Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fictional Me

Ancient light from the big bang
I like to write about families, especially fathers and sons, so this blog about my relationships with my five kids is fun for me. I like to make up stories too, and they also tend to be about families.

Families are our universes. They start with our own personal big bang and expand as we grow until that moment when the gravity of our beginning halts the outward rush and we begin to draw back toward the nucleus of our origin.

Fiction lets us explore not only what was but what might have been. There is a sensual seductiveness to walking in the dark without fear of lasting peril. I want to get back to that.

I plan to post short fiction as separate pages on this blog. The first is called “Lover’s Moon.” You can see the tab for it at the top of the blog.

Thanks to Google’s Blogger my writing can be in the cloud. That is likely as close as I’ll ever get to heaven.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Wedding Bed

Pretty Little Jane Foot from Canton
My grandparents, Jane and Philip Davidson, were twenty when they married. They were in school at Ole Miss. William Faulkner was a classmate. He called my grandmother “Pretty little Jane Foot from Canton.”

I don’t think my grandfather liked Faulkner very much. Faulkner was older and cut a dashing figure in his uniform from the Royal British Flying Corps. He wrote poems for the school yearbook with lines like “Your face still beckons like a lonely star.” His bit of flirting with my grandmother was no doubt the reason my grandfather, a modest man, took boyish pride in telling how he beat out Faulkner for membership in Scribblers, the Ole Miss writing society. We see how all that worked out: my grandfather got pretty little Jane Foot from Canton and William Faulkner got a pretty fair writing career.

With the woodworking skills he learned from his father and some rough walnut boards, my grandfather make a bed as a wedding present for my grandmother. He planed the wood smooth and stained it and in the footboard added a wistful panel of lacy cane. I think about that bed now and then and the family it started and wonder what was in my grandfather’s mind as he made it. Well, I know that part, the pretty little Jane Foot part, but I wonder if he was thinking about the children they would have and what it would mean to be a father.

According to my mother, all my grandfather had to do to reduce her to quivering obedience was give her “the look.” Her brother required a more direct approach. He used to tell the story (with some pride, I thought) of coming home drunk one night in high school and opening the front door quietly and the next thing he remembered was looking up from flat on his back on the floor, rubbing his jaw and watching my grandfather’s bathrobe flapping down the hallway. Even though my grandfather spent his life as a teacher, as a father he was apparently a man of few words.

I don’t recall “the look.” No doubt he aimed it in my direction many times, but I had been inoculated against subtle forms of persuasion by a father who liked to be absolutely sure I understood his point; indeed, there were times when I wished my dad would just deck me rather than go on for another minute with one of his interminable lectures.

One thing about my grandfather I do remember is that it was hard to get him to give advice, even when I asked for it. I used to think he didn’t want to be responsible for sending me in one direction or another, but now I think he just wanted my choices to be my own.

According to the 1920 Ole Miss Yearbook:
"Davidson is fast, gets down under punts
well, and can be depended upon to either
spill the interference or get the man himself"
As a father, I’ve turned out to be a tormented mix of my father and my grandfather. I can’t kick the urge, learned at my father’s knee, to pontificate at length, but in my heart I know my children have to make their own life choices. This leads to alternating bouts of bossiness and guilt. I try to lay off, but I just don’t seem to be able to. Ultimately, all my children have solved the problem by going off to college. I miss them when they go away, but I have to admit that I don’t miss that bossy side of me. They get a break from me, and I get a break from myself.

I wish my grandfather (and my father for that matter) was still alive so I could ask him what he thought of Tiger Moms. My father was a Tiger Dad, but when he roared, I couldn’t always tell what to do to keep from getting mauled, other than get out of the tiger habitat. This led to my being anywhere but home a lot of the time. In that way, I suppose my father’s approach ended up having the same effect as I imagine my grandfather’s would have: I was left to figure out for myself what I wanted to do with my life.

For me, that was a good thing. I don’t know how well I would have fared following a course someone else charted for me. Rebellion in one or another of its many forms comes to most of us sooner or later. Perhaps it is better to get it out of the way before too much time is wasted going in the wrong direction; or before losing sight altogether of who you are.

Things haven’t changed that much since my grandfather made that bed for pretty little Jane Foot from Canton. Boys still woo girls, wantonly oblivious to what they are getting into, and the men those boys become still muddle through as fathers. In my grandfather’s time gender roles were clearer, but I don’t know that that made understanding fatherhood any easier. From a lofty perch of patriarchy, it may well have been harder to be a father, to indulge those urges to be close to your children when other men were going off to work or war and keeping a stiff upper lip.

When my grandfather died, I found his wedding bed stowed in the back of his garage. It was dusty but sound. I waxed it and bought a new mattress and put it in a vacation home that we occasionally rent to others. I like to imagine that the beautiful old walnut is still working its romantic magic.

With each new generation, we men make our wedding beds. Soon enough we wander around in the wilderness that grows up around them, but as we lovingly fit the boards together for the first time, we are puffed up with pride and vitality and hope. There is no better symbol of what it is to be a man.