"It finally doesn't matter that fathers are misunderstood."
- Jim Harrison, Dalva
I didn't understand my father during my formative years. I'm not sure any sons do. Chances are, he didn't understand his father. And my grandfather didn't understand his. There comes a time however, if you're lucky, when you realize you don't have to understand fully to love fully.
"...you can love completely without complete understanding. That have I known and preached," my father said.
- Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It
After the elementary school bell rang, my dad would drive me out in the country to Mrs. Davis's house. She taught me to play the piano. I cannot remember how often I went. Was it once a week, twice? Well, doesn't matter. He took me, faithfully. I would climb the steps to her house and sit under her instruction for the thirty to forty-five minute lesson. And if memory serves me, my dad would wait for me. Waiting. It is one of the facets of fathering.
I wonder now what he did while he waited. It seems he would sit in the car, a silver Renault wagon the car dealer/friend said "had crossed the Alps." We named the car "Betsy." So, I would sit with Mrs. Davis and play the scales and assigned pieces from the week before. And dad would sit with Betsy and well, I don't know what he did. There were no cell phones or wireless laptops. Maybe he ran some errands, although the Davis house was somewhat off the path. Possibly he contemplated his upcoming sermon or pulled out the latest copy of Western Horseman magazine and rehearsed his secret life.
Then again, maybe he sat with Betsy and hoped and prayed and dreamed. Maybe that silver Renault wagon was like a monk's cell or a businessman's cabin in the woods. In all of the sturm and drang of husbandry, fatherhood, and being the preacher of the First Baptist Church, moments of golden quiet were no doubt rare. It's possible that as I struggled to remember sharps and flats on the keyboard, my father re-membered himself beneath the shade of a scyamore tree; it was his time to be still and know that he was him.
I would awkwardly descend the steps of the Davis house and re-enter my father's world. The door was always open. We'd take the back way home and I'd sit in his lap and daddy'd let me drive Betsy. Hot, east Texas wind full of bird sounds and crickets blew in the windows rolled down. Afternoons of tickling the ivories and navigating the ebony one-lane roads back home. And being with my dad.
Did my dad take me to piano lessons ten times, thirty times, seventy-five times? I don't know. It doesn't matter. Sometimes, a father doing something once is enough to become a memory that will stay with the child until breath no longer fills his breast.
There's a quote in the front of my bible copied from Rod McKuen's Alone: "I know only the dying heart needs the nourishment of memory to live beyond too many winters." On days of snow and wind and biting cold, days when my heart tends to despair, memories of my father come to me. They nourish me. And I go on.