A guy walks into a bar and as he's ordering a beer, he notices another fellow, way down at the end of the bar, quietly sobbing. "Say," he whispers to the bartender, "what happened to him?"
"His father died," the bartender reports.
"Oh, gosh, that's terrible. When?"
How much are we supposed to love our parents, and how devoted to them should we be?
I have friends who hate their dead parents and have endeavored to live opposite lives. My own mother was like that—called her parents "creepy," and tried to mother us differently.
I have other friends who rarely refer to their dead parents and seem to regard them dispassionately, as one might remember a childhood babysitter. These are the ones who trouble me. As a wise friend said, "You can try to emulate your parents or you can rebel against them. But you've gotta deal with them either way."
And then there are those of us who may be accused (and may accuse ourselves) of too much filial fealty. I have one friend, a Facebook friend named Kelly Lynch who I've never met in person but who I think I know better than lots of people I have, who admits that he felt this way about his father, who died in August:
A strangely phrased thought has emerged to me lately: I was in love with my dad. I had often been a better son to my dad than I was a good boyfriend to the few women in my life who dared put up with me.
There were brunches, dinners, gifts, trips, and time spent doing things we loved. I left him notes. I set up a little Christmas tree for him one year and the next he did it on his own. We snuck into his apartment once cradling a large scale Polar Express train and set it up under his tree and snuck back out. I sent him articles and photos and had my subscription to Trains Magazine sent to his apartment where he could glance through it first.
Lynch doesn't shy away from referring to his father as "daddy" in his writing. I guess I refer to my father as daddy in my thinking, even as when I try to write about him as an advertising man. Friends have missed my irreverent writing voice in Raised By Mad Men. That is because when I'm writing about my dad, I'm not irreverent.
Every once in awhile my love for both my parents liquifies. Last winter just before Christmas I got a half a snootful of vodka and stormed tearfully around the house and out into the snowy street with my laptop in one hand to provide the soundtrack and a video camera in the other, to gaze into my dead parents' black and white faces.
Even into middle age, it's a neat trick, loving your parents enough to forgive the limitations they placed on your upbringing by simply being themselves and not other parents. Loving enough, forgiving, and living your own life as a sufficient tribute to their lives, but something far greater, too.
On second thought, maybe that's a neat trick. Maybe that's the neat trick.