Mum and Tara joined us at church today, largely due to Fenya singing a solo, but it was also a good place for a family to be together: comforting, reflective. We had missed the opportunity to get together for Mum and Tara's birthday earlier in the month, and Jerry and Jason came as well.
At the end of the service, James asked how I was doing, and I said, "Pretty well." Because he is astute, he said, "No, really, how are you doing?"
"So far, so good," I told him. "The day is young though." He nodded understandingly, the fact that he has my back not even needing to be said, but no less appreciated.
Everyone came back to our house, and we laid out a few snacks while Audrey dove in to preparing a late lunch/early supper (lupper?) of barbeque ribs, and we presented Mum and Tara their gifts. Being the kind of holiday it is, I wasn't really expecting any gifts or anything, but Mum gave me a lovely card.
Mum's never been one to gush in the messages she writes in cards, that's more my forte, but the thing that caught me off guard was the realization that the verse on the card is written to a son, like so many others I've received over the years, but for the first time, this one was written from the perspective of an individual, and not a couple. Parent, not parents.
I thought of Mum in the card shop, looking at card after card saying "We are proud of you," or "From both of us," and how she would have patiently looked for one that she found agreeable, and all I could think was, "Please God, don't let it have been too painful." I looked at her, and her face gave away nothing, and I know how much she hates a scene, so I hugged her, and thanked her, and hugged her again.
The rest of the afternoon was lovely; we chatted over drinks, watched some videos of the girls from school performances and choir concerts, shared a fantastic meal, played a couple of games of Tsuro, had some cheesecake together, and then Jerry and Jason and Tara took Mum home so they could go to his Mum's place before it got to be too late. Only then did I mention the lack of plurality to Audrey.
Since Dad's passing I've been the recipient of a number of prayers, good wishes, and powerful sentiments from a great number of people, but the one that affected me the most said, "I didn't know Maurice very well, but in many ways my recollection is that, having met and known Stephen, I've met and known most of the best qualities of his dad - all which would make him a wonderful dad, grandpa and friend." I may lack perspective at this precise moment in time, but I have a suspicion that if I reread that brief homily a year, five years or twenty years from now, it will still very likely be the nicest thing anyone's ever said about me.
Anyone who knows me knows that being a good dad is the most important thing in the world to me, and it can be a lot of fun, but it isn't often easy. It is a constant balancing act between the demands of work and home, one's self and one's family, the short and the long term, and with my eldest only now entering her adolescence, I am fully aware that the greatest challenges are yet to come.
Still wouldn't trade it for anything though.
There's a Zen story told about a rich man asking a master and calligrapher to write something down signifying continued family prosperity that he would be able to hand down from generation to generation to come. After taking a moment to think, the master wrote, "Man dies, son dies, grandson dies."
The rich man became furious, telling the master he wanted something signifying the happiness of his family. The master said, ""If before you yourself die your son should die, this would grieve you greatly. If your grandson should pass away before your son, both of you would be broken-hearted. If your family, generation after generation, passes away in the order I have named, it will be the natural course of life. I call this real prosperity."
The simple truth of this story brings me comfort, the way that the elements of my father that others perceive in me brings me happiness.
Change is hard, and will continue to be so, and even more so for Mum than for myself. But we will struggle on, hurting but surviving, coping with the heartless grammatical evolution that changes 'they' to 'she', and 'we' to 'I'. And we'll learn to deal with things, and hopefully the girls will pick up on the manner in which we do this, and we will continue to be strengthened in each other and to enjoy each other's company, until the only way to do so is in our memories, and in the stories that we share.