Sunday, June 20, 2010

Our Fathers

I was wrong to wait so long to read Cormac McCarthy’s novel THE ROAD, which has been out a couple of years. I have believed that Cormac McCarthy should be the next American winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, but I had concluded since All the Pretty Horses that like Hemingway after For Whom the Bell Tolls, his best writing was behind him. Also, I am not a big fan of post-apocalyptic sensationalism. I respect Dr Strangelove, A Canticle for Leibowitz, On the Beach, some others well enough, but they are so few and far between.

Heading south down THE ROAD, a father and his young son, seek relief from the desolate cold of their torched and ruined world. Cormac McCarthy goes out of his way to omit exactly which pointless human vanity befell planet earth. Father and son scavenge abandoned houses for canned food, shoes, blankets. They push a grocery cart from out of the mountains to the sea, evading bands of marauding cannibals. They carry a pistol that contains only one last bullet, which the father saves to prevent his son from further suffering when the time comes. When the father’s time comes,

Just take me with you. Please.
I cant.
Please, Papa.
I cant. I cant hold my dead son in my arms. I thought I could but I cant.
You said you wouldn’t ever leave me….
If I’m not here you can still talk to me. You can talk to me and I’ll talk to you. You’ll see.

There are lots of things fathers cannot do for their sons. Nothing they can provide is more enduring and powerful than their genetics and their own example. Often when I am working, concentrating intensely, perhaps even straining with some physical effort, I suddenly become aware of a way of holding my mouth that I recognize immediately from my Daddy, who looked like John Wayne. As a lanky young man, he could have passed for the handsome star of Stagecoach. In the fullness of his life, he looked like The Quiet Man. He grew old at John Wayne’s pace, all the way to the booze-bellied, one-eyed has-been of True Grit. In my mind, John Wayne and my Daddy might as well have been the same person. My Daddy was a Marine Corps veteran of WWII in the Pacific. He was very much the strong, silent type. Still waters run somewhere nobody ever knows. Although he only graduated from the seventh grade, he took great pride in the fact that he could read and write. He enjoyed working the jumble word puzzle in the newspaper. He loved a good joke. He loved a bad joke. He took me to Atlanta Cracker games at Ponce de Leon Ballpark. On hot days and nights, he would say, “They need to turn on the fans.” My love for baseball made me a reader.

One Saturday, my sister and I sat at his bedside in the hospice with Sisters of Mercy scurrying in the halls, as he lay dying. My Daddy, the anti-Papist and past master of the Grant Park Masonic Lodge, had not spoken for days. My sister and I were remembering the women’s softball games on summer nights in Piedmont Park long before the days of Title IX requirements of equal opportunity for women’s athletics. “What was the name of that team that was so good?” my sister tried to recall. After a long silence of neither she nor I being able to come up with the answer, from my Daddy’s pillow came the last words I ever heard him say: “Dixie Darlings.”


Tina said...

Love it! The comment your dad made about turning on the fans reminds me of one of my droll relatives of the past who used to tell the kids with a perfectly straight face, "Close the door. You're letting the flies out."

Not Hannah said...

My husband and I read The Road when it first came out, and as a father, it had a profound affect on him. Thank you for this post. It's lovely.

Joshua Thompson said...

Uncle Bill,
I just got The Road from a friend yesterday. Look forward to reading it. Thanks for the window into places where I come from but do not know. I always enjoy what you write and how you write it. Happy Father's Day.

Jolie said...

Yes, PawPaw did look like John Wayne but I never knew anyone else thought so!
Happy Father's Day Uncle Bill!

Cotter Pen said...

Jolie's PawPaw, my father, not to be confused with Paw Paw Bill, although Jolie's PawPaw was also named Bill, because I was named after him. Yes, I think that clears it up nicely.


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