Give It Away

Confronted with a need to dispose of some possessions in order to make enough room to live, I found myself debating whether to give away my father’s old tape recorder. Few things still attach him to me and I was tempted to keep the recorder as tangible evidence of his presence. But I realized I would never use it, that it was a fantasy to imagine I would make another recording with it and the recorder was a pretty stupid way to hold onto my father. I gave it away.

I was sensitive to the issue because earlier this summer I had, hastily and thoughtlessly, given away a huge antique dresser that had belonged to my father. The dresser was too big for me and seriously in the way, and I offered it to a young man who does fix-it-up work for us and had just gotten divorced, leaving all his furniture behind. Foolishly, I revealed to one of my sisters that I had given the dresser away, with the result that she became very angry with me and after a few testy emails, cut off our relationship.Then my other sister wrote to ask, did I still have my father’s bicycle, which I had given away years before because it was too big for me. I had the sense that my sisters were trying to stay in contact with our father through things he had owned and if so, I knew where they were coming from.

It’s hard to want things you can no longer have. My brother, for example, owns a large house on Nantucket which, when I was married, I was invited to regularly, for weeks at a time. Thirteen years have passed since I have been there. I have never been invited back, although my sons are, regularly. I broke something in them in breaking my own life, I guess. So here we are, my sisters wanting scraps of my father that I no longer possess and me wanting to be restored to a space I once loved.

Friends, someone once said, are God’s apology for families.

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One response to “Give It Away

  1. Since i returned to work i not only lost the time to write my own blog but realised i had also stopped reading yours so it was somehow fitting that over the holidays i took the time to sit back from the demands of the 24/7 world of global finance and amongst other things looked up your blog.
    It was a good piece putting many things onto the table without demanding. Yes, i think we all look to hang on to things we have lost, although not always through the same medium. I fully understand how the dresser didn’t necessarily hold the same pride of place to you that it perhaps held for lynn-or that the bike would suddenly be of such importance to lisa. I for my part have a picture of dad with a piece of black ribbon across it in my study, next to the picture of him on his bike. They give me all the connectedness i need, allowing me to float through my memories when i look up from working at my desk.
    Nantucket is a different kettle of fish. I don’t really know how it got to the state that it did. It began with not being able to congregate the four of us with our respective significant others. Not because the house couldn’t hold everyone-at a pinch it could. No, much more were the unresolved emotional issues which were in danger of being carried over from one generation to the next, as well as making the present pretty unbearable for the assembled masses.
    Thanksgiving, which had been my favourite holiday had turned into a serial massacre which finally became too much for me and we withdrew. That withdrawal included the creation of a refuge on Nantucket with the compromise that our respective children wouldn’t be held hostage to the trials and tribulations of our childhood. The boys come and spend the majority of their time with our kids. Edith would be included if it weren’t so ridiculously far and didn’t require parental supervision, which might change one day. Not that we are against parents-but rather that Nantucket has shifted from our generation to the next removing any holdovers save us whose house it is.
    And yet when i read your note i feel sad for a time and relationship lost and wonder how we reached this point. I remember walks around Lincoln Circle which were selfish in that i only put my view forward, and was unbending towards yours. But i had made my decision when i got married that that relationship would be above all others. I would undertake to do whatever i thought correct to ensure the unity of my new nuclear family. That is not to say that it was always a rational decision, nor an easy one.
    But if i paraphrase your note on friends and family, i would say that one chooses one’s friends-i chose my wife-and she chose me. That becomes the new family. No apology there. But a hole where my family once was. I don’t know how to repair it, but your note is a good first step.

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