Fathers and Sons - part one
'Rebellion lay in his way, and he found it.'
Shakespeare's Henry IV (both parts) focuses on a father and son who do not initially share the same values. The vicious circle spirals. The father disapproves while the son looks after his own juvenile needs. Each adopts a temporary surrogate. For Henry, it is the impetuous but decisive Hotspur; for Hal it is the cowardly but doting Falstaff. Hal's rebellion burns itself out eventually, and the surrogate father is spurned. Reconciliation plays out at the very last moment. Meanwhile, Hotspur, the surrogate son, has initiated a more official and perilous rebellion - one that involves overthrowing the king rather than simply hanging out with some drunken buffoons.
And so, this is the archetypal model of the universe. The father sets an example. The son refuses to follow it, but discord eventually leads to mutual appreciation. My father worked hard. These were the days before David Beckham taught men how to parent. My Dad provided for us and his provision justified his lack of involvement. He was a loyal employee and honoured the system in which he served; moderate ambition allowing him to climb a certain way up a very particular ladder. He was sociable, well-liked and believed in doing more than his duty. His life depended on a rock-solid faith in an ideology bigger than him. He served an indelible sense of order and justice - a concrete world view.
In my teens I rejected this way of thinking, and I still do. I believe in hard work, but I am an iconoclast. I like to challenge, and refute. My success and my downfall has been caused by the same quality - an ability to analyse with clarity, and when necessary urge for reclassification, regardless of the sanctity of the status quo. I speak the truth - as far as I see it - and I am contemptuous of anyone who doesn't. For me, servile compliance is worthless and expedient. My father practised temperance. I yield to excess.
This is the natural way. It is as it should be. We never argued, but I think we found each other perplexing. We lived our lives as different species - a differing understanding of what it means to be a man. However, my father and I have been robbed of the story's inevitable conclusion. The universe of justice and order, whose principles he served decided to steal his memory, and also his ability to be fully present. Areas of his brain no longer work as they once did. This gross injustice has denied us the effortless reconciliation and appreciation that a father's old age can bring. There are days, now, when he no longer recognises me. This is not the end we had anticipated. I had hoped for a gentle, mutual, long-lasting acceptance. We only glimpsed from afar what we nearly had.
I watch my son in a ballet class. He has a strength and a determination that I do not recognise. He dances with a love that I appreciate but do not fully understand. Perhaps his joining this hierarchical world of ballet is his form of rebellion - conformity is radical when you are raised by individualists. In the last few months he has been changing. There are clues of the man he will become - strong, tenacious, gentle and full of grace. He is taller, leaner and more sinewy. My own process with my father has been regrettably lost. I will retaliate. I will thwart the natural scheme of a son rejecting a father's values. I will seek to understand ballet and be less of a renegade. And we will treasure our collective memory. I will make it something permanent. I will blog.