In another place and another time, my father would have been a Druid. His love for nature and for gathering and sharing knowledge was the driving force in his life. I associate my father with trees. We took long walks in the woods. When driving, he would quite often take a lonely road off the main one, one that would wind and climb through the forest-covered hills. The fragrance of freshly cut wood takes me back to the hot summer days when we would share our thoughts and our time together as I sat on the branches of a fallen tree to keep it from pinching the saw while he cut firewood. His woodpiles were amazing in their symmetry and design.
Kyle was four years old the summer after my mother died, and as part of a long trip that he and I took around the country that summer, we stayed with Dad for a couple of weeks. The house was nestled in to the Blue Ridge Mountains and Dad was busy planting trees and clearing underbrush. That fall, when his teacher asked about his grandfather, Kyle stated that “He takes care of Mother Earth.”
When Kyle was eighteen, he and I went to visit Dad, who at the time was living at my brother’s outside of Ithaca. I was driving slowly up the road while we were trying to see the house numbers and as soon as I saw the woodpile in the backyard, I knew that we had the correct house. “Yep.” said Kyle, “That’s Grandpa.”
My earliest memories of Dad take place on his parents’ Pinchpenny Farm in Massachusetts watching him and my grandpa make a rose garden for Nana. And later, the long times of sitting on the long, wraparound porch of the farmhouse watching the thunderstorms roll in over the Illinois plain. And then in Long Beach and the evenings up on the terrace above the road, watching the sun set over the Lake while spotting cars and learning to tell make and model by head and tail lights. Hot muggy summer nights were made bearable by the midnight swims in Lake Michigan that he took us on, the bonfires he made, and the Scrabble games where he played just above our level to encourage us.
One early memory is when we had first moved to Long Beach when I was 4, and Dad, who was an excellent swimmer, was standing in the shallows and tossing us one by one in to the waves of Lake Michigan that were quite high that day. Years later, when I learned that my mother was afraid of water, I thought that she must have been having fits as she sat on the beach watching each of her children in turn disappear into the water and then holding her breath until we reappeared and body surfed into Dad’s waiting arms. As we became good swimmers ourselves, each morning Dad would stand at the window in the kitchen that overlooked the Lake and let us know how far out we were allowed to swim by counting the sandbars to which each of us could swim. As the youngest at the time, I was not allowed to go as far as my brother and sister, but didn’t mind playing around on my selected sandbar until they swam back in.
Before the Second World War, Dad had been an Engineering student at the University of Maine. He was very much interested in R. Buckminster Fuller’s architectural ideas. Fuller and my grandfather worked in Canada at the same mill in the early 1900’s and Grandpa kept a casual association with Fuller later on when they both were living in Maine. After the War, Dad had married Mom and they moved to North Carolina where dad was studying Engineering at Duke University. By the early 1970’s, Dad was fully committed to designing geodesic domes and living centers that were completely self-sustaining. Unfortunately, by then it was a pastime, not a profession. Mom had called Grandpa when she became pregnant with my older brother, and Dad was coerced in to leaving school and entering in to the business world of Scott Paper Company along with Grandpa. I think that this did great damage to Dad’s spirit and he spent the rest of his working life trying to find ways in which he could feed his intellect and his soul despite being locked in to a business life in which he had no interest. It was when he did give up and withdraw for a period of a few years, letting Mom run all of our lives that were the worst.
It was during the time that we lived in Long Beach that he was absent often due to business travel and emotionally absent most of the rest of the time. I truly do not think he had any idea of the insanity that went on in the house when he was away. Part of Mom’s sensuality and sex appeal was that she could manipulate and charm people. She certainly had that power over Dad. I hated that Mom would choose to be with other men and I spent the majority of my life carrying the energy of protection for him. I was completely surprised when he informed me that he had known about them all; well, all except my ex-husband, that one was a surprise to him. That made two that he could not forgive her for, the other one being his seventeen-year-old brother, whom she conquested while Dad was away during the War. I wish that I had known sooner that Dad had known about these men; I wouldn’t have had to carry the energy for him all those years. Dad was a great protector of privacy, and he had felt that it was my mother’s decision as to whether she should talk about these things or not. After her death, he made a wonderful effort to fill me in on as much detail as concerned me, and I was grateful, though somewhat taken aback, to finally hear the truth of it. Whatever their agreement was, it got them through fifty years of marriage. Was it a happy marriage? Only they know the answer to that. What I do know is that he loved her and he was dedicated not only to her but to his children and maintaining the family as a unit was extremely important to him.
