‘Fathers never stop being Fathers, and Sons never stop being Sons’
I’ve been working on a piece I’ve called ‘Voyage Around My Father’, a series of short stories exploring my often volatile relationship with my father from boyhood to manhood. I was working on it Saturday night when I got a phone call early Sunday morning from Jamaica. It was from my Dad, very panicked telling me he’d collapsed the day before and been rushed to hospital. He’d been diagnosed with low blood pressure and with a potentially cancerous tumour in his stomach.
My Father moved back to Jamaica twenty-five years ago, after he and my mother went through an at times bitter divorce. After a period of separation we had our own reconciliation fifteen years ago, since when, we speak and write letters three, four times a year. We’ve taken the hard road to understanding and respecting each other’s choices.
He was in pain as we spoke. For the first time in my life I heard my Father crying, weeping. I knew his pain wasn’t just physical. it was spiritual too. To be seventy-five years old and alone in a hospital bed brings a man face to face with himself, his own mortality. I did my best to comfort him. I was struck by a sense of loyalty, not enforced but voluntary. In that moment I wanted to be a ‘good’ son. I told him I loved him, reminded him he’s always been the strongest man I know, and promised to call him daily. When I put down the phone I too cried. At my Father’s pain, at the possibility of his loss. And at my own impotence at not having the means to be by his side when he most needed me.
A couple of days later my Son found himself in a very stressful situation.
A few years ago he was being victimised by the police and we made a complaint of racial harassment. It was a very traumatic time for him and he called on me for guidance, practical advice and emotional support. All of these I gave as best I could but I too had to dig deep emotionally. When the police lay hands on your child you demand blood, nothing less will do. The complaint resulted in no apology but an offer of financial settlement. Recently he was asked to retell his story for a documentary about racial complaints against the police. Despite his natural cynicism of the media industry he agreed to tell a story he’d long put behind him, as he believed others would benefit from hearing it. He wanted to provide that service for his community. Events transpired where he felt he was being used and promises made weren’t being kept. We met with the executive producer. I was ready to raise hell at another transgression of my son’s rights, but sat quietly and watched as he represented himself and resolved the situation to his satisfaction.
In my Father’s anguished voice I could hear my Son’s pain.
In my Son’s assertion of his humanity I could see my Father’s strength.
And me, I’m both my Father and my Son. The tall Oak tree trying to nurture the sapling, and the bear cub needing his Father’s presence as he learns to climb the tree.
The week ended with Fathers Day. And I gave thanks.
For the blessing of being a Father,
For the blessing of being a Son,
For the blessing of spending another day under the Creator’s sun.