Book Excerpt for Father’s Day: Chapter Nine, “Wide”
I miss my father.
Not the man that died three years ago, two months shy of his eighty-eighth birthday, a few weeks past my parents’ thirty-third wedding anniversary. Not the man whose slow physical decline compromised in turns his body, his mind, and his heart. Not the man whose prescriptions increased while his world decreased. I do not miss that man—not because I did not love him, but because his world was too small that I cannot wish him back in it.
I miss the man who made me. He was fifty-seven when I was born, twenty-three years older than my mother. The day after my birth, he passed out candy cigars on the floor of the Minnesota legislature, networking with the state politicians, raising more funds for the university where he served as vice president. He was gregarious, charming, with a brilliant mind and a quick wit. He was charismatic and self-confident, unafraid of his choices, so much so that once when he was challenged by a departmental opponent he sent back a single typewritten line on university letterhead: I believe you may have mistaken me for someone who gives a shit. He admired strong teachers and researchers, regardless of race, religion, or sexual orientation. He advocated for an out lesbian at a time when her sexuality could have cost her her job. The stress of his work made him unpredictable. But when he was happy, his love was enormous, as tall and broad as him, as strong as the arms that had built the decks around our house.
His life was bookended by scarcity. A child of the Depression, he learned to scrimp and save, to work harder and smarter than those around him, to take opportunities when they arose and press on when they were absent. The GI Bill turned him from a farmboy to a sharpshooter to an English professor. He raised five children, four of them with his first wife, who died in the mid-seventies before mental illness or trauma or grief was any kind of national conversation. Raised Catholic, he settled with my mother and me in the Episcopal Church, but kept a rosary by his chair and murmured the Our Father in the German he’d grown up with.
He taught me how to write a proper essay with a powerful conclusion, how to read voraciously and compare books about the same event to dig up the reality behind the separate truths. But as my world grew, his shrank. He retired earlier than he wanted to, his body unable to recover fully after a sudden ruptured appendix took him to the emergency room the day before my sixth birthday. His eyesight went, then his hip, then his heart, then his knees, then his lungs. Over the next twenty years he faced multiple illnesses and several major surgeries. His sharp mind dulled. His memory was sometimes crisp, other times faded and fractured. His sickness took him far into the dark. He hated having his credit cards taken from him after losing them. He grumbled when we reduced the sugar in the house to control his diabetes. He was furious the first time I refused to go to the store for another magnum of cheap cabernet, ignoring my concerns that his opiate use was becoming complicated by the alcohol.
And I wonder who he will be, when we meet again at the great feast in the kingdom.
When we have passed through the refining fire, when everything that cannot come into the kingdom of God has been seared from us like impurities in dark-shining gold, who will we be? Who are politicians and pastors without their power? Who are abusers and addicts without control? What will Christianity be without anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, without racism and misogyny? Who will my father be, without the pain that marked him all my adult life?
Who will I be? If my codependency and anxiety are burned away, easy as thin bark at the edge of a log—I might, then, come to know what it is to love without fear. If the fog of my depression is finally and forever scattered by the flames of the Spirit, I might feel the depths of emotion that have been dulled for me, might be able to weep without the terror that I will not come back from letting myself cry. If the racism my culture and nation and church has given me to cover my eyes and ears from the truth of our history and present—I might, then, witness without reserve the iridescent beauty of the children of God. If my wounds from the hands of a Bible-banging church turn in one eterenal moment from scar to cauterized skin to brand new flesh—I might, then, know what it is like to stand among the family of God and feel no need for self-protection, no desire to build an armor of apologetics.
Who will my beloveds be? My friends and queer family marred by the hate of those who have beaten them with the Word and driven them from the church—what will they look like? I remember that Jesus, the first fruits of those raised from the dead, was not without his scars. They were part of the risen body. They had made him who he was, and proved that he was more than anyone had bargained for. The body of God had been and would always now be marked by the murderous hearts of men who craved power and control. What has been done to us, the lessons and the proof in it, does not fade.
The resurrection does not make us unhurt. It makes us whole.
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