“What Could Be More Useless Than A Father?”

My father was a good man, a kind man, a talented man. Looking back, I can see, sadly, that some of us who knew him best treated him the worst.

This piece, which is from my other blog, includes a few memories of my father.

And yes, he played the guitar that well.

What Could Be More Useless Than A Father?

That Day

The rare prose piece from back before this blog focused on poetry. – Owen

The rare prose piece from back before this blog focused on poetry. – Owen

I can still clearly picture the events of that day.

It was a little after lunch when they sent me home from work. It was April, beautiful and bright where I lived, just a hundred yards are so from the white sands of the northwest Florida beaches. I came in to the apartment and put some food and water down for my cat. The beautiful calico stood up on the edge of my dresser for me to pet her as I removed the keys and wallet from my pockets.

I went from there to the medicine cabinet, where I had filled two bottles with sleeping pills, each carefully removed from their individual wrappers for this day’s use. I left no note; I didn’t care. The world was only nothingness, and into nothingness I would go.

After swallowing as many as I could without throwing up, I lay down like Socrates waiting for the potion to work its magic. I put music on as my cat stood on my headboard looking down on me with pity:

The blinds were drawn: I lived alone, no one (except the landlord) had a key to the place. My parents lived twenty miles away and we often went weeks without calling. I had no girlfriend and all my close friends had moved away. I was sick: I’d been sick for years and I was tired of being alone.

I would say I was tired of feeling like I deserved to be alone, but the truth is, I felt nothing whatsoever. No anger, no regret, no … nothing. I felt nothing.

Like the singers in the choral music piece playing at the time, I asked God (who I didn’t believe in) to have mercy on my soul.

And the world went dark…

Remembering My Father

Smells – nothing brings back memories so vividly.

(Originally published 11-17-2012 – Owen)

I went for a drive in the surrounding countryside this morning, an absolutely perfect November Saturday, and found myself thinking about my father.  Autumn leaves were blowing across the roads I travelled under a glorious blue sky, and I stopped at a chance point and headed into a chain drug store.  I picked up a few snacks, and, looking around the store, I saw (and purchased) something which brought the memory of my father back that much stronger: a bottle of Vitalis.

For those who don’t know, Vitalis was a very popular men’s hair care product of yesteryear.   I have no hair to speak of, so I put in on my beard and brushed it through.  The scent of it reminded me of my father from my earliest memories. It isn’t a strong smell at all, very pleasant, and decidedly masculine.

One memory of my father is of him coming to pick me up from an airport.  I was eighteen years old, and had just washed out of the Air Force after only eleven days.  I left home afraid, but full of the confidence (or arrogance) of my adolescence; I came home broken, but on the road towards getting wiser, perhaps.  He told me in the car of the disappointments he had suffered in his career; I had known none of this until that moment.  My father could be a hard man to communicate with, but whenever things got really bad or really serious, he suddenly snapped into a sort of bracing directness which I will always cherish in my memory.  I felt somewhat better knowing that a person could go on through somewhat humbling circumstances. as he had.

My father was a brilliant man, of course, a master of so many talents that I listed them for paragraph after paragraph giving his eulogy years later.  He was also a very reticent and introspective man, albeit of an oddly chatty kind – a trait I have inherited.  People rarely spot me for the introvert that I actually am.  He was generally recognized as an introvert, and seemed happiest being left to his hobbies.  On the other hand, he loved more than anything when our entire family would make music together, usually by singing.  Music was his society.

As I drove on, drinking my Coke Zero and smelling the Vitalis on my face, I remember my father taking us for rides in light aircraft.  He belonged to (and had founded) the “Aero Club”, local pilots who got together an purchased small aircraft for common recreational use.  I never cared much for flying, but I remember our short trips to various spots nearby.  Oddly, the meals we would have on the ground often made a bigger impression on me than the flights.  Many of the local airports were at or near the countryside I am driving in now, in western Georgia and south and east Alabama, near our then-home in northwest Florida.

So many people remember neglect or abuse in their childhood, and, make no mistake, I was often a troubled and angry child; nonetheless, for my father and my mother (who is still alive), I remember more and more the many things they did or tried to do for us kids.  Many beautiful times, travelling across the country by car, singing at home, playing games, having family devotions, making music, discussing issues of the day over dinner.  The view of parenting they had was to love us, provide for us, and get us ready for adulthood with the tools we needed to make our choices in the world.  Its a view of life that never goes out of style – like the smell of Vitalis or breezes on a cool Autumn day.



