August has always been a pretty big month for my family. There are a lot of birthdays, my sister Sarah’s birthday is the 11th, my brother Dan is the 24th, my son Liam is the 27th and my father Patrick was born on the 29th of August 1946. My wedding anniversary is August 5th, the day after my parents’. We have many friends and other family that celebrate birthdays and wedding anniversaries and whatnot during this month as well. August is great for this, the waning days of summer, the closing bookend to vacation from school and an opportunity to finally say goodbye to the last afterglow of life and fruitfulness, preparing the way for autumn, and the seeds of next year. I think it is appropriate the school year starts in autumn. I know it has more to do with the cycles of an agrarian society than with existential symbolism, but the idea that the start of the school year begins as the seeds from the maple trees and the walnut and the peach drop to the ground and take root seems to coincide well with our hopes for our children. The seeds, once planted, face a protracted stasis with the end result; blossoming and life. August seems the end of life and the beginning of a new one.
As I muse on this, I remember my father. I think of when Liam was born and I remember, my father, sick but hale, dying but living. He had been diagnosed with prostate cancer three years before, but we were lucky to have five good years with him after that point, plenty of time to work through our crap, pack up the baggage and throw it out the window into the wind. As Liam was taking his first breaths, the cancer that was eating my father was getting the upper hand. It was August of 2004 and little did we know but the battle against my father’s dragon was more than half over. His grandson’s birth was important to my dad. They were able to know one another. Liam visited him, played with him, jumped on grandpa’s bed when my Dad was to ill to stand. It was a stark reminder of the cycles of creation and destruction, death and life.
I may have pointed this out before, but my father was 30 when I was born, just as his father, John was 30 when my father was born. At 30, I had just lost a father and fathered a little girl, Sophia. The two of them passed as strangers in a fog, one exiting as the other was making ready to arrive. Though he never had the chance to hold her, or to call her by name, my father loved her, just as he loved me and his entire family. He loved life, despite its many disappointments and right crosses. He bore his burden with a hand to his forehead like a visor and a squinty grin, sometimes mistaken for a grimace that has been inherited by myself and my youngest child.
I take a breath, as we all are about to step into a new school year, even we who do not go to school anymore. I take a step forward and whisper a few words, hoping that my father can somehow hear and nod his head in assent. I ask for strength and courage. I find myself asking others for courage quite a lot. I have never really considered myself a courageous man. I don’t claim to be one. I see the value in it and I strive to stand up for the ideas and people I love. I think perhaps I just love life a little too much sometimes, life and comfort. The truth, one my father showed me, is that comfort, instant gratification is fleeting and pointless if tomorrow you are a slave or dead. I try to take the long view of things but it is difficult when faced with the amount of work it takes to change oneself. I guess that illustrates yet another obstacle I face to self-actualization, my work ethic, but that is probably fit for a different post. (See how I did that? I procrastinated until the next post that will never be written.) This digression is almost painful, so I will skip along… Let me continue…no there is too much, let me sum up, August had been a time of beginning and now as I have gotten older, I see it has become a time of endings as well. The great thing is that endings are rarely the last word on a subject, but a footnote. I miss having my dad around to tell me how to do things in the most efficient, simple way (he was the self-described “King of Low-Tech”.) I miss having him around to feed my love of all things Irish and Bob Dylan. I even miss his latter-day rants about everything that Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck told him to be angry. I miss him and that doesn’t go away just because his body has. But even through his passing, new life continues to spill forth. And as long as I breathe, I will stand my children up in a row and promise them a shiny penny if they promise to die for Ireland.