Tuesday, December 22, 2015
A Legacy of Cuff Links
Each time I wear a French cuff shirt and must choose the appropriate cuff links, I see among my options the ones my father gave me several years ago. They are vintage, silver with a band that wraps around the cuff and one of my favorite pairs. He tells me he wore them when he married my mother, admittedly his best life decision (not necessarily hers). It made him happy to give me something I appreciated as I have seemingly rejected most everything else, including his presence in my home after a wearisome three years. He wants to leave a legacy; to live forever through memories and in the hearts of his children. But you don’t have the luxury of choosing your legacy. A legacy is decided by those most impacted.
I recently learned crying about death does not count against a man when it comes to visible emotions. Of course, this information was shared by a fictional character (Victor Maskell) who was a stoic Irishman masquerading as an Englishman. If Mr. Maskell is to be believed, my father, an actual stoic Irishman, has never cried. I did not bear witness to my father’s tears prior to my mother’s death almost 16 years ago, not even at the death of his father, an admittedly bitter and unhappy man. My mother was the love of my father’s life and he has yet to recover from her passing and I wonder if he ever will. Since her death, he has cried on a consistent (sometimes daily) basis, seemingly unaware. I’ll catch him staring into the middle distance, tears flowing. When I ask what’s wrong he jumps as if I have jolted him awake and gives an accusatory stare, confused by my concern and the inexplicable moisture sliding down his cheeks.
I often wonder if some of his tears concern me. As the oldest son of the oldest son, I was unknowingly saddled with the responsibility of becoming everything he was and achieving everything he had not. I rejected the former and accomplished the latter, but not in the way it was expected. I’m too different; more like my mother than him. To be honest, I have traits of both. From him I inherited my sense of humor, my temper, a gift for generosity and oddly short legs. From her I inherited a smile that almost hides my eyes, a talent for design, the ability to find a bargain and a knack for organization. However, being “like my mother, but a boy” is not something to which a Thompson man should aspire or so I've been told, with varying degrees of insistence.
A lifetime of miscommunication and hidden feelings led to an almost non-existent relationship. Living with him for three years as an adult led to the startling understanding of how alike we are. We have repaired our relationship but he has attempted to revise our history through specifically misremembering watershed moments. Those episodes he cannot convincingly rewrite, he has continually attempted to rectify through gifts as the words he wants to use escape him. The legacy of the Thompson men is not one of verbosity; yet another example of my dissimilarity.
He has told me before he is intimidated by me because I’m so different, so much smarter and “fancier”. And I understand what he means. I am unlike him in so many fundamental ways it’s difficult for people to believe we are related. I don’t know why I’m different but I always assure him I am proud to be a member of my family and to be from where I'm from.
I want him to understand I’ve moved past the point where I need paternal reassurance of my value. I needed his unconditional love when I was younger. I never felt it and was a broken as a result. You can’t un-break a heart, but you can grow beyond those feelings, and I have. And no matter how many times I tell him, he continually wants, and tries, to right past wrongs. His repair system is based on gift giving, so I accept the gifts; to do otherwise would bruise his perilously fragile ego.
It is through sheer force of will these particular cufflinks have become part of my heritage. One look at the photos of my parent’s wedding will clearly show my father is not wearing cufflinks. My response to his attempted alternative history is to feel extraordinarily loved.
He is leaving a legacy, only in ways he can’t imagine.