As I took my father’s hand in mine, I was stricken how similar the hands were.
His hand, rough from work, and scarred, and damaged by the explosives after the war, when he was too inquisitive. My hands, scarred, a little rough and fingerless from being too inquisitive 29 years later.
There was a large purple blotch on top of his hand from where the I.V. thing had been. The hand was surprisingly warm, alive, conscious in some way.
He did not hear me. His hand squeezed my hand feebly and returned to its original state. And I knew that my father was locked inside himself, now and forever.
And I thought, I love you. Whatever has been between us, it does not matter, because I love (as in 1 Cor 13). And probably you love me too, but you are locked inside yourself more than I am locked inside myself, and so we never said that out loud. And now I can only love you mutely, because the time of words is past.
And that was that.
And now he has died.
My father, on the margins of my life. My father whom I did not know how to love, but loved nevertheless. He who loved me in a broken, crippled way, but truly.
And so I remember.
My father’s hands on the wheel of the tractor as he sometimes took us to school. The smell of whatever it is the tractors eat to move, the smell of security.
My father’s hands teaching me how to use the whetstone on a knife, to sharpen it.
My father’s hands, injured. At work, by the machines, at home, by whatever it was he tried to fix on that day.
My father, surprised and wondering (and unable to act) about how I managed to get my index finger minced in a motor. It was my mother who collected the pieces and called the ambulance.
My father’s hands, finding the beauty in woodcarving and making things.
My father’s hands, developing the photos he had taken, framing the beautiful world he saw in simple things. Hanging the pictures out to dry in the darkroom. Gluing them in place in the albums, to tell a story.
My father’s hands, loading the cartridges for his hunting gun. Teaching me to weigh the powder properly for the shot. Teaching me to shoot.
My father’s hands, covered in bees. Bees liked him. He inherited his bees from his father before him, and cared for them. The bees responded in kind.
My father’s hands, holding a book or a newspaper. His mind was never at rest, always seeking, always questioning.
And all that, inside himself.
He had comrades. In arms. The hunters. Forest was where his soul rested. When I returned from foreign lands, he never asked me about the people, his questions were about the forests, and plants and animal kingdom. What kind of trees did you see? What birds? What beasts? he’d ask and I had to take pictures of those to show him. He fed the forest creatures in the winter. He killed, but only fair game. He was proud to be called a hunter.
He knew what beauty was. Even when he could not say it out loud. He saw what a piece of a log could become and made it so. He invented machines and built them. He improved on the existing machines. He had a need to build. He built the house he and his family lived in. What price he had to pay, remains inside him.
He was loyal. To this land, first of all. To his family, next. He loved like Shakespeare would not be ashamed to love. He left the horse and plow in mid-field when he heard that my mother had come to the village, and went to court her, regardless of what his father and mother thought. Unable to sing, he recorded songs to play to my mother. He brought her strange things, but beautiful.
He also was violent at times, especially when his parents went poking at him and his own. He took it out on his family because there was nowhere else for him to go. This lead to a separation and years of loneliness. But he was humble enough to ask forgiveness of our mother, and ask her to return. Which she did.
And then she died. And his youngest son had died before her, and hope died somewhere along them. He locked in onto himself and ignored his remaining children. Somehow.
He carried the local history in himself. The stories of who was born to whom, what happened in Year 1943 (or something), anecdotal events and things nobody can confirm. Now those stories are gone with him.
But some of them we remember. And some of them have his name on it. Those stories still will be told on and on.
I learned silence from him.
I also learned to tinker and ask the What’s inside the teddy-bear kind of questions.
To repair things if I could.
To be one with nature, trite as it sounds.
And ultimately, love above all things, because love does not grow unless challenged.
My father taught me that love is patient. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And that love does not come from me, it comes from the suffering of Christ and through the love of Christ. It probably returns into Christ, but I do not know it yet.
Whatever has been, is gone. Now Christ the Creator will make all things new. This is my hope and my prayer, as I prepare for my father’s funeral.