Thursday, November 11, 2010

Jigsaw Man

Sometimes I really don't know what to do with this blog.

Sometimes I think I have to be clever. Sometimes I think that I have to be vulgar. Sometimes I think I have to be funny. Sometimes I think I have to be serious.

Sometimes I think that it should be cathartic. Other times I just get a kick out of writing something, and playing around with some ideas. With language. With expectations, including my own.

Sometimes I just like telling stories. From the past, from the present. Those archived in the remoteness of deep memory, or those that have been thrown before me in the ephemeral event of the day. What we think happens all in a day, though, may stroll through our consciousness for a lifetime.

But sometimes, I feel that the best use of this medium is to talk to myself. To write ... to myself. Things that probably wouldn't be set down otherwise.

The overwhelming majority of the sludge that sloshes around in my mind each day would, I strongly suspect, be too confessional and far too messy for even myself to ingest and make much sense of, let alone subject anyone else to. My levee will hold, buttressed as it now is by the pillars of Sobriety, Stoic self-command, and the Wisdom that inevitably accompanies experience.

This late afternoon, however, as an astringent breeze carries the sound of the late day traffic through my open desk window, I feel a need to set something down.

I am listening to music that never fails to move me, and is embedded with endless layers of memory. From my life and, I can only imagine, from those who composed and recorded it. Music has an ability to invoke that kind of sublimity. An ecstasy that cannot be entirely emulated. By ideas. By books. By cinema. Even by love, or what we each think that to be.

This late autumn afternoon, as a not so fiery sun sets over the city, I am thinking about my father. I have been able to see him more often since the Information was signed, sealed and delivered. But this provokes an emotional polarity in me. On one hand, it is wonderful to spend time with my father. But, during the course of an extended visit, seeing a man's mind slowly and invisibly disintegrate before you is a devastating experience that shatters me to the core each and every time.

Worse yet is knowing that my mother's heart breaks every day of her life, as if she had been consigned to hell and doomed to repeat each day after frustrating day. No woman deserves that. But especially not one who has an infinite capacity for love, loyalty, nurturance, and forgiveness. I do not know if my father truly earned that. Some of the things you see as a child you never really forget. I severely doubt that I have earned that loyalty, as her son. I only hope he is aware of that and still has the facility to understand the sacrifice, though he was never entirely capable of that acknowledgment. Perhaps none of us are.

I cannot pretend (to myself) and fabricate a father who I ever really knew, though I may have egotistically believed that I understood him. But he was, and is, my father, and I love him. He now embraces me, after a lifetime of firm handshakes. But I don't know if that signifies any fundamental change in him other than what he sees my mother do to any loved one she sees. I'd like to think that it does, though.

My father quit school after Grade Nine. He worked for a living from the age of 14, including extended periods in the far north of Ontario and Quebec. He took over my Grandfather's agricultural machinery business and, by sheer dint of a savant-like ability with numbers and business sense, work ethic and trustworthiness, built a business that allowed all of his children to have an opportunity to attend university.

But, like my Grandfather, my father was a hard man, and an immoderate man. If there is anything I can acknowledge that I inherited, it is that quality. I would probably still be immoderate if I could.

Such a salve, yet so destructive. I'd like to think, however, that I had put myself, most of the time, in a position where only myself could be damaged. Until the machina of the Interruptnum saved me from the deluge developing inside my levee. Saved me? Did I really write that? No, I don't think I did.

The genius of contingency! The unintended consequences will always catch up.

Dispensing with the traditions of primogeniture that were so entrenched, my father never expected me to be his successor. But he could not have understood what I appeared to want to do, or what it would all lead to. I asked that question of myself all the time, and never arrived at a satisfying conclusion. But he understood, even when he didn't.

Returning to the ancestral Glen as I am able to do from time to time, largely to help and provide companionship and understanding to my mother in the indifferent absence of my sisters, there are moments that I have been able to share with my father, maybe for the last time, that feel so familiar. Working together on the land. Driving around the countryside, roles reversed. Sharing the pleasure of a Leone western. Talking and listening and, sometimes, laughing. And, sometimes, crying. Hard Men never cry do they? Maybe when they don't know what is happening to them or how to make it stop?

Once upon a time, my father not only ran a successful business, but built things out of wood with his own hands. The pieces that adorn my home will always be cherished. It is so difficult to imagine him doing so now, and he doesn't seem to remember himself. But I do, and I always will.

The bulk of his retirement stolen from him, he can no longer work in his workshop. He feels that he cannot visit his old friends and colleagues. He has become reclusive. He goes outside and tinkers around with the yellow and green machines that are the last remnants of his once vast empire.

When I am home, I sit with him and watch westerns and hockey. I have learned to love almost everything Clint Eastwood because he does. He tells me he went to the movies all the time when he was a boy in the 40s and 50s. Too often, he looks into the flat distance, eyes wide open, neither asleep nor awake. And I wonder where he has gone.

Sometimes, I want to go with him.

Sometimes I bring home jigsaw puzzles for him to do. Though I have never attempted one myself, I have become somewhat of a connoisseur of jigsaw puzzles. I know the quality ones he likes. The number, size and tactility of the pieces. The sorts of images. He becomes obsessed by them, to the point where he has to be told to stop. I wish he would approach his life again with that kind of fervour.

Each of us fell ill at almost precisely the same moment.

But as the jigsaw of my life falls back into place, my father is floating further and further from me.

Sometimes, I wish I could go with him.


  1. Authentic - I hope you see this as the highest compliment; as this is how I mean it.

    Authenticity is so so rare. Well done indeed.

  2. This is your best work, by far. So heartfelt and insightful. You put your soul into this post. Thanks for it.

  3. Excellent work FE. This piece brings to life something that would not be known by others, makes real that which could have only existed in your memory, creates something out of that which would have only existed in emptiness. Many parts here ring true for me as well, growing up a business man's son.