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Time to read: 谨以此短文,献给那些失去父、母的成年人(Feb 8,2019)

已有 1385 次阅读 2019-2-9 11:34 |个人分类:Thoughts of Mine|系统分类:生活其它|关键词:学者| 英语阅读



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This is a digitized version of an article from The Times’s print archive, before the start of online publication in 1996. To preserve these articles as they originally appeared, The Times does not alter, edit or update them.

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Andrew H. Malcolm is chief of The New York Times Chicago bureau.

THE FIRST MEMORY I have of him - of anything, really - is his strength. It was in the late afternoon in a house under construction near ours. The unfinished wood floor had large, terrifying holes whose yawning darkness I knew led to nowhere good. His powerful hands, then age 33, wrapped all the way around my tiny arms, then age 4, and easily swung me up to his shoulders to command all I surveyed.

The relationship between a son and his father changes over time. It may grow and flourish in mutual maturity. It may sour in resented dependence or independence. With many children living in single-parent homes today, it may not even exist.

But to a little boy right after World War II, a father seemed a god with strange strengths and uncanny powers enabling him to do and know things that no mortal could do or know. Amazing things, like putting a bicycle chain back on, just like that. Or building a hamster cage. Or guiding a jigsaw so it formed the letter F; I learned the alphabet that way in those pretelevision days, one letter or number every other evening plus a review of the collection. (The vowels we painted red because they were special somehow.)

He even seemed to know what I thought before I did. ''You look like you could use a cheeseburger and chocolate shake,'' he would say on hot Sunday afternoons. When, at the age of 5, I broke a neighbor's garage window with a wild curve ball and waited in fear for 10 days to make the announcement, he seemed to know about it already and to have been waiting for something.

There were, of course, rules to learn. First came the handshake. None of those fishy little finger grips, but a good firm squeeze accompanied by an equally strong gaze into the other's eyes. ''The first thing anyone knows about you is your handshake,'' he would say. And we'd practice it each night on his return from work, the serious toddler in the battered Cleveland Indians cap running up to the giant father to shake hands again and again until it was firm enough.

When my cat killed a bird, he defused the anger of a 9-year-old with a little chat about something called ''instinked.'' The next year, when my dog got run over and the weight of sorrow was just too immense to stand, he was there, too, with his big arms and his own tears and some thoughts on the natural order of life and death, although what was natural about a speeding car that didn't stop always escaped me.

As time passed, there were other rules to learn. ''Always do your best.'' ''Do it now.'' ''NEVER LIE!'' And, most importantly, ''You can do whatever you have to do.'' By my teens, he wasn't telling me what to do anymore, which was scary and heady at the same time. He provided perspective, not telling me what was around the great corner of life but letting me know there was a lot more than just today and the next, which I hadn't thought of.

When the most important girl in the world - I forget her name now - turned down a movie date, he just happened to walk by the kitchen phone. ''This may be hard to believe right now,'' he said, ''but someday you won't even remember her name.''

ONE DAY, I REALize now, there was a change. I wasn't trying to please him so much as I was trying to impress him. I never asked him to come to my football games. He had a high-pressure career, and it meant driving through most of Friday night. But for all the big games, when I looked over at the sideline, there was that familiar fedora. And, by God, did the opposing team captain ever get a firm handshake and a gaze he would remember.

Then, a school fact contradicted something he said. Impossible that he could be wrong, but there it was in the book. These accumulated over time, along with personal experiences, to buttress my own developing sense of values. And I could tell we had each taken our own, perfectly normal paths.

I began to see, too, his blind spots, his prejudices and his weaknesses. I never threw these up at him. He hadn't to me, and, anyway, he seemed to need protection. I stopped asking his advice; the experiences he drew from no longer seemed relevant to the decisions I had to make. On the phone, he would go on about politics at times, why he would vote the way he did or why some incumbent was a jerk. And I would roll my eyes to the ceiling and smile a little, though I hid it in my voice.

He volunteered advice for a while. But then, in more recent years, politics and issues gave way to talk of empty errands and, always, to ailments - his friends', my mother's and his own, which were serious and included heart disease. He had a bedside oxygen tank, and he would ostentatiously retire there during my visits, asking my help in easing his body onto the mattress. ''You have very strong arms,'' he once noted.

From his bed, he showed me the many sores and scars on his misshapen body and all the bottles for medicine. He talked of the pain and craved much sympathy. He got some. But the scene was not attractive. He told me, as the doctor had, that his condition would only deteriorate. ''Sometimes,'' he confided, ''I would just like to lie down and go to sleep and not wake up.''

After much thought and practice (''You can do whatever you have to do.''), one night last winter, I sat down by his bed and remembered for an instant those terrifying dark holes in another house 35 years before. I told my father how much I loved him. I described all the things people were doing for him. But, I said, he kept eating poorly, hiding in his room and violating other doctor's orders. No amount of love could make someone else care about life, I said; it was a two-way street. He wasn't doing his best. The decision was his.

He said he knew how hard my words had been to say and how proud he was of me. ''I had the best teacher,'' I said. ''You can do whatever you have to do.'' He smiled a little. And we shook hands, firmly, for the last time.

Several days later, at about 4 A.M., my mother heard Dad shuffling about their dark room. ''I have some things I have to do,'' he said. He paid a bundle of bills. He composed for my mother a long list of legal and financial what-to-do's ''in case of emergency.'' And he wrote me a note.

Then he walked back to his bed and laid himself down. He went to sleep, naturally. And he did not wake up.

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