06 February 2009

Remembering my Father

A week ago tonight, my father died. Don't worry, I'm not going to go all soppy on you. My father and I were not close, he was 86 and a half, and it was not unexpected. He had a long life and, as lives go, a good one. He found success, or at least some, and lost it. On top of all trials and tribulations, throughout his life, he seemed to enjoy it. His death, however, did cause me to remember. To remember a father who must have died, or had been killed, long ago.

You see, my father, as I knew him over the past 20 to 30 years, was typical of most Americans of his age, and of the age since Regan; he was superficially liberal, but right-wing in practice. In fact, and this is one thing that I will never understand, he found religion later in life. It is not that he wasn't spiritual for all of his life. In fact, I think that he always was "a believer", but he wasn't at all of the organized church. Actually, when he did find religion, he couldn't be content with one that was just lying around, so he made his own.

I am not keen to discuss this aspect of his life, the Judaic and Christian fundamentalism, the colonial apologetic, and the soft misogynism, but to try and remember an earlier man -- a man who I could recognize in myself, a man who has a genealogy with my own. But a man who I did not remember.

In my attempt to remember this man, I chanced on a memory which seemed in conflict with the man I knew. The conservative, who argued that power was always right, that the weak deserved to be subjugated, and that civilization was for the chosen few. These concepts have no meaning for me, except as the actions of those alien to my own sensibilities, but, for him, they became his pillars of belief later in life. This is why the one memory was so confusing. It was not of the man, but pointed to a man who stood for, and stood by, very different beliefs.

When I was a young child, about 8 or 9, back in the 1960s, we had one of those wonderful cadenza like record players. It was so high off the floor that I could easily curl up under it as I played my fathers records. I played many different records, but my favorites were always to folk singers -- Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, the Weavers. I would particularly like the protest songs, though I didn't really understand the history being sung, and certainly not the politics that they represented. This specific memory was of one song in particular. I did not remember the name, but the tune and a few words. A quick look on YouTube found it. It was Pete Seeger singing Which Side Are You On?.

For those of you who did not live in the 1960s, or who did and didn't know, if you listened to such music, and especially if you owned such music, it was a clear indication of your politics. You would have been decidedly left. In fact, you could easily be thought of as socialist. This was my father's music, and it became my music too. It still is my music, and it still is my politics.

I am not interested any more to understand my father's reasons, psychology or crises that caused him to leave this music, and their politics, behind -- to even deny them later in life. It doesn't really matter now. However, for whatever it is worth now, I prefer to remember a man I never really knew, but who must have had a profound impact on my life -- or perhaps it was just his music.

My daddy was a miner,
And I'm a miner's son,
He'll be with you fellow workers
Until the battle's won.

Which side are you on?
Which side are you on?

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