Sunday, November 29, 2009


I saw my father today. He's almost near retirement. He came to Canada from Italy when he was just eleven. He was bullied by the local white kids for being a Whop and when he wasn't defending himself, he was ditching school and mastering his billiards skills. At the age of thirteen, he started working in a local produce market. For the past fifty years he's been a fruit and vegetables man. He met my mother at that local produce market when he was thirteen and they've been together ever since.

My father provided us a decent home with his meager wage, while my mother stayed at home to raise my brother and I. I can't say that I ever felt our poverty. I never felt lacking due to our financial state. My folks sacrificed a lot for us and for that I am grateful.

But today, today something changed in the way I see my father. I have always looked at him as a God amongst men. He always showed complete self-confidence and held his head up high. He has always shown this amazing ability to just shrug off life and keep moving. People have always looked up to my father. Something about the way he says very little demands respect.

Over the past few years, my father's hours in the produce biz have been cut. To make ends meet, he found himself a local agency that hooks him up with seniors in the community who need landscaping chores done. He spends the summers outdoors, tending their gardens, cutting their grass and doing whatever odd jobs need doing. And he loves it.

Recently, he was asked by a friend to refinish their basement. Now, my father doesn't read manuals. He doesn't take classes. Over the years he has just had the uncanny ability to watch and learn and throw himself into a task and find a way to do what's being asked of him. He took my brother out to see the work he'd done in this basement. My brother, an engineer, was taken aback. Apparently, the work he did is beautiful. Beautiful. So, I asked my Dad about it today.

"So, I hear you did some great work over in L's basement?"

"Ya," he replied.

"You've always been good with your hands, Dad."

"I took pictures of it. I look at it and can't believe that I did all that work. It looks really great," he said, with a mix of surprise and pride. I can count on one hand the times my father has revealed a bit of himself in words, and this was one of those times.

"Well, I think you've found your true calling late in life. You should start a little business," I said.

Without a moment's hesitation he looks at me, "Maybe if I'd figured it out twenty or thirty years ago. But it's too late now. I'm too old. And too tired."

And there it was. The kind of admission that hits you like a bullet between the eyes.

There was no anger in his voice. I could've handled anger. There was no grief in his voice. I could've handled grief. No. He was just numb. It wasn't resignation. Not even acceptance. It was just a statement of fact. Numb. I don't know what to do with numb. I find it hard to respect numb. I wanted to scream for him. I wanted to cry for him. I wanted to say, "Well, maybe if you hadn't married Mom. Or had us. Or joined the stupid cult. Maybe it all could've been different for you." But I said nothing. All I could wonder is how long he's been numb. How long has this keep-it-together exterior masked this? And yet, he still seems happy, happy-numb. Like a porcelain clown with a painted-on smile.

So I carried it all home with me. The grief. The anger. Everything left unsaid. And I sat in a hot bath and smoked a cigarette, watching the tendrils of my father's might-have-been life dissipate in the air with each exhalation of smoke. I don't know what to do with numb. I can respect anything but numb. Cry. Scream. Take up drinking. Slip into a depression. Punch your fist in a wall. Fuck, have an affair. Do something that shows you're still alive. But numb? And worse still, happy-numb?

I don't know what to do with that.

tall penguin

1 comment:

Eric said...

Thank you for sharing this.