Because I am a very logical person (I’m an actuary, and a mathematician by training), I like binary categories.  Either/or types of things, whether everything is either in one class of thing or another.  People find this type of thinking simplistic, but it naturally suggests itself all over the place, and is useful for understanding the world.

For example, my brother says “there are pianists and people who can play a piano, and if you don’t know the difference, I can’t explain it to you.”  In this case, he divided the world of people who can push down piano keys into two categories, thereby explaining that not everyone who plays the piano is, indeed, proficient or musical.  So that’s the way binary distinctions work.

Here are a few binary distinctions about people that I use in everyday life.  They are not, I believe, the typical ones people use.

  1. People Who Care If They Are Making Others Wait – Vs – People Who Do Not Care If They Are Making Others Wait.  I am in the first of these categories.  I am inevitably behind people from the second category: at the grocery store, at a fast-food drive-through, wherever.  These are people completely unprepared for whatever they happen to be doing; who don’t know what they want to order; don’t have access to their money or credit cards or whatever they pay with; and who feel like having long conversations with others (in person or on their cell phones) rather than finish whatever business they are conducting.  CONCLUSION: While the second class is indifferent-to-passively-hostile to the first class, the first class wants to SERIOUSLY INJURE people from the first class on a daily basis.
  2. People Who Do Things – Vs – People Who Criticize Others Who Do Things.  The second class of people here is a species of parasite who feeds on the first class of people like a host organism.  The Internet provides amazing opportunities (as WordPress does) for people who want to create, share, or self-publish… in other words, ways to DO things.  However, the truly explosive growth has been seen in the second class of people, who spread like a flu strain in places like Facebook and YouTube comment threads.  These are people who cannot play a sport, write a book, run for office, or, often, even hold down a job, but they are self-denominated-experts who are very disappointed with the products of people in the first class.  CONCLUSION: These two classes would physically fight on a regular basis, except the second class would end up having to do something, which never happens.
  3. People Who Understand Parking Lots – Vs – People Who Don’t Understand Parking Lots.  A “parking lot” has things called “parking spaces” where people can stop their car for whatever reason.  It also has things variously called “throughways”, “roads”, or even “aisles” where cars are supposed to move according to the usual traffic conventions.  If you are in the first class of person, you are wondering why I am telling you this.  If you are in the second class of person, you think every part of a parking lot is for parking, including the roads, throughways, aisles, curbs, entrances and exits.  As a matter of common observation, no conversation is quite so fascinating as the ones people have on cell phones while parked at parking lot exits, stopping other traffic from leaving.  CONCLUSION:  I write this to raise awareness about this important difference.  I do not expect anyone in either of these classes to change, because this appears to be an unbridgeable human gulf.  ALSO: has many similarities to category 1, above, as people who don’t care how long they make others wait also tend to park wherever they feel like.
  4. People Who Like Poetry – Vs – People Who Only Barely Qualify As Human Don’t Like Poetry.  I am not biased in any way on this one.  Actually, most people I know who claim to dislike poetry love it in other some other form or forms they don’t recognize as being poetry: rap music, song lyrics, nursery rhymes, greeting cards, mnemonics or even catchy alliterative names for days of the week.  CONCLUSION: Similar to the category of “People Who Don’t Like Music,” people truly in the second category here are to be pitied more than anything else.  In a strange twist of fate, “People Who Don’t Like Poetry” turns out to have a heavy overlap with “People Who Criticize Others Who Write Poetry” (see #2, above.)
  5. People Who Think Everything In The World Is About Them – Vs – Women.  I kid.  There are almost as many narcissistic women in the world as there are narcissistic men in my hometown.  Just jokes.  My wife has had to remind me from time to time that various events in her life (for example) have happened without being in any way referent to my existence.  I’m not entirely sure what she’s talking about, of course, because I am squarely in the first category of person.  CONCLUSION: This actually is a commonly used binary (men Vs women) and the subject of more blogs than there are fish in the sea, so I’ll stop there.
  6. People Who Think Everything Is A Competition – Vs – People Who Don’t Think Everything Is A Competition.  This is a troublesome binary, as pairs of these frequently marry each other. For reference, only people in the second category should ever get married at all: if you think marriage is a competition between partners, don’t bother doing it, you are going to fail.  CONCLUSION: If you are in the second category, carefully determine whether or not any prospective marital or life partner is in the first category, as typically, they find more satisfaction in divorce (which can indeed be a contest) than marriage.

Are there binaries you find useful in everyday life?  What conclusions can you draw from these distinctions?