If you move an average of 2-3 years growing up, one begins to self-identify with a deeper and more transient nature than what our culture prescribes as the aim of one’s material life. After all, to be sedentary is to be rooted, to grow into a place, to invest time and energy and love and devotion to the cause of peace and to the idea of shared, communal space.
If there is a nomad within you where there is for so many others a stolid and principled settler, your movements in life aren’t periods but phases of huntings and gatherings for sanctuary, for shelter, for brief connections and the restocking of goods, before moving on to the next place, and the next, and the next – never quite at peace, never tied down, not really belonging anywhere. The latter was my experience as a child and young man – always the new kid, the odd face, the unknown variable in a formula of constants.
I look up from the pages of his memoir and think how this upbringing provided to me was so unlike my father’s own formative and sedentary years in southern Texas. Now that we are two decades into a new century of upheaval and displacement, I’ve simmered down my own frustration felt about being so transient. To be certain, 10 years of staying put in one place (Portland, OR) helped ease and soothe my sore joints, but I soon picked up again, headed back east, and have worked on myself towards a realization that I actually received some form of grace, an adaptation’s blessing, with my upbringing – though very tired and worn down has it made my spirit. In a world that will become more and more migratory, displacing its people like sand dunes, eroding cities with the oceans’ leaping tides, Global Climate Shift will wear down those who remain sedentary and never listen to that inner nomad.
It is now wearing down our material livelihoods with a current pandemic circling the globe. The planet demands we become more amenable to the compass, deep within. Where will it take us for survival – and how can examples from the past temporarily guide us while we find our way?
Meanwhile in the 1970s…
It feels kind of like paving-over his narrative to give a summary, if that’s indeed what I am proceeding to do in these posts, of those stretches of years which encompass each chapter of my father’s memoir. The preface itself was a sketch of 60 years with a fairly rough chronology; the private, Episcopalian, primary school years have few reminiscences before mentioning quickly intermediate, secondary, college and so on, in very broad strokes, “just the highlights” Bob has said over the phone. What is established in Chapter 1 is the main idea, which is all predicated on “the lack thereof,” from the hypothetical reader’s point-of-view.
These include but are not limited to: The lack of social and emotional skills, the lack of recognition of his intelligence, the lack of close friends, the lack of parents who took him seriously when he reported familial abuse, the lack of empathy, and the lack of trust in others.
As reader number one, I struggle to ask what I am left with, reading and typing out this personal record. Do I begin to find truth in Wordsworth’s line “the child is father to the man”? Something like this is what I tell myself, and I attempt to take a step back. This is like archaeology, and in that discipline, geology must be reckoned with first. There are layers within which the pieces of one’s identity are settled. Those layers have to be brushed away. But also, this is a story of his life, and few else can verify the details, as his parents are dead and friends are far-flung. I have to take him at his word.
It is as if an ancient Trojan were present at Hisarlik with Schliemann on his historic dig, saying “Disregard these other layers and those objects – here, these are the ones which tell my story.” No one but the bard Homer being able to confirm anything from that period, whoever they were, whenever the lines were set down.
I type again – the things which remain are what Bob composes as his life’s theme. He had the gift and power of intelligence, smarter than anyone else around him in fact, and this was used to help his purpose. This purpose, however flawed, fueled his life: he would make his parents as angry as he was, to bring their attention to him (which he claims was only involved in managing their own outward public perception, a symptom of Adult Children of Alcoholics, which is in line with the ACA’s Laundry List) and also, not to fall into the suicidal trap of self-hatred which he was feeling. In the ACA, anger is known as “emotional intoxication.”
My father attempted throughout his pre- and early teen years to shift this tendency to more healthy activities with efforts in scouting, choir, and church service, though each of these things acted as more of an escape. Two natures were at work within him – one that told him what he had was enough and to stay put, the other that he needed to leave Victoria as soon as he was able to, but at least with a high school diploma.
“There are things I have yet to put closure to.”
I believe in what my dad has felt, but I’m critical about his reasoning process and where it took him, which I don’t think he could have predicted. As an adult his own faith in the logic of his intelligence, and the conclusions they brought him to, made my mother nickname him ‘Spock.’ Indeed, Star Trek was often on the television at home, whether it was the syndicated Original Series, the 6 movies with the TOS cast on VHS, or new episodes of TNG, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. Yet, as a child, the Star Trek character I saw most in my father was not Spock the Vulcan but Worf the Klingon. Worf is a complicated but easily flattened character in TNG and DS9. However, many episodes are centered around his chief feature – Worf is a character between cultures, between the codes of his people and his duties to Starfleet. With this came struggle and friction, and it would be true to say that my father was also angry, adopted, and like Worf, from a family that by other’s estimation, ‘lacked honor.’
Because of these and other factors, my father was distant and didn’t show much affection towards me or my accomplishments, seemed bothered and/or upset at most anything my siblings and I did and was prone to fits of anger and depression. Worf’s son Alexander, who is introduced to him about the same age as I was to my father, is so intimidated by him, whom he barely knows him when they first meet. When Alexander eventually comes to live permanently on the Enterprise-D with Worf, he has a difficult time in his new environment and is likewise angry at his father.
I was too, all my childhood, and now, reading his memoirs, I become more aware of the patterns which are passed from the father to the son when there is a true lack of attention and conscientiousness of the self and others.