This Be the Verse
Philip Larkin, “This Be the Verse” from Collected Poems. Used by permission of The Society of Authors as the Literary Representative of the Estate of Philip Larkin.
I heard this poem on Friday at the conclusion of a radio show about fatherhood. That’s the thing about Sirius radio; you get to hear a bunch of stuff. As a daughter and a mother, I see enough truth in the words to both smile and wince when I read them. I got blue eyes from our dad and inherited the tendency to avoid confrontation at all cost. That might have served him well in mediating fights with athletes, students, and staff; for me, it’s meant turning a blind eye when the spoken truth would have been better.
This isn’t where I spreadsheet my faults and attribute them to column 1 (Mother), column 2 (Daddy), column 3 (New trait combination). I did that, in a way, when I worked the 12 steps. Wrote things down, looked at them, and then released the Kracken to fly away and terrorize someone else.
This is where I thank God that my parents didn’t heed Larkin’s advice to not have any kids themselves. I thank the heavens that I got some of their faults and a lot of their strengths. And since it’s Father’s Day, I especially think about our Dad.
At a time when many of his friends were having grand-kids, our dad started our family. Not a second family. A first one. Our dad was past 40 when Mother had our older sister. Nearly 50 when our younger sister was born. He who was a natural athlete was given a true booby prize: 3 incredibly unathletic daughters. He cheered us at track events, giving congratulatory hugs for the green (participation) ribbons as well as the blue ribbons. As his pillow pet middle daughter, I got a lot more greens than blues. We heard “Quitters never win and winners never quit” often and “Try your best and you have nothing to be ashamed of.” Those comments were accompanied by a shoulder squeeze.
I got my sense of humor from him which I count as an attribute. (What did the mouse say when he peed in the cash register? It runs into money. Hardeeharhar.) I wish I’d gotten his patience. As kids, we vied for the chance to dry Saturday night dishes. That was the night Daddy always washed the dishes. He could listen to my retelling of a movie that lasted longer than the movie itself. Not once did I hear “Every other word, Margaret. What happened at the end of the movie?” It’s a wonder his ears didn’t fall off.
My enthusiasm for politics came from him. He got passionate about sports and history. I’m not much on the sports but I came away with a love for history and politics. A visit from our aunt, also a history teacher, would spark vehement arguments which they called discussions. We called it time to run for cover. Nobody but a history buff can get that aroused over Andrew Jackson’s personal life, the last stand of the Alamo, Civil War strategies, and the success or failure of the New Deal.
It took me years to forgive him for getting Alzheimer’s disease. He’d shown signs of dementia for a while, but I pretended that he’d gotten tired or that Mother wasn’t taking good enough care of him. She was fighting her own demons. I see that today, but it was so much easier to blame her then.
I wished it were Mother who was sick and not Daddy. All of my life, he’d been the Lone Ranger riding rescue when Chief Eagle Eye Crack of the Big Whip was on the warpath. What would we do without our defender? I wanted something to blame; it had to be someone’s fault. But no. It was just a drowning victim in Daddy’s gene pool.
When Daddy had to go to a nursing home, GE and I made the 4 hour journey every other week, driving away joyfully when he was having a good day and in silence on the days when he wasn’t sure who we were. (It’s awful nice for you ladies to visit. I hope your dad gets better real soon.)
By the time Daddy died, I had forgiven him for getting sick. That sounds just as selfish and self-centered as the truth it is. I’d begun to rely on Mother, to see the woman she was, the woman our dad loved, admired, and cherished.
I wouldn’t mind getting one of those shoulder squeezes of reassurance or hearing, “You tried your best. You’ll win next time.” Life’s less about wins and losses today. More about living in this day with the remembrance of yesterdays to comfort and sustain.
I’d have never have called you Father, George David Coleman. Not Dad either. Old as we are, you were and always will be Daddy to your three girls. Happy Daddy’s Day!