Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Unanswered Questions

I've been down with a cold. As usual, whenever I get sick I finally finish the book that's been sitting on my nightstand for months and months. This time it was "Flags of Our Fathers," by James Bradley. The book traces the lives of the six soldiers pictured in the famous "Flag Raising Over Iwo Jima" picture from WWII, of which one was the author's father.

The book provides a poignant and horrifying account of what the battle for Iwo Jima was like, but is ultimately about something else--fathers and children. His father, one of three flagraisers who survived Iwo Jima (the battle was by no means over when they posted the flag), nearly never spoke about his experiences, constantly dodged the press, and never acknowledged The Picture.

In short, there was an entire aspect of John Bradley his children never knew about. They knew he was in The Picture, but it was just something they took for granted--partly because their father didn't talk, but also because children seldom realize that anything about their lives is not normal.

In short, it summarizes the relationship I had with my father. My father was no one even remotely famous--that's not what I mean. I mean that while I knew a great deal about my father, I can't say that I really knew my father. It was not, in the case of John and James Bradley, because he didn't talk about himself. My dad was quite a talker.

I think the fault is mainly mine, because I don't think I ever viewed my dad as a normal person. I never questioned what I saw. How did he feel about working two or three jobs? Did he regret not having done something different with his life? Was he satisfied with the relationship he had with us children?

I could have found out easily enough. I'm sure he would have talked to me about it. But I never really had that kind of relationship with my dad. Not to mention it being hard to find those kinds of moments.

Part of the problem, too, was the context-gap. I didn't become a father myself until recently, and by then my dad was already going downhill. By the time I really started questioning my own life and wondering if his would offer any answers he wasn't really around to ask anymore.

Some of the questions didn't really come up until after he died. Talking to others who knew him brought up a lot of facets of my dad that I'd either forgotten or never realized were there. Sometimes what's right in front of your face is the hardest to see. When he was alive I never questioned. Now he's gone, and all I have is questions.

My mother is still alive. I still have a chance with her.

No comments: