- Is. is in Virginia with me this week. We’re eating and driving and hiking. Giles County yesterday. Floyd County today. A supreme pizza from Palisades yesterday. Sandwiches at the Floyd Country Store for lunch today. It’s Father’s Day. That’d the day each year when the full spectrum of fathers get recognized. Fathers living, fathers dead. Fathers uplifting, fathers downputting. Fathers drinking-always-drunk, fathers ascetic straight-edge sober. Lovingkind fathers, bully and dipshit fathers, too. Fathers present, fathers absent. I could go on. Or you could.
- The clock on fatherhood started for me with a kind of hidden compartment around 1997. So that’s 24 years ago. It was also on a Sunday that year (as every year?), Sunday, June 15. My mom had died four days earlier. For all I know or fail to recall, might’ve been the day we buried her. Nobody considered me a father right there and then. But there was enough build-up building that I figured I’d be resigning my job in Detroit (well, Bingham Farms), moving to KC again, and stepping up to see things through with Ph.
- This Father’s Day, I’ve been thinking a lot about Ph.’s birth certificate. I keep a clean, minimalist desk. Not a whole lot of shit on it. A bum hard drive we could call Fickle Lacie 2 TB or Crapola Lacie 2 TB. A dancing bears coffee mug holds pens. A standard mouth quart Ball jar has some change in it. If I had to guess, I’d guess it’s $6.85 in change. A lamp. A computer. A wire thingamabob for holding books open. And a few note cards, which I use for making to-do lists. Folded alongside the note cards is a copy of Ph.’s adoptive birth certificate. It was issued in 2001. Four years lapsed from the time my mom died to then the adoption was official and materially certificate-able.
- I’ve carried that certificate in my work bag for twenty years. At least four or five work bags in that time. Always had it with me, knowing someone somewhere would ask to see it. I didn’t need to get it out very often. But while in grad school at Syracuse, when driving across southern Ontario and crossing at Buffalo-Niagara or Sarnia-Port Huron or Windsor-Detroit, best have it ready. Border keepers would ask, skeptical: how do y’all know each other? And the certificate had damn well be in my work bag or otherwise close at hand.
- Sometime in April, I was checking into the possibilities of buying a house in or around Blacksburg. Getting a pre-approval letters, as one does in this rabid wolfpack of a housing market. And in rummaging for my passport (so infrequently needed during Covid), I found Ph.’s birth certificate. Gave it a long-held pause and close look: the paper giving up at the creases, surrendering to time and folds, a spill of something like sunscreen splotching a translucent freeform over two-thirds of it, or maybe that’s just the outline of human heart. Could be.
- Ph. turned 30 in March, so you’d think that nobody in the world would still be carrying around his birth certificate, which is not at all to say thinking about it constantly, but always ready to be asked. I suppose that’s why the folded old mess of a dilapidated photocopy, in its journey to eventually, inevitably being discarded, only made it from my work bag to the place where it is now tucked innocuously by the blank note cards between the dancing bears mug and the big spender change jar. What’s merely a sheet of paper, a scraplet of an event long ago settled, I think I’ll continue holding onto it for now. Another few weeks or months or more.
Whatever was the address of the Sheboygan, Wisc. house, and whenever were the years (there were a few late 1970s and early 80s), I learned much of what I understand about how any holidays worth celebrating really work, miniature lessons from my brother, my parents, grandparents (not pictured), great-grandparents (left to right, the photo in front of the piano, Meta, Thomas, and Harriet, all immigrants or children of immigrants). Today I’m spending time in the kitchen, quietly preparing food, imagining it possible that there are still tykes over that way west across Lake Michigan feeling joyful for playing in the basement, a holidays-only Mr. Pibb, slinkies sent down the stairwell, hand-knitted sweaters snugly holding multigenerational warmth.
Every June 11, calendar taps my shoulder, Do you know what today is?
Of course, I do. It’s the day my mom died. On a Wednesday. In 1997. At the age of forty-eight. *looks back at the calendar, unfazed and unflinching* What’s it to you?
I’ve written about it before, not remembering as much as returning to something temporally recognizable, a time of life and time of year faint and hollow but still capable of stinging, in the orbit of one strange loop. In 2005, making sense of Barthes’ the almost; in 2007, mysterious disappearances, a bona fide insurance coverage, resonant for conceptual elasticity, bearing on the job I worked in 1997 when my dad called out of the blue, bearing on the how death and why death questions that never gathered much in the way of answers. And then, “Have Some Soup,” an entry I still read from time to time when I’m missing her because I came close to getting it right, language being clumsy and unwieldy, minds too for the curlicued circuits of remembering and forgetting, processing loss and processing continuations, pin-pointing a few of the (oftentimes kitchen-based) clicks of “I’m here now,” “I” referring, of course, to “we.” Here we are now.
I went to her gravesite in Missouri last September. And after, posted this on FB:
Of course a Kansas City excursion includes a visit to my mom’s gravesite, what’s a burial site twenty-two years conventionally groundset in a regularly mowed cemetery at the bank of a nondescript Blue Springs, Mo., suburb. Here. Friday. It’s sunny; it’s sunsurface hot, too. Sit, anyway. Bring water. Let time teach that fuzzy edge, what boundary really?, between person and place, a body quickly and slowly (paradoxically quicklyslowly) from that to this, being becoming becoming. And then there’s just earth, prairielike, wind bending grass, or a stone performing durability, a bronze plaque, a few lines, and time’s circlings, bringing me back here without reason (i.e., reason suspended), to visit. And to find a place more than a person, wherever for now along death’s sure reaches.Facebook entry, September 28, 2019.
About that prairie wind blowing the grass blades, what’s especially striking is how each strand stands again, gets back again on its little rootfeet, bowing to the elements only momentarily, knowing strength (and I mean this as really knowing embodiedly strength). Some of that strength, I suppose, comes from grasping intuitively that we only get this for a little while. The calendar nods.
There’s a numerology blinkered all around this year’s deathdate, a numerology that lurks, gazes, hails, beckons. In its rouletted triviality, something is piqued as serendipitous, though possibly it’s a low-grade poetic flit, possibly a nothing-at-all. Let me try, anyway (not that I’ve got the time; busy AF with work, to-do list is a task-lavishing spawnmonster…though the truer truth is that for this, there’s time more than enough). Mom died when she was 48. I was a few days more than a month into being 23. And now, today, I’m that same measure, a month and six days past turning 46. Math math math, abacus beads don’t fail me now, carry the one: nearly half of this life has gone by without her. Carry on.
The implied hmm and huh in this is with what Louise Phelps wrote to me about a few weeks ago as folded time, a theoretical extension of something from Julavits’ The Folded Clock. It’s that kind of interval-ed co-experience of being an age, some age only now (in this moment for me) mirroring some age only then for another. This stirs an ordinary but marvelous experiential deixis. Then and now, then as now. I remember my mother at 46. That’d have been 1995. A year I started off spending ten–offs!–days in North Kansas City hospital, eleven staples or was it fifteen squeezed pla-chunk into the top of my head at the ER before dawn, early January. A year when I also sat scalpel and scope through three surgeries. A year when I stopped playing college basketball days before the start of what would’ve been my senior season. A year–still in 1995–when my mom was there for me a lot. A lot, a lot.
That’s all I mean by the hmm and huh: noticing a life once folded, first twenty-three years with a mom, next twenty-three years without. Onward, onward, grandbabies and (17-year-brood, is it?) cicadas. Onward looping, onward heart.
Can’t especially much sidestep or neglect to mention that this kind of look-back too means I’ve been a parent for twenty-three years, and whatever kind of parent I was ready to be or not ready to be at that age (there were a thousand generous friends and strangers looking out for us all), it’s what brings us to a now, Ph. at 29, Is. at 13, V., Ph.’s daughter, at 1. Another angle on folded clocks for how in a life they keep folding, relational entanglements and relational accountabilities (an idea best-set by Shawn Wilson), brother-sister, father-son, father-daughter, aunt-niece, and grandfather-granddaughter. Sure do believe it to be true, my mother would’ve marveled.
She’d have been deeply, wrenchingly disturbed, though, by this moment. And she’d not have been complaining but acting, perhaps privately and semi-privately (not online), to sew change. I don’t mean the pandemic, though that’s brought to the fore a measure of static and gnashing, privilege and comfort hard-checked, (ever-more-distant) family members grumping and whining about mask inconvenience and how a basic do-unto-others empathetic regard, call it civility or decency or neighborliness, gets twisted social-media-megaphonic into villainy and fascism. I miss her, but I’m relieved too that (were she with us, abacus, that’d be coming up on the age of 72), she is not around to feel the anguish brought on by such selfish nonsense as has been expressed by relatives. Linda? Oh, she’d have been pissed. She’d have drawn lines. She’d have nevermind Costco Kleenex box wept. She’d have marched. She’d have taken down with force some of this bullshit y’all kinfolk are far too casually espousing. Let me be clear: I’m not saying I knew her best, but I am saying I know this much.
