My father, and my dream siblings

Shortly before my granddad’s memorial service, I learned that my dad’s new wife, whom he married in 2005 without telling anyone, is a year younger than I am. I was disappointed, but not so much in the way you might think. I’ve always at least been able to count on Father to be creatively insane, and now here he is, a banal sixty-three-year-old cliché, after all.

Sister wisely sidestepped the drama by staying home, while I, ever the dull and dutiful eldest daughter, felt compelled to go to the memorial — mostly out of love and respect, yes, but also out of stubbornness, and, it must be said, curiosity. I had no idea what I’d feel on seeing my father for the first time in so many years.

Once I was there, sadness about my grandfather’s death overwhelmed everything else; toward my father I felt mostly an almost scientific detachment with occasional heart-spikes of pity.

Ah, he has stopped dyeing his hair black. He is even shorter than I remembered. No one knows what to say to him. Observe the way he stands off to the side, fiddling with his watchband.

Beforehand, Max and I caught up with my aunt and cousins, but managed to avoid direct contact with Father before entering the chapel.

During the service, one cousin sang a song he’d written for my grandparents’ 50th anniversary; another cousin gave a reading. I wished I hadn’t forgotten the tissues in the car. Then Father stood up and searched for his speech, which he eventually unearthed from a pocket. I felt bad for him while he was looking for it; he looked so flustered and old.

Then he delivered a spectacularly odd eulogy, which ended with the story of my grandfather bribing Father, at five years old, to relinquish a 12-inch knife. “He just always had so much tact,” Father said. “He really knew how to talk to people. He didn’t demand that I hand over the knife. He gave me money for it!

Afterward, I greeted Father pleasantly enough. I tried to channel Muriel Spark (“those who like that sort of thing, that is the sort of thing that they like,” etc.), offering vague words of support: “I’m glad you said what you wanted to say,” I told him. I offered him and the wife wishes of future happiness. Then Father sought to rile me by being sarcastic about Sister, and I moved on

It’s a relief to know I never have to see him again, but being okay with estrangement from a parent doesn’t stop him from turning up in your subconscious, and over the weekend I dreamed that Father had not just many girlfriends, going back years, but also many wives, and a multitude of children. I was no longer the oldest. A tall, sandy-haired fellow of forty-five — my eldest half-brother, the product of a high school relationship — held that distinction.

Even in the dream, I wasn’t upset. On the contrary, I was amused, if a little incredulous. Some of my half-siblings were pretty cool. None of them seemed to like Father much. It felt good to talk about him with a room full of people who knew his foibles intimately.

I’m sure all of this churned up in my subconscious because of conversations, old and very recent, with GMB about the half-brother and sisters she found out about after her father died. But I guess it was also a way of preparing myself.


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