It goes something like this…
Let me tell you a story of a man who went down to the sea in ships, of an imaginary knight who took to the sky, of the struggles and joys of a man possessed by love and all things worth living for…
I knew my father. I knew him as only his son and friend can. As father and son we attempted to fly, to join up. But it was as comrades and friends that we finally earned our wings. As an only child in what would today be called a “dysfunctional family” he came to us with whatever he had learned from his grandfather, an old 19th century cavalry soldier: deep morality, sense of duty and a set of standards to which perhaps even he could never rise. Hard work was forever its own reward. This was sometimes bitter and angry when mixed with his love for us, yet that never stopped us from loving each other, as only great and deep friendships can attest. He was, after all, my father.
He was a sailor, a skier, a swimmer, a writer, a newspaper man, an historian, a photographer. He learned how to build with wood, cement, paper, plastic, paint. He drove his Morgan Plus-4 with joy and calm excitement. His love of history and adventure drew him to the stories of the great aces of the First World War, an age of modern chivalry when derring-do flew hand-in-hand with honor and comradery. He became Dilly O’Dally, the Irish ace of the skies over the Western Front in 1917. He was, after all, my father and I knew him for 50 years.
Writing was his real work, although he taught for many years to pay the bills. “One must always work,” he would say to me. This ethos kept him laboring, pushing, grinding away at his desk every day, word by word, sentence by sentence. I do this now, but in a different medium, as do my sisters. He was, after all, my father and I knew him for 50 years as he taught me of these things.
When I saw him just a month or so ago, he said to me, “Tell your mother that I love her…” Despite a painful and long separation and divorce, he asked about my mother often. Maybe some regret plagued him, a guilt that only he could really ever know. Or perhaps not. I think it was just love bubbling up from below, or a memory of love, a memory of green trees in the Hudson Valley or a beach on Cape Cod, of three children and a home, a family unlike the family he had known as a child. He was, after all, our father for well over 50 years and we loved him in the only way we had ever been taught.
Like Greek drama, there is no surprise finish. At the end of the story the great ace of the skies, the sailor, the man who loved life ends the struggle and, running low on fuel and mortally wounded by the betrayals of age, banks his delicate spruce and canvas craft and heads west. He was, after all, my father and I loved him and knew him for 50 years.