Thursday, September 24, 2009

NON FICTION: My Locus of Authority

The glowing light of my laptop has been staring me in the face for hours and, until just now, the page was still blank. I’ve been toiling with myself and trying to figure out how and what to write. It is far more difficult to reach into one’s self for a topic than it is to, say, create a work of short fiction.

I have, for some years now, been using the internet for social media and networking. It began with a website called MySpace. I found the site to be a great way to connect with people from my past. Also, being that I live hours away from my family it was a good tool to allow me to be in touch with my siblings, cousins and my dad.

Most everything that my father knew about the internet and computers I had taught him. He had become active in social networking as well and was a user of MySpace. In late October of 2008 Dad found out that he had lung cancer and then on December the 13th he died. It happened so fast. My world crumbled. After his passing I stopped using the site completely. His photo held a prominent position on my home screen and I couldn’t visit the site without seeing his face and thinking of all of the times that we wouldn’t have. Since then I’ve been keeping in touch with friends and family via facebook and, more recently, Twitter.

September 22nd marks the beginning of fall. Rick Reichmuth, from Fox and Friends, posed the question on Twitter “What are your fall rituals?” Immediately I thought of candy corn and dry roasted peanuts and responded. Then, the he wrote me back that he loves the smell of decay in the woods. This got me thinking about my dad.

From the time that I could go with him, my father had taken me hunting and taught me about the woods and nature. As we sat on the ground being silent and waiting for whatever game we were hunting I would turn the leaves and dirt to combat my boredom; the smell of rotting leaves and wood and nature filling my nose. Such a rich and distinct scent cannot be mistaken and the memories and images that it brings cannot be forgotten.

As a child at my father’s side I learned about safety and how to shoot a gun. I learned what sounds different animals make. A squirrel sounds like a combination of a small dog’s bark and the chirp of a bird. A deer will blow air quickly to advise other deer in the area to be on the alert if she senses danger. Dad taught me how to grip a golf club and swing slowly and smoothly and let the club do the work. He taught me that you “look up and see a bad shot.” It was because of him that I knew that, in baseball, the swing is equally important as it is in golf but you’ve got to give it all you’ve got; and, with all sports, keep your eye on the ball. Bass, bream, crappie, and catfish; how to bait a hook with worms, crickets and artificial lures were all things that a boy can’t learn in a classroom. These are things that a father teaches his son and my father taught them to me. As I grew older he taught me different things and helped nurture my love for cars and working on them. I know the difference between a socket and a ratchet and I can look at a bolt head and, within a size or two, know what wrench I’ll need to grab from the tool box.

Then, gradually and all at once at the same time, I began asking him for more and more advice. Suddenly he wasn’t volunteering his wisdom as much. Rather, he was letting me ask questions and find out some answers for myself.

I called my father all the time to ask for advice and get his input on some of the most menial of decisions. I looked to him for advice and information but most of all for approval. He was my locus of authority. Even now, I turn to him but his responses are much harder to hear and understand. I feel like he is right here with me though I can’t see or touch him; I can feel him, sometimes more than others. He supported me, even though he was afraid of my feelings being crushed if I failed, when I began acting. He was proud to call me Son and I was even more proud to call him Dad.

I grew up in a very small town in Alabama called Livingston. It has a population of about 3,000 and a privacy factor of zero. I went to a small private school and was an outcast from day one. Children are so cruel. I was fat and my family didn’t have as much money as the other kids’ families. Being picked on for my weight was an every day occurrence. Fatty, fatty two by four was written for me…or at least that’s how it seemed. One particular instance that comes to mind happened during the summer between my third and fourth grade years. I got a call from some of the girls who were in my class and they were asking me if I would be their boyfriend once school started back. I was thrilled. Later in the conversation I learned that it was a big joke and then I was crestfallen. My dad knew what had happened and he let me know that if the girls were being like that then I didn’t want to hang out with them anyway. It was a cruel joke and 25 plus years later it still leaves a mark. I never dated anyone from my school and I’m sure that “joke” had something to do with it.

I was Fanny Fumigate. This wasn’t just the moniker used by my peers. My little league baseball coach called me Fumigate until Dad put an end to his shenanigans. My formative years were filled with disappointment and embarrassment. Dad was able to help me over the humps and through the down times. Often it wasn’t anything that he said. It was a gesture. It was a facial expression. His smile and eyes could convey more meaningful messages than many people are able to do with words. At times it was even a lack of response that led me to the right decision or conclusion.

Being forced to look at myself more deeply I’ve realized that I rely on the opinions of others a lot more than I’d like to admit. I would like to say that I am a free spirit and I do what pleases me but the truth is I am more concerned that the people I love are happy than I am for my own happiness. The whole truth, however, is that it makes me happy to know that those I love are happy and approve of my actions.

I don’t think that I have to wonder too much about why I seek approval. I’m pretty sure that it probably stems back to the teasing and taunting in elementary and high school. But then, I could be wrong.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry for your loss. This is a great tribute to your Dad, very touching. Can relate to you seeking approval. I do it all the time. Like you I was bullied in school and by the teachers too. Again, this is a really, really great piece.

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