« Vicarious Living »

Today I attended a memorial for one of the old timers at my church. I didn't really know him well at all, but by the end of the service, I felt like I had, and felt that I had really missed a lot. It turns out the man was a pioneer in solar energy and research into alternative fuels, and a range of issues that just fascinate me in the present day. I've known him for years and years. His son and daughter and I were in Sunday school classes as kids, but they were something like six years older than me, give or take a few. I find that this man, Tommy, would have been just a huge figure to me, had I ever really gotten to know him. When I had my last big period in church, I was in my middle teens, and had no interest or awareness of any of the things I pursue for knowledge now, so when he was about 15 years younger and in his prime, I didn't know him either, except as one of the most reliable regulars in the congregation.

There were about 200 people at the memorial today. It was cloudy in the afternoon, but it was a humid overcast more than rain clouds. It's the sort of sky we usually get in mid August. The church was full. His son and daughter, hardly ever seen in the same place together because one is in the Bay Area, and the other has usually spent time in Asia or New Zealand, were there, and they sang two songs. The son played guitar and sang, and his sister sang along. I was choked just watching them. I can't imagine how in the world they could get up in front of all those people on an occasion like this and hold a tune without breaking down. He did great, but his sister caved at a few points, obviously overwhelmed. It was just amazing to watch. I could not have done that. As I watched them do their two songs (one was "I Can See Clearly", and the other was "Blue Skies (Nothing But Blue Skies")), I shit you not, the clouds pulled away and the afternoon sun came beaming into the room, low in the autumn sky. I don't know if anyone else noticed, but I was just amazed at how some of these things work out.

There was another fellow from my church who is about my age (call him B) who had taken to helping Tommy get to doctors and other destinations. They got to find their unique relationship, and some of it was recalled before everyone today. Some months ago, I was offered that same spot to drive Tommy on errands, but was unable to do so reliably, mainly because I had just gotten laid off my job. Excuses, excuses, I know, but that was what it came down to then. As I listened to how things had blossomed for the two of them, I found myself puzzling over what would have come had I been doing those driving runs, meals, or whatever else made Tommy's last year what it was.

The vicarious living was just overwhelming for me. See, the day before, I got both an email and a call from my father who seems to place his property value above me somehow. We've been terribly divided over my house and studio for years. I was storing my music gear at his house (my childhood home) for a while during my move this summer, and however long he could accomodate it. His email and phone calls are always short, with no salutation, no signature, no sign of any grace or anything. Strictly business, and curt business at that. He wanted me to come over and move my stuff as soon as possible. It was time to rent his house out again. Well, the bedroom of stuff that I have is just a drag to move any more than necessary, and he was just being annoyingly pushy about getting it out, and the only option he could offer was to take it BACK to my old house, where the same scenario would repeat itself when he would ultimately sell or rent it out. So it was sort of a drag to have that presented to me, and only a couple people on a list of people who might be able to indulge my storage needs for this stuff, for indeterminate period. My old man and I got into yet another argument about property, money, future plans, and so forth. That is the extent of our relationship. I always come out the loser.

Watching the service today was hard for me. The current me has almost no way of imagining how I could ever play and sing a song for my father when that day comes. For one, I can't sing, so it will probably never happen that way anyway, but still—I can't imagine what it takes to do such a thing. Nearly every time I leave a meeting with my father, I want to spit or kill myself, not sing a song about how great a character he is. Granted, I don't think that singing a song means that nothing of this sort ever happened to this family, but I can only speak for myself. And, I could never guess what revelations will be made when it becomes my turn to grieve. But for now, it gives me nothing but existential grief to know that he is my only blood relative who I could hope to relate to (my mom's side, along with siblings, has always failed miserably), but can't ever seem to be taken for real. He speaks in cocky and condescending tones, always seems to belittle me, then has the gall to blame me for sabotaging our relationship because I called the city to bust his illegal and shoddy work on my house. I was just protecting my house, but it happened that the landlord was my father, and he was doing this utterly terrible work while I was getting deeper and deeper into a suicidal depression. He just never seemed to care.

For me and B at my church who got to know Tommy, we have somewhat reversed experiences. His father committed suicide early on. My mother was out of my life from earlier on. He never had a father. I only had a domineering father who sent wildly mixed messages about his hopes for me to succeed, while undercutting my real interests. I guess it was better for the other fellow to get a shot at knowing something of a father's love, and one who perhaps didn't sabotage the relationship all along with repeated messages of unworthiness. The other fellow got too little father and father figure. I got too much. Tommy's son at least had the benefit of his father's enthusiasm and support for what he wanted to do, including playing guitar. I can primarily recall when my father dismissed my music involvement as something that should never really amount to more than a hobby. He caved to his tenant when I played drums one day and the tenant sued for some totally frivolous reason. He agreed with the neighbor that drums don't belong in the house. But he never gave me a space to play that could accommodate drums. He obstructed efforts to get my studio built four years before I finally got it built, then when he did come around, he told me it would only be up till my grandmother died. I did get some more time than that, but he still got the upper hand and booted me out this year. And yesterday was just one more reminder of what it is to somehow play second fiddle to his property management persona. I often reason but reach no consensus with him that two houses in a two person family should not drive us to this madness. I leave angry. Every time.

I could sell my guitars, for all I care. I don't think I'll need them at this rate.

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