Saturday, June 3, 2017

June 3: A Boy Needs a Father, John Birch Society, My Promise

Another fairly long Slaughterhouse section:

Billy heard Eliot Rosewater come in and lie down.  Rosewater's bedsprings talked a lot about that.  Rosewater was a big man, but not very powerful.  He looked as though he might be made out of nose putty.

And then Billy's mother came back from the ladies' room, sat down on a chair between Billy's and Rosewater's bed.  Rosewater greeted her with melodious warmth, asked how she was today.  He seemed delighted to hear that she was fine.  He was experimenting with being ardently sympathetic with everybody he met.  He thought that might make the world a slightly more pleasant place to live in.  He called Billy's mother "dear."  He was experimenting with calling everybody "dear." 

"Some day," she promised Rosewater, "I'm going to come in here, and Billy is going to uncover his head, and do you know what he's going to say?"

"What's he going to say, dear?"

"He's going to say, 'Hello, Mom,' and he's going to smile.  He's going to say, 'Gee, it's good to see you, Mom.  How have you been?'"

"Today, could be the day."

"Every night I pray."

"That's a good thing to do."

"People would be surprised if they knew how much in this world was due to prayers."

"You never said a truer word, dear."

"Does your mother come to see you often?"

"My mother is dead," said Rosewater.  So it goes.

"I'm sorry."

"At least she had a happy life as long as it lasted."

"That's a consolation, anyway."


"Billy's father is dead, you know," said Billy's mother.  So it goes.

"A boy needs a father."

And on and on it went--that duet between the dumb, praying lady and the big, hollow man who was so full of loving echoes.

Vonnegut is making fun of Billy's mother and Rosewater.  Certainly, their conversation appears deep and meaningful.  Billy's mother is being sincere.  Rosewater is simply conducting an experiment in sympathy.  He's attempting to make the world a better place, one "dear" at a time.  But there is an undertone of superficiality about their whole exchange, right down to Rosewater's observation that "[a] boy needs a father."

Yet, I think there is something to be said for that platitude.  A father figure is important in a child's life, boy or girl.  My relationship with my dad is very complex.  We don't agree on a whole lot of things.  He's a Trump Republican.  A former member of the John Birch Society.  Steve Bannon is a moderate compared to my father.  Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon are heroes of his.  I'm not kidding.

But my father worked hard his whole life, supporting a family of nine children.  He left the house in the early morning and spent his days unblocking blocked sewers and installing water heaters and soldering leaking pipes.  He was no stranger to difficult labor.  For that, I admire him.  I never really wanted for anything in my life, and that's an amazing thing.

When I became a father, I promised myself that I was going to have close relationships with my kids.  I wasn't going to be emotionally unavailable.  Above all, I wanted to instill in my children values of love and sympathy and compassion and acceptance and self-sacrifice.  The night before my daughter was born, I remember sitting in my living room, thinking those thoughts.

I'm not sure if I've succeeded with that promise I made to myself over 16 years ago.  My daughter is smart and loving.  She's friends with everybody, even if she doesn't agree with their values.  Her classmates think she's funny and smart, and she falls on the liberal side of the political spectrum (another victory for me).  I've done something right. 

My son is still a little unformed.  I always talk to him about respecting people, being kind all the time.  But he's a little boy.  He likes playing with toy guns and cars.  He wrestles.  Sometimes, he gets into trouble on the playground.  He's the exact opposite of what I was as a boy.  Yet, I have hope.  At Christmas time, his class had a Secret Santa gift exchange.  He bought extra presents.  "In case somebody forgets," he told my wife.  He takes dance lessons and loves reading and writing.  Plus, he has taken to saying "Donald Dump" when he sees Trump on television.  I've done something right.

Children certainly benefit from strong and loving fathers.  I hope that's how my kids see me.

Saint Marty is thankful this morning for his amazing daughter and son.

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