Since we’re getting close to Fathers’ Day, I’d like to move away from our usual topics of Maine and writing and give a little extra appreciation to the Old Man™. Though, in fact, he’s been as proud of me as a writer as a father could be and a good part of the reason I ended up here in Maine.
I’ve written elsewhere about his good grin and the Mark Twain quote I find so true:
“When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much he had learned in seven years.”
And I know this: that although he has learned a lot since I was twenty-one, I have too. But as my father moves through his 93d year on the earth, I have other images of him: in a diving suit in Boston Harbor, learning to waterski in his fifties, scuba diving in the Mediterranean, nearly getting arrested in Myanmar. And I’m coming to appreciate the fact that, like many children, I become more like my parents as I age.
Anne and I recently traveled to Washington, DC, partly because I’d found it difficult to face the Vietnam Memorial until now and partly for a break from the relentlessly glorious spring we were having. We happened on an exhibit at the Renwick Gallery by David Best, known for his large-scale installations at Burning Man. A gallery-sized Temple, built of laser-cut filigreed walls and other intricate structures of wood, was conceived, as Best says, as: “a non-denominational place where someone can go to be forgiven or to seek forgiveness or to seek solitude from grief.”
Visitors are invited to write messages on small pieces of wood and leave them tucked into the walls as tokens for others to read and to meditate on. I left my particular statement there, but I also took away an appreciation from the exhibit’s title, and an exhortation I associate with my father’s approach to life: No Spectators.
I take Best’s exhortation to encourage people to do some of the things my father has modeled for me all along: to dive in, embrace being an amateur, to try new things, to make a fool of myself occasionally. But not to just sit back and watch.
Which, of course, does tie in neatly with the whole writing thing, yes? All of us take risks every time we write, trying to say what we mean, what we believe, on paper for others to read and to judge. We push ourselves to try something different, even something we don’t know whether we can achieve, because if we didn’t stretch ourselves beyond what we already know, what we already can do, what would be the point?
I’m nowhere near my nineties, though I do hope to get there. But I also hope along the way I will continue to be able to convince myself to do more of these things: to fail much, to fail big. And never feel content to be only a spectator.