, you understand.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.