|Dad and me in our natural habitat|
Two years ago today my father died suddenly of a heart attack. He had almost finished snowblowing his driveway, almost set the world to right when something let loose and he was taken out of the world. He was 76 and I was his second son.
Dad was a traditionalist, a man of the 20th century happy to be living in the 21st but in many ways along for the ride. He was not interested in computers, online anything, or most electronics. His was a mechanical world, one that he or someone he knew could repair. His old cars were things he could understand, touch, own outright, and maintain. He could restore these things and keep them running.
A year ago, on the first anniversary of his death, I took delivery of a 1938 Corona Sterling typewriter that was manufactured in a factory here in Syracuse the year my father was born here. Dad knew of that factory in childhood as a busy place in full production. He drove past it hundreds of times as the century wound down and the factory ceased production. It became the first home of our community college and was then demolished. Not a writer in anyway, Dad had no reason to mourn the typewriter’s passing, but felt an emotional pull about the changes and would have just as soon the factory have gone on producing typewriters.
As a boy I was into all the new technologies and racing my way into the future. I used a computer for the first time in 1979 and bought my own in ten years later. I never had much of a feel for mechanical repairs or maintenance. My head was in the clouds and waiting for the advent of the electronic world. I wanted regular trips to the moon and back.
We didn’t clash over these things. Dad was happy I had my dreams. He helped me fix my cars, built shelves for my books, and showed me the basics. I found things online that he was looking for and did his taxes with him on TurboTax. We depended on each other’s expertise. There was no friction. When he and Mom needed a new television, I helped them pick it out and then hooked it up. The same with Mom’s computer, printer, and internet. When I needed to rewire my basement, Dad showed me how.
As I grow older, my appetite for change declines. I’ve become more traditional. I cook in antique cast iron pans, write with fountain pens and manual typewriters, and am listening to records on a turntable. Unless the snow is too deep, I’ve taken to shoveling and letting the snowblower rest in the garage. In most of these acts, I think of my father.
I can’t live his life or become the man he was, though I admit to wishing I could. I understand that he was onto some things and I’m more and more in agreement with his largely unstated ideals. A tool that lasts is a thing of beauty. Not everything needs electricity. A new thing, no matter how widely accepted, might not be worth much at all. Tradition is beautiful and rewarding. So is work. Efficiency may be good, but convenience is largely overrated. These ideas linger and grow in me even as the moment of his death and all the days of his life recede deeper into my past. These things grow stronger as the memories soften and go out of focus.
What sharpens is a picture of how to live. It involves enduring tools and traditions as well as new, exciting technologies. It involves balance between the two, between the future and the past, the living and the dead, the son and the father. Living is a process of remembering the man and missing him, understanding that life goes on and through memory and action he remains with me through these lonelier years.