June 17th is my father’s birthday and the centennial of his birth. He was a composer and conductor and his archives are up at University of North Texas, who created this lovely web page on his work and centennial anniversary.
I have a very fraught relationship with him, made additionally fraughtier given that he died of heart disease in 1978, after a walk. I was just about 9 years of age. I saw him die and needless to say it left a mark.
I’m like him in many ways, given the arts (years of piano, oboe, singing and dance, not to mention a move into theater) and producering (I suspect that he found this to be as fulfilling as I do mostly due to the desire to make continued space for the creation of art) and mentoring students (a truly spiritual expression of his life, and I’m finding it to be one of the most important parts of mine). Indeed I still get emails to this day from past students of his telling me what a powerful impact he made on their lives. It’s amazing to hear what they say, but I’m always aware that they got something very wonderful that I didn’t.
You’d think that with all that I’d be more invested in promoting his work (that and the ASCAP royalties) but there is and has been a pocket of resistance born out of pain and fear and memory of him dying and some other hard to translate emotions that probably have a German name for them.
It’s an ever present feeling that nooks itself behind most of my conscious mind. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling, this “Deal with your father and be connected and intimate with your father’s relatives and finish grieving (as if it’s ever done) and honor his work and his legacy not only in his life but in you because you are like him and his gift to you is painful but worth it.” And so because it is uncomfortable it’s usually the thing that I’d just nook it further back and then realize that though I may be like him in some ways, that my qualities are more like shadows.
I wasn’t disciplined enough to go into the arts as an actual career, and possibly not talented enough either (or I didn’t believe I was). I shirk from perfecting the skills I’d need to be a truly effective producer. I have limits to my ability to love and stay connected, or at least I fear that I do, and I know that part of my limits come from the aforementioned nooked and ignored Teutonic emotion tapping somewhat impatiently in the dark little recess of my psyche.
But midlife is the time to face demons, and so it feels like between my mother issues and my father issues, I might should get started. I don’t want to be limited in my love, or my ability to create space for artists, or by my reticence to commit fully to the advocacy and counseling type work I feel certain is my mission. And I need to accept the father (and the mother) inside of me and move forward and embrace what comes.
In the photo above, my father took time from composing to draw pictures of kitties for me, in a simple pen stroke image. I’d carry them around until the paper was destroyed by my most certainly grubby little hands and I’d go to him and draw me some more. Because he loved me.
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