Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Ghost Father

image borrowed from bing

Ghost Father

“It is a wise father that knows his own child.”
--William Shakespeare.

“It is a wise child who knows his own father.”

Glancing back across the entire span
of the 20th Century, having had grandparents
born in the 1890’s, I spend an busy morning
musing over the familial scope 
of my checkered ancestry.

As a kid, a boomer, first born,
independent, creative, 
I was too self-absorbed
to get to know who my mother really was;

pregnant at 15, forced
to endure an abortion
in 1943, when such a thing
was a back room nightmare,
then pregnant again at 16
with me--

she married the first soldier
who believed he was my father,
which he wasn’t;

neither he nor I fully understood this
until 1968, after my mother’s death at 39,
when it came to light
that she had never chosen to share
with anyone who my real father had been;

who must have been some serviceman,
fresh out of boot camp, a tender tryst
on a September eve in the middle
of WWII--some midnight encounter
in the wide back seat of a ’34 Buick,
with a fresh-faced boy headed into combat,
a boy who gave her only a first name--
Curt, Roy, Boyd, Ralph, Johnny, Bobby,
or Tommy; & of course he left her
with me.

Did he ever write her a letter from Italy or France,
or was it just random hormonal ardor, 
lost in the passionate hysteria
of a warm Autumn; two kids sharing
an inexplicable intimacy
for a couple of hours
that manifest itself
into a boy-child?

My realization that my mother’s first husband
was only the first of a long line 
of my stepfathers actually
explained a lot about the lack of connection
I always felt so keenly,
& to the strong connection I made
with my maternal grandfather,
who became my mentor
& father-figure. 

I spent a few decades
during my youth
that surely the Universe
would not leave me dangling,
cast in the thankless role of bastard--

that I would be permitted
on my own, through sheer will power,
to be out in public, some
restaurant, burlesque theater, county fair,
carnival or circus--
& right next to me,
or across from me,
I would catch the eye of some man,
& miraculously I would stare
into my father’s face, 
& we would recognize each other. 

During my 40’s, 
realizations & resignations
banished my childish naivete,
& I had to own this omission,
this voiceless faceless void.

It helped to remind myself
that many sons who knew very well
who their father was--were not protected
from abuse, belittlement, or disappointment;
knowledge of parentage does not carry with it
any form of guarantee that a father & son
will enjoy a loving relationship.

Hell, my Dad could have been
a damaged human being,
turned out to be a psycho,
or a serial killer,
or a race car driver,
or a cowboy,
or a lawyer, 
or the President of American Motors. 

Did I turn out
to be a better man
while carrying my valise
of emotional ignorance?
I guess I will have to wait
for my Life Review
in Bardo
to find out. 

Glenn Buttkus

Posted over on dVerse Poets Poetics

Would you like to hear the author read this poem to you?


Björn Rudberg said...

Glenn, this was some kind of story.. war certainly created a lot of fatherless children --- for many reasons... I can just imagine you staring into the faces of random men.. maybe seeing your father... or maybe hoping not to find him... great share.

Brian Miller said...

well i am glad that you had that grandfather to be that mentor...too many kids running around these days without a father figure in their lives...i dont know if i would want to find him...my wife was adopted and she has no desire to know who her birth parents were her connection is so great with her adoptive family...too many answers i would be unsure i really wanted to know, you know...

Mary said...

Glenn, what a stirring tale you have told with your words. So very true though that many children who know their fathers have fathers in name only. So in one way maybe it is better not to know who one's father is than to have an absentee, an abusive, or a belittling father. It is good you had your grandfather. A father figure, in any case. But I do understand your fantasizing and wanting to know. It definitely was his loss.

Claudia said...

it is cool that you had your granddad to give you some stability and as a father figure... heck.. i can imagine though that you wanted to know who your father was - glad you found peace about it finally

Anonymous said...

Never knew my grandfathers. Glad you got to know yours ~

Hamish Gunn said...

Brilliant, brilliant read - and therefore what a WRITE. Brilliant. Raw, true, straight, delivered so well. A must to read again.
THIS is my kind of poetry.

