Thursday, September 15, 2016

Mothers and other villains

Dear Hannah,

It seems we have a conflict of interest.  Somewhere within the last couple of years you've decided life is intolerable without music; which is unfortunate because I think life is intolerable with it.  In this regard you came about a decade too late.  Sometime around 2008 someone stole all my cd's and I came to the realization that silence and I were better off than I thought; and my theory, to the best of my ability, has to do with the fact that the things coming out of my brain were more interesting than any music I could put into it.

Music, after all, unless you're listening to something as horrible as jazz or as boring (my apologies to Mozart) as classical, is repetitive, and locks you into patterns and rhythms that keep your mind in a kind of a daze and running along a kind of a track.  But a free spirit and a vigorous mind, while appreciating a momentary distraction from work and routine, hates to be confined within any kind of enclosure for too long.  It needs room to expand itself, to kick its legs out onto the table of space and time and follow its own path wherever it leads without any distractions.  A true sign of a healthy and active intellectual life is a hatred of noise; and one of the surest signs of an empty mind is a constant need to be filled and manipulated by music.  Give me silence, or I riot.  Which brings me to you.

The great irony in writing these letters to you is that every one of them is written at the expense of our relationship.  Aside from hours of study in silence and the moments of "inspiration" where I run off to my room and tell everyone to leave me alone (most usually for the majority of our available time in a day), there's my insistence on silence; usually achieved by leaving to wherever there isn't any music.  Which is another way of saying that I'm leaving to wherever you and your mother aren't.

The truth is is that I'm only a mediocre father; and that while I'm studying and writing and trying to improve myself and others with the essays, I'm being morally outdone by a woman who doesn't care about books or my essays or philosophy.  You may learn how to think like a man from me.  But you will learn how to write from your mother.  You'll learn how to be caring from your mother.  You'll learn how to spell and do math and hear most of your stories from your mother; and anything I could ever hope to do with these essays, is founded ultimately upon the woman who may never really have read any Macaulay or known the heroes of Rome, but out of love gave a child a home and taught her to read.  I have no patience for the little things.  And because I have no patience, the glory for your education should go to your mother.

I remember your great Aunt Chris once saying, after the death of my grandma Ella and the surviving of my grandpa Don, that the better of the two had been taken from us.  She still wept when grandpa died, of course; but it was a different kind of weeping; almost the kind of weeping you did for someone you needed but didn't understand why.  With your grandma everyone knew why.  She was sweet and gracious, even when cancer was eating her alive; even when I would playfully snatch the wig off of her bald head and run away with it in a childish glee.  Grandpa was stoical and more serious; never a thinker, but a machinist and a sailor and a veteran.  They each did their duty, and many men could sing the praises of Donald for building great things and fighting the Japs.  But when it came down to it none of the people who sang his praises really loved him, or said when he died that God had taken the better man and left us with the worse.  I doubt many of the people who sang the praises of our veterans and industrialists knew Grandpa existed at all.  Grandma and grandpa were both loved; but it is obvious to me that one of them was loved more; and I'm worried that I'm going to end up like your grandpa.

I'm caught between what I could be and what God has made me.  Or maybe "caught" is the wrong word.  I could very easily throw my books down and give up my writing to play with you and your brother.  I could physically do it.  But can I do it?  Could I give up this keyboard this instant and forget about what I'm writing and just coddle the two of you and pretend that there isn't anything else?  That the things that I'm thinking are nothing?  That nobody ever should read them -- even you, when you're ready?  I have already lost a God and a church.  I feel sometimes as if I'm torn between losing my children and losing what's left of my purpose*.  But a mother is different in that her children are her purpose.  Paul said that a woman would be saved in childbearing, and I never understood what he meant.  He could very well mean that motherhood is the thing that turns women from silly and frivolous girls into angels sent from God.  Before children, women are fun.  After children, mothers are everything.

You do not currently see things this way.  And the horrible sadness about being a mother is that everyone knows a mother is an angel except her children.  She's the first person to nurse you, the one who clothes you and sings to you and plays with you and teaches you; and the first to obstruct you, to thwart you, to cancel your plans and to send you to bed.  And in the act of love known as mothering, probably the purest and noblest thing in the universe, she appears in the eyes of her children a villain.  Papa is something to be sought; the pride and fear of the child, and the elusive God of the household.  Mother is someone to be avoided and scorned, almost an annoyance and the physical manifestation of frustration.  And the reason is because she's running toward you, and I am running away.  The truest thing about romance is true about families.  The one who cares the most is the loser** (at least when her children are children).  And yet she will do it anyway.

Your father,

PS: After re-reading this, it should probably be noted that like with nearly every other area of my life, my assessment of myself is harsher than the reality.  In the end, though, if I can't be balanced in my approach to my studies and my children (a balance which is the recommendation of anyone wise), I won't be the judge.  You will be; and as such I will be looking forward to your judgment.

*What purpose? you might ask.  I've given a lot of thought to this over the last few years, as it's become more and more obvious that with the exception of a few notable authors like Chesterton, the men who I love were all doing great things instead of just writing about them.  I'll tell you what I've found.

An intellectual isn't necessarily known for building a company or founding a country, but he creates and reinforces the moral framework within which heroes and builders work.  There are many different ways of looking at many different things, and many of them will wreck you.  My goal isn't to be a hero, or to stay awake late at night building a company that feeds hundreds of thousands.  My job is to defend heroism.  My job is to defend good businessmen.  My place in life is defending the things that we ought to do and attacking the things that we shouldn't; standing at the vanguard of any resistance to unreasonable men and their unreasonable thoughts, beating the drum in a psychic war for our souls and fighting in the way God has made me to fight.  I place myself in danger of hatred and insult and unpopularity, saying the things that we need to have said so that good men can live the way they ought to be able to live.  I define liberty -- and allow men to be liberated.  I define honor -- which allows men to live honorably.  Some men believe this is superfluous, and even I myself have wondered if the time I've spent and the sufferings I've experienced and the friends that I've lost and the family I've ignored and the money I could have pursued have been worth it.  You are damn right it is worth it.  Because in order for life to be worth living, we have to first know how we're going to live.  And I am the one who is going to find out how to do it.

**I have a bit of contention with this maxim.  It's true that the person who loves less will have all the power.  But would you rather do what you want to do?  Or be with someone you're willing to give everything to be with?  Jesus said a parable about a man who gave everything he had to get a pearl of great price.  How much more valuable is getting the woman you love?

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