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Alternative piece of time - part 2

When my father was dying, I didn't necessarily know he was. That is, I didn't know how close death was. He was complaining, he was bitter, he wanted better care. I was uncomfortable around him.

I may have been closer to him than his other children, except Karol, because I worked for him for six or seven years and saw him and his wife Elizabeth almost every day during that time, as well as occasionally at other times. We recognized in each other some similarities. Some were surprising, like the way we held pens and pencils. It is an odd way and the only way I can see it happening is genetics. I was not holding pens when I was one year old or younger, when my parents were divorced. I saw him rarely before we moved to Michigan when I was four and only for short periods during the summers after that. Yet I developed that same strange way of holding pencils.

We also had a similar sense of humor. One time we went to a French movie together, at a small theater on Vermont Avenue in Los Angeles. The entire movie was another movie run backwards, with voice-overs explaining the action. It starts with a head rolling up a ramp and attaching itself to a body on the other side of a guillotine. Here is where the hero was born. From here he moves (backwards, of course) through adventures, all of which are interpreted based on how it looks on the screen. We laughed hilariously. When we got home and told Elizabeth about it she said that we "laughed like drains". I had never heard that expression before, which may be why I remember this incident so clearly. She did not get the humor, needless to say. I am not at all sure about her capacity for humor, come to that. But I am sure that my father and I laughed at a lot of the same things.

We both loved nature, and especially birds. He was always buying the latest photographic equipment in the hopes of capturing birds on the wing. He would literally try to grab images on the fly, from a car or boat, while standing on a deck or walking around. It would never have occurred to him to set up a blind and put the camera on a tripod and wait patiently for his subject, learning which lens is best, what the limitations are. In fact, he was repeatedly frustrated that a camera could not grab a scene the same way that our eyes do. He did not comprehend - or want to accept - that a camera has only one exposure per shot. It can't do a dual or triple exposure, with different parts of a scene exposed differently. There are some ways to set up a scene, use filters, use time exposures, to get what you want, but rarely will it be exactly as the human eye perceives it.

He was too impatient to learn how to get what he wanted. In a sense, he did get what he wanted - he got the view he wanted, the vision. The fact that the pictures may be over- or underexposed or blurry does not take away from that, fortunately.

In the last years of his life he complained about dizziness. He went to doctors in other parts of the world in hopes of figuring out what was the matter. I would ask how he was and listen but I never really expressed any end-of-life feelings. When my sister Mary told me that she had gone into his hospital room, near the end, and told him she loved him and he said he loved her too, I felt grateful to her for doing this and I knew I could not do it myself. In fact, I was overwhelmed with conflicting feelings about him.

I had wanted to be closer to him than I was. I had learned how to steer the conversation so we stayed on subjects on which we "agreed", because he did not understand what it meant to disagree with someone. He felt it was a kind of betrayal and he didn't understand it in me when it happened. It was easier for me to stay with the safe subjects, but of course that means floating on the top of real conversation, never having the kind of conversation I deeply love to have.

During those years, near the end, I was taking classes in film. I took a screenwriting class at one point. I wrote the first act of a screenplay. I created a character who resembled my father and set up a situation that was entirely out of the air. I used this opportunity to do, in writing, what I wanted to do in person, to try it out. I had the characters overcome the distance between them, a distance like my own with my father. After the teacher read the act to the class he asked how the class members felt about the action. He nodded at their comments and concluded with his own take, that this person, with this personality, would not be able to act as he did.

In a way it was cathartic. I understood then that there was never likely to be such a scene between us because our personalities were so different and in such different places. At an earlier time I had been in a therapy group and was asked to do some role playing, with a chair substituting for my father. I hated doing it and thought it would be useless, but when I was asked to tell the chair what I wanted from him I said "I want you to be someone else". That was when I first understood that it was to be this way between us, that I could not magically make us into the movie version of father and daughter. Well, perhaps a modern movie, yeah, the edgy kind.

I suspect that it is nearly impossible to be both a great creator, a driven artist, and a great family person. My father wanted very much to be close to others and he wanted a physical as well as an emotional closeness. But his prejudices and biases as well as his self-centeredness tended to get in the way. There is no doubt my own reserved nature got in the way for us as well.

Thus at the end I did not have that moment. The moment my sister Mary may have had, the moment my sister Karol did not need to have (I think of all of us Karol was free of that reserve, that uncertainty, about where she stood with her dad). I do not know of a way to rewrite that piece of history and make it stick.


( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 31st, 2008 12:31 am (UTC)
Judith, that was one of the most moving entries I've read in a long time.
Just as the camera doesn't capture the image the eye captures, nobody else will have the particular relationship you & your father shared. You and your father seemed to have shared things that your sisters did not. That's what I take away from it.

One thing I'll share with you about my own relationship with my father (another Capricorn like you, btw)--I've come to realize that the man gets me. I don't know if I can convey how much that means to me.

Perhaps I just did. *hugs*

Edited at 2008-08-31 12:32 am (UTC)
Aug. 31st, 2008 02:16 pm (UTC)
Yes you did! And that is what I was missing. I knew my father loved me, or at least I got that eventually. I knew he was proud of me for some things. I knew he thought I could do anything, which was huge. I think for his generation and mine it may have been all I could expect, also given that we lived so far apart for so long. I don't know if it would have been different if I had grown up with him. My sister Karol grew to the age of eight, approximately, with him in the house, so she has much warmer memories of him. Maybe I would have had those too.

Anyway, yes, I do get what that must mean to you.
Sep. 1st, 2008 05:57 pm (UTC)
I grew up with both my parents. I always knew they loved me, and I always loved them--still do. But even with that advantage, it wasn't a childhood without family conflicts. As a youngest child (and only girl), my opinion was not taken seriously. I was pretty much withdrawn & sometimes acted out, as I didn't really know what anyone wanted from me (that began in public school).

The love of my parents didn't really address that, but I'm glad I did have that love, and grateful for the sacrifices they made for us kids (even though my mom still seems to doubt that gratitude sometimes--I don't think she realizes that it's probably impossible for me to be grateful enough, so I usually don't let her doubt bother me anymore!)

Sep. 1st, 2008 07:33 pm (UTC)
My mother grew up with four brothers. Her mother ignored her, doted on her brothers. She wore hand-me-downs that didn't fit (from her mom I guess) even though her parents were wealthy. It isn't surprising that my mother grew up not giving herself enough credit. She played the violin well enough to concertize. She became third-best woman archer in the country, she did much but shrugged it off.

I remember she told me one time that she looked for a man that she had to "run to keep up with". Submissive much?

Yet I always knew that she expected all of us to go to college. There was never any doubt about ability because we were female. I loved math and never felt discrimination because of it. If anything, my mother was too casual about it all, in a way.

Both of my parents were fundamentally selfish. But they both had a sense of obligation, to a point. My mother would never have considered giving up her children, for example. But she did go her own way, ignoring us a great deal of the time, involved in her own projects. Frankly, I am a lot like her that way.

I have been churning up more memories. Watch out...
Sep. 1st, 2008 07:43 pm (UTC)
I have been churning up more memories. Watch out

You're poking some of my own awake, too, Kid!

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )


Judith Lautner
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