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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3 responses to “Fathered

  1. Starting a therapeutic practice originated in Austria?

    Father’s Day is like a big nothing for me. I don’t talk to my father. I thought today, it would be nice to have someone to actually tell that I’m pleased when I have some attribute in common with him, but he wouldn’t be pleased, also, I don’t think, and we don’t have anything else we can share, either. It all kind of sucked like that, by the end, which is why we don’t talk now.

    I’ve had so many different kinds of father conversations this week. People whose fathers were heroin addicts. People who are afraid of men because of their fathers. People who love their fathers so much they want to write great long love letters on the internet to them. People whose only contribution to the father question is to say they’re still so bitter about their own fathers that they won’t do it themselves, not now, not soon. The ones I am inspired by are being the best dads they can, despite having had to cobble together what that would look like.

    My girlfriend, who is a strange one in a number of ways, calls herself the father of a little girl who is out there in the world. And she knows how I feel about being a mother, so she bought me a card for Mother’s Day, and I did the same for her this week. No one I’m close to is writing the love letters to their awesome dads. We’re all the ones who get quiet when the subject comes up because it’s too fraught. Good on you for getting it less so. It’s healing to be able to go forward and love in the places where the heart has been cracked open.

    • Sue Gillis

      Beautiful… so much of what you’ve said, I too have felt. Being that my father came from your father, are you surprised? My father’s death was the most painful event of my life, and although I was 34, I may have well been 9 years old as I certainly acted like a child for months and months afterward. I have scores of scores, tapes and reels of our fathers’ music upstairs in boxes. I’ve barely gone through them. As much as I want to keep their music alive, I find that I am mostly consumed with my own child. I didn’t get to be with my daddy the way the way I should have gotten to be. I needed him in my life, not 300 miles away making great music. I wanted to come home from school and get his hugs, hear his thoughts, sit next to him at dinner. I wanted to sit on his lap and play the piano, or hear him writing on the piano. I needed him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m grateful for what we had, what we shared and what he gave me, but I will always live with the longing for what might have been…. and what would be if he was still alive. And so my child gets her mom and dad every day, for better or worse. We laugh, we cry, we argue, we sing, we play… and I tell her wonderful stories of her Grampa and her Great Grampa, two incredible musicians who left great marks, who were so talented and so loved… But I’d trade all of their music for one day spent with my baby girl…..

  2. Pingback: Centennial | Julie Gillis

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