LAST WORDS ON MY FATHER
[Note: It was 1999. My father never made it to the Millennium nor did I make it to his funeral to deliver the short address that follows; this may constitute a genre of its own Ė the obloquious Obituary.]
Thirty years is a long time. Itís the length of time between the last occasion on which I saw my father, and today. Itís also the very same length of time my father was married to my mother. I doubt that my father deserves being remembered for so long Ė as she undoubtedly still is, and with real affection Ė but some words need to be said, and as Iím also, alas, my fatherís son, I need to say them.
Iíve come a long way today, many miles and years, in order to remind you Ė or to tell others who may not know Ė that when my mother died, aged just fifty-three Ė my father would not attend her cremation. It involved only a short car-ride, a mere mile away from where we then lived. My father was sixty, neither ill nor grief-stricken, but he did not even care to justify his behaviour.
Coldness, selfishness and cruelty are characteristics I remember all too clearly in connection with him. For many such instances I could not forgive him and never did. But his negative example has taught me much in life: by doing and being the opposite of everything he stood for, Iíve learned a lot. One must try to be kind, tolerant, honest, humorous, generous; time is truly short, and so is this one-and-only life we have. As an atheist, I believe life is much too precious and brief for us to be either manipulative or grasping: my ninety-six year old father Ė spiritualist, occultist, scientologist and self-styled guru Ė was both.
Maybe his guilt finally matched his longevity: who can tell? Yet sometimes he could be so callous and blatant it might almost seem funny: after my motherís death, he duly proposed to no fewer than three Casdagli relatives on my motherís side! Needless to say, these were the wealthiest of the clan Ė a widow and two spinsters; all had the common sense to turn him down. My godmother Ė one of these three (relatively) wise women Ė laughed when she told me. She herself had been my motherís best friend, always deploring my fatherís outrageous arrogance.
But despite Chaplin, dictators arenít funny, not even petty ones. Whoever is subject to their rule sooner or later must oppose them. My father himself (who bore a distinct physical resemblance to Mussolini) was not at all a funny man, he lacked genuine humour and proved chilling to live with. If heíd had his way, Iíd have undergone ECT, electric shock treatment, aged eighteen. Thanks to my mother, of whom everyone speaks well and always will, I am alive, still writing, and dutifully here today. Iím attending on her behalf alone, for Iíve come a long way to take leave of my father Ė of whom no one speaks well nor now ever will.
A FILIAL PIECE
He always would maintain he'd had things hard.
[Note: An earlier version of A Filial Piece was included in Judging By Disappearances: Poems 1996-2006. With a few slight changes it provides a fitting poetic coda to the prose Obituary. By 2018 it seems there's nothing further to add.]