Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Daddy's Girl

You are looking at an old picture of my father. It's beautiful, no? He was a handsome man, especially so before the ravages of constant pain, the frustrations of living an unexamined life that included too many cigarettes and far too much alcohol, and finally lung cancer decimated him. This picture, I am guessing, was taken in his late teens or very early twenties... his skin was smooth and clear, his big deep blue eyes sharp and holding a glint of the wicked humor that was his benchmark, the look on his face is thought full - testament to his inherent intelligence, there's a slight smile - a mere rumor of the Black family lopsided grin.

I wish I'd known him better. Dad died when I was 20 years old, before I'd had the chance to learn enough about life to be a forgiving person, or to see beyond the detritus that can mask the beauty of a person's true self. The dark side of Dad was a verbally and emotionally abusive alcoholic, and as a youngster fraught with her own low self-esteem and issues of feeling like an outsider in this wide world, I couldn't make my way past the monster that ruled the house to the artist's soul. I wish, I wish.

In my own recent soul-journey, I've begun to discover and embrace just how much alike we are. (I've always rebelliously imagined that I looked more like the Hungarian [Mom's] side of the family. Not really true.) In looking at this picture, I see my own face... eerily so... the forehead, the eyebrows, the eyes, nose, cheekbones, the set of the jaw, the smile, even the contemplative look. More than looks though, we are very much alike in thought, in creative process, in seeing wonder in the simple and conveying it.

Dad was an artist - a truly gifted one at that. I think he never understood just how good he was with his art. I have very few examples of his artwork, but what I do have stuns me. He chose to, or was forced to, use his creativity as a commercial artist for a living, owning his own sign shop. He was fairly successful with it, but I think it stole from his overall ability to dive into the depths of his creative pool. Moreover, I think that not being able to do so robbed him in a way that left him floundering for deeper meaning to his life, hence adding to the need to anesthetize himself. I can only relate in terms of what happens in my own head if I hold back on a creative bent - sort of like having an overly full mental bladder; it's miserable. It must have been hell to be Harold Black.

We're so alike in our sense of humor - that sarcastic, sardonic, smirky, quirky humor. Actually, all five of his children are prone to that. I like to maintain that Kathleen didn't raise any fools, and Harold didn't raise any that weren't smart-asses. Humor is a coping mechanism for all of us - a gathering of the Black clan is rarely filled with deep discussion, but is more often than not, rife with laughter (and Mom shaking her head and muttering, "Honestly... you kids...").

Even with that humor, Dad was clearly an unhappy man - lost in the trappings of middle-class suburbia, trying his best to provide for a wife and five children. I think at the sequestered heart of him was a much freer spirit... a man who was happiest walking the woods, or sitting in a boat in the middle of a wilderness lake, fishing pole in hand. (Though he never made it to the Pacific NW, I know he'd have loved it here.) He was a man who was clearly unprepared for life as a father (as with so many baby boom era fathers) - he did his best, but I think it scared the shit out of him. Constantly. I think he would have really enjoyed our company (his five children) as adults... as the people we've grown into.

I was always Barboo or Punkin. Punkin was my favorite, and I can still, even after all these years, hear him say it. I hope, wherever he is, that he can see the gypsy in me rallying the day - I think he'd like that. Nah, he'd love it. He'd be pleased at my roaming spirit, at my willingness to give myself over to my craft(s), and (at the very least) at my ability to let loose with with a hearty epithet. I think ladylike, proper women bugged him (don't ask me how he ended up with Mom, who is the antithesis of me). I think he'd like that I'm happiest in t-shirts and jeans and hair hanging free (oh hell, yes... any day! Every day!), rather than pantyhose and skirts and a carefully coiffed do.
Where am I going with all this? Nowhere. Simply appreciating a man who lived an unfinished life. Here's to you, Dadoo - care to dance with your bright-eyed gypsy girl? Thanks for all the rich things you gave me without knowing - I'm sorry it took me so long to unwrap all the gifts, but I'll do my damnedest to make worthy use of 'em. Promise ya.

Click here to read:
Harold's Song

But I'm livin' the dream that he kept hid
~Jim Croce, I've Got A Name
Like the pine trees linin' the windin' road
I've got a name, I've got a name
Like the singin' bird and the croakin' toad
I've got a name, I've got a name
And I carry it with me like my daddy did

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