A friend’s father died recently and by way of condolences I said that I believed that one’s father (or mother) was never really dead.
People speak of losing one’s parents, but I don’t understand that. That’s not possible. One never loses one’s parents.
My father and his older brother remain ghosts in my life. They haunt me. I can hear them quite clearly. They were lifelong business partners, lifelong business partners who spoke only through their lawyers at the end of their long lives, but that’s another story and not a very happy one.
I think of them often because I’ll wonder what they would think of something. Wild swings in the stock market, the cavalcade of zanies on the national stage and most recently the men’s rights movement. Like the William Butler Yeats poem, they cast a cold eye on a life.
I thought of them when I saw a recent issue of GQ, which advises “Look Sharp/Live Smart.” What would they have made of an article titled “Are you ready for the men’s rights movement?” The thrust of the piece was that men are angry and resentful of women and feel sorry for themselves. It’s best that my father and uncle did not live to see what the magazine calls “the manosphere.” The men in the article were sad and stupid. Coarse losers. My father and uncle would have cast an especially cold eye on them. They never felt sorry for themselves one day in their lives and they liked women. They could be charming. They always knew exactly what to do. “Talk to the organ grinder, not the monkey.” Wisdom I still carry with me.
Both of them always looked sharp and lived smart. But they did not need a magazine to advise them on how to be a man. They were their very own manosphere. My uncle always smoked a cigar, a good cigar. They wore suits and hats. Good suits. And drove big American cars. Drank Chivas Regal. Tipped well. They were not averse to games of chance. And they were tough. Never blinked. They were also never rude to anyone. And they believed in getting one’s shoes shined, too. They were my role models, for good or ill, on how to be a man. Wordsworth was right. The child is father of the man.
My father and uncle were old school guys. They did not play catch with us. They thought it inappropriate to interact with children on that level. (But they did teach us how to hold a grudge, always more useful.) We were never spanked. And no one raised his voice. Neither of them swore, either. They thought of us (I have two younger brothers) as little men.
Anthropologists might tell you that elder women in a tribe play a role in the raising of children, especially boys. That would be my maternal grandmother. She was an old Irish lady who said the rosary every night, had a glass of whiskey and taught us to play poker. Other kids played Old Maid or Slapjack—children’s games. That would have been a grave insult to the gods of gaming and the gods of gaming were our gods. When my brother Kevin was 6 my mother and grandmother were entertaining the Rosary Sodality, Hadassah for Irish Catholics. Kevin interrupted the holy ladies to ask, “Does three of a kind beat two pair?” Not a question often raised at Rosary Sodality.
We were introduced early to the cup that cheers. A juice glass of beer. Pabst Blue Ribbon. “Old-time flavor.” I can smell that now, too. And the sport of kings. In Ireland, my kinsmen preferred dog racing. But basically I grew up in a world where someone would have bet on two flies walking down a bar. One of my uncles came to a bad end as a result, but that, too, is another story.
My father became even wiser as he aged, stunning us when we asked him how a Roman Catholic friend might get his marriage annulled. His sage advice: “There’s a monsignor somewhere who needs a new Buick.” He was right.
Three years ago, we went to a waterfront wedding on a brutally hot August Saturday in Annapolis. Parking was beyond impossible. The ladies wanted me to drop them off at the yacht club and park many blocks away, but thunderstorms were threatening and I did not want to be a mile from the car. There was another club next door. The attendant, a fresh-faced lad, was standing earnestly out front when I pulled up. “Sorry, sir, we’re full,” he said. Without so much as a beat, I said “Are you full for twenty bucks?” flashing the bill. We parked there and walked next door (avoiding a torrential downpour). Later, my wife smiled and said, “You’re turning into your father.”