Brings me to another very closely related clock-fold thread, more than a mirage in remembering well my mom’s lessons and values, her priorities for parental consciousness raising, justice, awareness, and accountability to others. Recently I’ve seen some flappings-on in certain small-ish-familial circles about how unfortunate (saddening) are the removals of confederate statues, prospective renamings, and so on. I grant that phrase, “flappings-on,” implies critique. So be it. I don’t have the slightest damn to give about the swift extraction of public monuments or public memorials dedicated anyone who tolerated, promoted, abided, or was otherwise receptive to or amenable with slavery. Clear away all of that ugly and traumatizing shit. Those markers are not teaching history. They’re signaling explicitly the persistence of a dehumanizing value system–and that dehumanization disproportionately applies to some (BIPOC) and not others (white folks). So openly and uncritically sentimentalizing or reveling in public markers rooted in the subjugation of fellow humans, it expresses a reckless and unchecked obtuseness. It’s serially injurious, inscribing legacy fear, legacy pain, legacy nastiness overtly into the commons. It’s an asshole thing to do. Seriously, fuck that.
Ok. Counting to three. Gonna take a breath and try it one other way. Clockfold. It’s June 11, 2020. Murders of Black folks at the hands of police officers (Breonna Taylor, George Floyd), as well as documented lynchings (Ahmaud Arbery) have motivated and recharged civil rights activism, all for the greater good, nothing left to lose, and enough is enough. Breonna Taylor was 26; Ahmaud Arbery, 25. And George Floyd, 46, my age, also tall and a former high school tight end, a dad with a young daughter. A dad, dammit. They should be alive.
Four paragraphs ago I mentioned my son and daughter and granddaughter. There is so much more that can and should be said, that is being said, that must be deliberated over, acted upon, sorted out, made better in light of that last paragraph. But up there four paragraphs ago, where I mentioned Ph. and Is. and V., to those in my family singing woe-song about slipping handles on history due to the sociocultural eviction of atrocity memorials, I have only this scenario to offer. Bracket history for one beat to consider whether you would believe it reasonably safe for Ph. and Is. and V. to drive together to where I live, to pay me a visit, the three of them. Consider it carefully. Their different last names. Their different races. Their unusually different ages. Ph. driving. Their navigating state highways in Ohio, especially southern Ohio, and West Virginia. Consider it. Consider why such a road trip would be terrifyingly precarious, dangerous, risky. And then mull over what you are actively doing to make it otherwise. Give it a minute. Try.
So, here’s where I’ve veered to this morning in the clock-folding. Entirely on (circular) track. I think about my mom often, especially on her deathdate, especially in this particular moment. The personal. The familial. Can’t find in all that introspective deep digging and self-awareness any fire to relate, really? Ask what it would take to make the constant threat and trauma and springloaded trigger-happy state violence–the anguish perpetuated through structural-systemic and targeted dehumanization–personal for you, for those to whom you are accountable.
Tenth of May, Mother’s Day; therefore, a Mother’s Day drawing, like when I was ten, nine, eight, seven, six. I’d have drawn then for grandmothers, too. Especially noteworthy this time, this Mother’s Day, a meta-holiday (like double-rainbow) for its being the 23rd Mother’s Day since 1997. That’s the year my mom died and also the year when I was 23. As half-lives to radiation (gratitude and shout-out to Marie Curie), are HRRs to the death of parents. Maybe? (Pandemic fills us with second-thoughts…on second thought…on second thought…on second thought.) HRR radiates a couple of ways, a measure of heat, as in Heat Rate Release, a measure of heart, as in Heart Rate Recovery. Visceral equilibrations, change evens out over time, entropy and upheaval labor fatigued, grow quiet. Pain settles. Heat cools. Hearts still.
Decided naw, no need to finesse this into the bestiary series, let it be the one-off that it is, a different brush, layers, a game of forms, rotations, illusions of intergenerational-familial integration that never really were especially integrated. But my mom, she always knew that and helped me understand with okayness the kindness of a particular way–a way I’m still thankful not to have forgotten these twenty-three years since, the lastingness awesome of her parenting, such a last-lasting gift to share.
Overnight, planted digitally from the Pacific northwest by my aunt, not just any photo but this one, my dad’s family at Sheboygan, Wisc., holiday, my grandfather, Arvin, notably a WWII veteran, front-right, my parents to the right, brother just behind me, genuine smiles in a moment I can’t quite remember until I see this, but where is memory, anyway?, because then it is there in front of you, kermit frog-eyeing a collapsed cookie monster, an early 1980s Jim Henson haircut, almost but not quite matching shirts, and especially my great-grandmother, Meta, her hand at my back bringing me closer. #relations
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