Memory prods memory; having believed (decided?) that I could not recall many memories of my father, I began to remember other images of him. What are the connections between memories? The connections are not obviously direct, for I remembered them by not trying to remember, by letting chains of association weave a fabric of memory into a design.
So I recall living in the Garland Street house, when I was perhaps seven or eight years, a visit of my parents' friends, B_ and S_ D_. The outcome of this visit was that their oldest daughter, _____, who was my age, and I slept together in a bed on the sleeping porch. I recall her perfumed, freshly bathed smell, I recall humorous wise-cracks from parents, and I recall sleeping soundly all night. I cannot create a specific image of my father on this occasion, but I do intensely remember his presence, the sense of him as an ultimate reference. No doubt, my mother was also a reference for me in the same way as my father, but I don't think she was [so] as strongly. I have many trivial images of my mother from the Garland street years: standing at a stove, sweeping of [off] the back porch, calling me in from play, tucking me into bed at night, walking down the street, talking with N_. I don't have such images of my father from this period (Garland Street years). Rather my father is defined as a reference of authority and a perspective and scale.
I think that my preoccupation with "tall" trees and "tall, distant" mountains in my childhood and adolescence was a projection or re-enactment of my physical relationship with my father. He was tall [than I as a child, of course], distant, and authoritative. He was always there, although out of sight usually, because I yearned for him and wished for his active intervention in my life.
I am sure that my situation was not unique, but typical of a whole generation[']s (epoch's) family sociology. Evidence of this typicality: Walt Disney's movie, "Bambi." In "Bambi" the father does not appear until the end of the cartoon, when he leads Bambi to safety from a vicious forest fire. His sudden appearance at that point makes one aware that he had always been "present"--only "out of sight," and that his presence, his authority, had given the universe its moral structure.
Of course, religious analogues [analogies] abound here. In "Bambi," we have the symbolization of the Christian redemption. At the all-consuming fire (the apocalyptic end of the world prophesized in the Old Testament), the father (God, Jesus) appears (for the second time), to lead (redeem) the innocent child (Bambi) to a new life on the other side of the flames.
Is it possible to see how my family (and my generation's "family") held itself together despite the terrible strains pulling it apart?
Ordinarily, the physical absence of the father and the de facto existence of a matriarchy would be an implicit contradiction of the culturally sanctioned paternalistic patriarchical household. The power of this contradiction did not overcome the cultural norms, however, because the symbollic distribution of moral authority in the family was re-inforced by the Christian religion and popular culture ("Bambi", "Santa Claus"). It was, undoubtedly, no mistake that my parents forced me to go to church sunday school (at the town's Episcopal Church). The sanction of "God and the Bible" were placed on the home situation, one which emotionally distressed me, as I knew then and realize more poignantly now. And it is no accident that certain forms of popular culture made so great an impact on me = "Bambi" and "Santa Claus" legitimated my father's absence from the home, reassured me that he was, in fact, watching over me, and that in the end he would intervene to save me from crisis and to reward my obedience and faithfulness to this situation.
I can see how powerfully my intellectual growth during my adolescence distrupted [disrupted] this childhood situation. Without a deep-felt Christian faith (despite repeated conscious efforts to "covert"), with intellectual understanding of the normative function of popular culture, and with a growing adult's sense of my father as a real person, rather than as a mythic figure, the emotional emptiness and fraudulent quality of my childhood family was released. In fact, my mother did not acquiesce emotionally in the rightness of my father's absence; in fact, my father did not think about me much while away, or about his family, but did his "own thing," [which was working to support his family] did not watch over us in his mind's eye, and so being inobservent [inobservant] and preoccupied, he could not know when to "re-appear" to save us from flames of disaster or reward our faithful obedience.
Failing at Faith