Anonymous said...

Gleen this is very poignant and powerful. So much strength comes from adversity. >KB

Gabriella said...

Glenn, what a riveting story you have shared! I like how you explored what it means to be a father. From what I have heard of people who had no idea who their father was it is a question which haunts you for life. Yet, as you say, some fathers are father only in title.

Anonymous said...

Goodness me, Glenn, talk about skeletons in closets. What a revealing piece of poetry - and so very true that just because people know who their fathers are, doesn't mean that this will be a positive thing for their health and well-being. It sounds like your grandfather did a fine job of being the paternal influence in your life - solidity and an anchor, perhaps.

Anthony Desmond said...

I can relate to this in a way... I remember being a kid, looking to random men to see myself in... even though, I knew who my dad was and always will; I didn't like who he was as a man, and I didn't want to be anything like him... Glad you had your grandfather to mentor you. I've never met my grandpa actually, I think he lives in New Orleans...

Sherry Blue Sky said...

Glenn, wonderfully written and lived through! I am so glad you had your grandfather. Grandparents rock. How hard for your mom in those days when mores were so strict, to find herself in that position. I remember in my teens our church community was that strict and it would not have been easy for her at all. I read your well told story with such admiration for how you made sense of it all. Great write! I love this prompt and all the amazing stories.

Grace said...

I so enjoyed your story Glenn ~ What an honest assessment of your life and thank goodness for the care and love of your grandfather ~ How really do we know our fathers, I imagine you will get different responses ~ I was fortunate to know mine very well but I can't say the same for my other cousins ~ Thanks for sharing this ~

Joseph Hesch said...

I would expect nothing less,than the open, honest and dramatic story you have shared with us, Glenn. Brilliant, honest, heart-bending. Thanks, my friend.

Walt Wojtanik said...

Glenn, a superb history lesson of your life. Perseverance and fortitude come through strongly. I'm no judge, but I'd say you're a better man for it, just from your expression of it! Thanks for this.

Kathy said...

First, kudos to you for sharing and putting the story on paper; a heartfelt acknowledgement of the stamp this made in your life and how well you have managed to dissect and reflect and move on. Second, my father had a very similar experience; he was 4 when he last saw his father. However, he took it hard that his father never took the time and trouble to find him in all the years to follow,, to find out what kind of a man he had grown to be. I know he was tortured by it, although he was adopted by my grandmother's 2nd husband....she never told him why and although my father searched he never did find him....recently, I discovered he had another family and died in 1981, but my father died before I learned the details. I wish he had dealt with it better, and thought he was better off not knowing, but it was exactly that that got his goat..not understanding why a father would not search for him...and be proud of him.....harder still to not know one iota of who your father was ;(

ayala said...

So sad. I am sorry. I am glad that your grandfather was your mentor and a positive role model in your life.

Sumana Roy said...

it's great that you found that father figure in your grandfather...still
it's so sad to live those uncertain moments of void...a very poignant and moving poem....

Arathi Harihar said...

good that you had grandfather to mentor you...and you have made it..that's what it counts at the end

Lasha M said...

Glenn that is true... In some case even the know father seems to an alien to me.... they cant relate at all why is that i wonder.....

I know a person whos is neither like father nor like mother as u metion he is just like his maternal uncle and his mothers father............

nice read

Jennifer Knoblock said...

"my valise/of emotional ignorance": what a stunning image. Heartfelt and honest, amazing.

Roslyn Ross said...

This Song of your Story is beautifully done. How insightful and reflective.

kaykuala said...

Very rarely there was a grandfather who not only covered the void but was also a great mentor! It would be a great boost towards the eventual self development and progress of those he undertook to give guidance to! Great write Glenn!


lynndiane said...

A strong and contemplative write...thought provoking. My birthmother died young so i only knew her through pictures and it does leave you with lots of questions.

Anonymous said...

Glenn - my father came back from the war, but we never knew him. A part of him never returned.

Sometimes I read people write that fathers are unnecessary - and think how wrong they are.

Thanks for sharing this. You always mattered.