Monday, April 11, 2011

You Left Your Father's House

Did you leave your father's house? Shame on you. But birds gotta fly, and if you left perhaps it was for the best.

It's a matter of outcomes, which we can't always foresee, and circumstances. Was he left alone with no one for company, no one for errands, no one for tasks he couldn't do around the house? For that it seems like condemnation is the appropriate judgment. But was he surrounded by neighbors, other family, friends, a doctor or nurse? And did he have a substantial nest egg so he would want for nothing, fitting in a periodic vacation, maybe a trip around the world? In those cases, the judgment would have to be a little more lenient. More power to you.

Judging those who've left their father's house is a job for an old greybeard prophet, one who would walk the perimeter of the town, staring at the sun and hearing the still small voice from above. It's not hard for me to picture him going about his work, with the people of the town gathered on the wall, waiting for his infallible verdict. "Did I betray my father?" ... "Am I a shame to my family, to mankind?" ... Or, "Was my father left wanting for nothing, thereby thankfully letting me off the hook?" ... Or, let's say your father died and you provided for him, "Did I pay the bill for the nurse or doctor?" ... But what if he died in shameful circumstances, crawling the streets, calling out for you. In that case your question should be, "Shall I submit to my judgment and bow before the old prophet?"

The old prophet walks with an old gnarly stick, sometimes losing the top end of it in the face of the sun. It's quite a sight, it curls my hair. He's able to gauge things by instinct, seeing right to the heart of guilt or your plausible defense. "Father, O father, unlock the door and let me back in! Let me make things right!" Your howls go unheeded, and there's nothing more stark than that, a guilty man howling into the void, his pulse throbbing in time to the heat. "Boom chicka boom," like that...

You think back to the days before it was too late. You think of the old home place, a modest little house, never enough for you. You fought your father tooth and nail everyday, trying to make your own way. The walls were assaulted by the filthy language that streamed from your mouth, when you spoke to his face and broke his heart (1), and (2) when you were alone in your room, still seething, your mouth vomiting forth a stream of invective as big as Bunyan's ox and twice as blue. Shameful.

You think the ways your father did things, how he might pause and stutter, then accomplish his task. It was never good enough for you. Not you, who knew it all at 13, but now, looking back, you break down and realize, pausing and stuttering was just another way of thinking, cogitating, gathering up and arranging the steps of the task in a particular sequence, the kind of planning that makes something easier. But you didn't think of that at the time. All you knew was your father was a foolish old man, someone who didn't know his way in the world, a man of folly. What would you give to take it all back, now that it's too late? What would you give?

You think of the hopes he had for you. And they were huge. I'll turn my head while you think on your own. Pitiful.

Maybe you had a problem of Dad versus Mom, the old pair of opposites known as the rational side versus the emotional side. Mom was easier to deal with, but is easy always best? You tipped the balance to the emotional side, when the proper course would've been to keep it in equilibrium. If anything, you should've tipped the balance to the rational side, because Dad was right, Dad was so right.

I can imagine how it must have been, him sitting in his chair waiting for his wayward child to return, as the child sowed his or her wild oats, wasting the last bit of vigor and substance. It's a sad picture. Then finally you buckled down, got a job, got your own place, then had kids.

But somewhere, here or in glory, there's an old man in an easy chair, deep in thought, wondering, "Will the old prophet carry my message to my children. At long last, will they hear?"

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