Reading with My Father: Intro

My husband and I used a few lines from Toni Morrison’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Beloved on our reception invitation and we rendered them like this: “(S)he is a friend of my mind. (S)he gather me, man. The pieces I am, (s)he gather them and give them back to me in all the right order. It’s good, you know, when you got a (wo)man who is a friend of your mind.” In the novel, Paul D catches sight of a quilt and recalls Sixo thinking about the Thirty-Mile woman as he now contemplates his feelings for Sethe. In our rendering, my husband and I wanted the passage to mutually speak our feelings for one another. When I read this part of the novel now, I can still apprehend our earlier take on it as a passage about romantic love but I have become very interested in the passage, and the image of the quilt, as about more than the feeling of love but the work of it; to love–the verb. To that end, I’ve been thinking a great deal about my father.

My father died from lung cancer on March 8, 2010. By the end, I think that my father had finally started seeing the pieces of himself and of his life coming together much like a quilt. He seemed better able to live independently and responsibly. He no longer needed drugs to make everyday life manageable, but that made having cancer extremely difficult. The persistent pain of his illness meant that he would need drugs to manage and he could not reconcile alleviating the pain in his lungs and in his head with needing drugs to alleviate the pain from his soul and his spirit. When my father started taking percocet, I knew that he did not have long to live.

My father could be incredibly funny and incredibly cruel; incredibly thoughtful and incredibly negligent. Maybe that’s why I always saw my father as a shattered man. He was someone who I always thought of as working hard to manage the pieces of his life, if not of life itself.

After my father passed, I became obsessed with Eugene O’Neill’s play The Iceman Cometh because, in part, being at my father’s funeral with so many people talking about my father’s dreams and their dreams and realizing dreams that it made me think of those people in Harry Hope’s bar. I wanted to sit with the play and think about America and her pipe dreams. I couldn’t realize my obsession though because I couldn’t concentrate as much as I needed to, but I’d like to now.

I want to devote space on this blog to thinking about the books that I have thought about with respect to my father, those I sent him as gifts, or the ones I remember him telling me that he read. For example, my father was in a book club at the homeless

shelter where he worked and had once been a resident. I happened to be in Cleveland when the article about the book club appeared in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. When we talked about it, he told me that he had told the reporter that while he was indeed a participant and did not mind being photographed, he did not want to be identified by name in the article or in the captions because he didn’t want to take the focus away from the other guys. While the article identifies Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian as the group’s selection, I don’t remember my father telling me that he had read this book. I would like to read this work as a part of my Reading with My Father series so that I can think through my father’s life and consider how this work might have impacted him, the men of his generation and the children they fathered.

I sent my father sociologist Mitchell Duneier’s wonderful book Slim’s Table: Race, Respectability, and Masculinity as a Father’s Day present. I’ve been reading it here and there, off and on over the past few weeks. I read the work some time ago but I couldn’t remember much of my own thoughts about the book. I’m only on page 30 so if you’d like to read along with me, I’d love the company. Contrary to popular presentation, a book club does not require us to meet in person–there is another way to do this 🙂

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