Thursday, February 13, 2014

the last book I ever read (Richard Ford's The Sportswriter, excerpt six)

from The Sportswriter by Richard Ford:

They may already know too much about their mother and father—nothing being more factual than divorce, where so much has to be explained and worked through intelligently (though they have tried to stay equable). I’ve noticed this is often the time when children begin calling their parents by their first names, becoming little ironists after their parents’ faults. What could be lonelier for a parent than to be criticized by his child on a first-name basis? What if they were mean children, or by knowing too much, became mean? The plain facts of my alone life could make them tear me apart like maenads.

I am of a generation that did not know their parents as just plain folks—as Tom and Agnes. Eddie and Wanda. Ted and Dorie—as democratically undifferentiable from their children as ballots in a box. I never once thought to call my parents by their first names, never thought of their lives—remote as they were—as being like mine, their fears the equal of my fears, their smallest desires mirrors of everyone else’s. They were my parents—higher in terms absolute and unknowable. I didn’t know how they financed their cars. When they made love or how they liked it. Who they had their insurance with. What their doctor told them privately (though they must’ve both heard bad news eventually). They simply loved me, and I them. The rest, they didn’t feel the need to blab about. That there should always be something important I wouldn’t know, but could wonder at, wander near, yet never be certain about was, as far as I’m concerned, their greatest gift and lesson. “You don’t need to know that” was something I was told all the time. I have no idea what they had in mind by not telling me. Probably nothing. Possibly they thought I would come to truths (and facts) on my own; or maybe—and this is my real guess—they thought I’d never know and be happier for it, and that not knowing would itself be pretty significant and satisfying.

And how they right were! And how hopeful to think my own surviving children could enjoy some confident mysteries in life, and not fall prey to idiotic factualism or the indignity of endless explanation. I would protect them from it if I could. Divorce and dreary parenting have, of course, made that next to impossible, though day to day I give it my most honest effort.

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