It doesn’t matter who my father was, ”said the American poet, Anne Sexton. “It matters who I remember he was.”
How do we remember our fathers? And, more importantly perhaps, how do we think our children will remember us?
After a certain age, I suppose, as our children begin to grow older — and the prospect of their having to remember us, in one way or the other, becomes, well, more than a prospect — a lot of us think of it.
They have had no choice in the matter of us being their parents and, saddled with whom they have, what do they make of us?
Martin Amis once said that his childhood memories of his father was of someone who was very funny and affectionate, but someone who brooked neither any interruption nor any nonsense when it came to his writing time.
I think that that would be roughly the sort of childhood memory many of us would have of our fathers. My nine-year-old daughter, for instance, in a recent school essay titled ‘My Father’, wrote that I made a lot of jokes and was the funniest person she knew.
How do I remember my father, whom I have met only once or twice a year, for years now?
I remember him as benign, gentle but firm; freighted with responsibility and, yet, on occasion, carefree. If I have to recall a single image of his from my boyhood, it would be of him standing before a stained, half-length mirror, tucking in his shirt before going to work.
When I think of it now, it seems as though he was putting on his armour before venturing out for his daily battle with life and making a living.
Most of all, though, I remember him as someone who could make me laugh. We had a game, I recall, in which he had to tell me funny stories and I had to try and keep myself from laughing as long as I could.
If I yielded, he won.
If I could hold on till the end of the story, I did.
My father almost invariably won.
And it’s probably the only game I played in my childhood that I did not mind losing. I suppose this has something to do with the kind of roles parents take on in their families: the ones in which the fathers tend to play good cops turn out to be the ones in which they are recalled as the funny guys.
“Today, while the titular head of the family may still be the father, everyone knows that he is little more than chairman, at most, of the entertainment committee,” said scientist Ashley Montagu.
Look, I don’t mind in the least. Chairman of the entertainment committee will do very nicely for me, thank you.
If that is how our daughter wants to think back on how I was when she was a child, I’d be more than pleased to be thought of that way.
How about you?