He and I had many opportunities to talk over our later years together. After Mom died, after Kyle had grown up, after time had softened the hurt and the sadness, we were able to look back and address what for so many years had been unspoken. He told me that he didn’t always understand me, but that he saw the difference from my siblings in me, and he had loved to connect with me on that unspoken level because it took him out of the moment and allowed him to have a little peace and quiet. He took time to have fun with me, to take me to fun places like zoos and movies, and long quiet drives on the countryside. He not only allowed me to have my faeries and my unseen (by him) forces, but he substantiated them for me. He never ridiculed me or made me feel stupid; he allowed me the space to share my view of the world. As an older adult, I shared with Dad that I had made a conscious choice as a very young child to not be anything like my older siblings. It was many years before the words “paranoid schizophrenic” and “sociopathic tendency” were used to describe my sister and brother respectively, but I knew that there was something about them that I plainly did not like, and did not want to be like. I did not like how they treated me, of course, but I recognized something deeper, and darker, in both of them.
It’s unfortunate that the times in which my father was brought up were so much the “children should be seen and not heard”, “spare the rod and spoil the child” times of expecting children to be molded in to little adults as fast as possible. I do not think that he, as the oldest in a very Scottish American family, was given the opportunity to be fully a child. I feel quite fortunate to be a part of the generation that started to break all of those barriers, as well as others, and moved the world in to a much more open and openly caring place with child-rearing. From my birth by a drug-induced sleeping mother and my Dr. (Benjamin) Spock upbringing of timed bottle feedings and “let the baby cry to sleep”, to the natural childbirth of my son and his on-demand breast-feeding (yes, in public if need be) for the first year of his life, the differences in both parent and child is remarkable.
It was unfortunate for me that my time of growing up was in a very chauvinistic one, where men were the breadwinners and women ruled the household. I wish Dad had been more present in the day-to-day workings of the house and wonder what it would have been like had he not given it all over to Mom. If he had seen for himself what things were like instead of Mom’s version of them, maybe he could have stopped the madness.
When it came time for me to think about going to college, Dad’s reticence in encouraging me was not, as I tended to believe at the time, that he thought that I wasn’t smart enough; it was that he saw in me the “outside the box” thinking that I had and questioned whether or not I would be able to succeed in a very in-the-box-driven educational system. His fears reflected his own experiences, I am certain. It wasn’t until one of my teachers suggested Antioch College with its cooperative study-work program and its dedication to social change, that he and I both knew that there was a place where I could be successful. After a semester there, Northeastern Illinois University opened its University Without Walls program and I was able to transfer and have in state tuition for my studies in adolescent psychology.
My father was my first teacher in the healing arts. When I was in high school in the late 1960’s, he was diagnosed with Paget’s Disease, an incredibly painful abnormal growth of bone tissue. His mother had recently passed away. She suffered from Paget’s where it showed mostly on the interior surface of her skull. She had numerous operations where sections of her skull had been removed and replaced with metal plates. The headaches she had suffered were debilitating.
When Dad contracted the disease, it affected the right side of his body. Although it was in all the long bones, it was most visible at the joints which were swollen so badly that one could not see the joint at all. Every movement he made caused him excruciating pain. His doctors offered him a morphine prescription and suggested he invest in a wheelchair. They said that they could do no more for him. Dad had watched his mother live on pain medications for years, and he was determined to not follow that path.
He moved his office home and began his own regimen of treatment: he moved his body, and he kept on moving his body, never giving in to the pain. He would find things to do that forced him to keep moving. He walked my younger brother to the school bus stop. He started out with vacuuming the house on a daily basis, holding the vacuum wand in his right hand and moving slowly, methodically, back and forth, back and forth, with tears and sweat flowing down his face. After a while, he bought a bicycle, and began to take rides around town, gradually increasing the time limit and riding to the minute. He refused to take pain medication; he said it dulled his senses. He started to show signs of improvement and within a year he was pain-free.
I, in my search for spiritual and emotional meaning in life, recognized that this was the mind ruling over the healing process of the body. I watched him closely as he went through his healing process, and I could see that he was drawing on the source that was deep within him. Some would call it determination, he called it the good side of stubbornness, but I saw that he was drawing strength from deep within himself and willing himself to heal. Years later, I would come to know that place within myself, and learn to use it effectively for myself and for others. I have studied and learned much about healing over the years, but those seemingly endless days of watching my father draw on his inner resources to keep going, to keep getting just a little better, to keep fighting—and win– against the disease that wanted to take over his body, always come back to me as my First Great Lesson.