Our Father who art absent
April 17, 2012 § 1 Comment
Drunk the evening of his conception and gone by the day of his birth, R. only knew his father by way of M.’s open disdain and his mother’s overall silence. His was a corporeal absence without the sentimental charge of memory or much in the way of spoken good will. Numerous times R. asked about his father’s personality or character, in hopes of balancing M.’s account. His mother typically either waved away the questions or so routinely gave contradictory responses that he identified but one trait worth treasuring as substantive: “Whatever you thought about him at first, was probably wrong. Whatever you thought last, was probably even wronger.” She had kept no photographs, but occasionally dropped conversational hints that she was glad he had his father’s hair. Details were rarely discussed, though, particularly questions relating to why and where, and not to be wholly trusted when they were; questions were allowed, expected even, provided R. accepted the vagueness of the reply.
He resisted the temptation, however, to overly idealize his father. Abandoning one’s responsibilities to a new child and mother is, after all, nothing to be proud of. R. understood this and accepted the fact that it alone would be for some grounds for condemnation. But what if, R. wondered, his father had responsibilities elsewhere that took priority? Would he have cause to trust his father’s sense of judgment? Outside of appealing to pure emotion, like M., or simply avoiding the issue, like his mother, how on earth could he possibly justify whatever decision he reached? That all this was all a bit much for a thirteen-year-old boy proved no consolation or cause for him to stop.
What distinguished his mother’s inscrutability from that of his father, R. could not say. Indeed, the question had as of yet, up to his escape into the weeds, not even occurred to him. As with the awareness of his body and those of others, who can say if it would have at all without prayer. Mouthing the words without speaking, —O . . . his jaw dropped agape, as though he was in shock, —Hea-ven-ly . . . he suddenly broke into and sustained a three-syllable smile, until, —Fa-ther, his cheekbones retreated, to the sobriety of understanding. The key, he saw, was that the Father was in Heaven, not here on Earth. Our Father who art absent, the prayer could be said instead. If it was any other way, would praying be possible at all?
His dad may be a deadbeat, possibly a scoundrel of the lowest order, but his absence seemed decisive. Only where there is a decision to be made, R. sensed, is there hope for something creative, let alone for a Creator. If his mother was any indication, the pure immediacy of the present, from the routine to the horrific, could only pick up messes made or tidy up before the next ones to come. So, yes, of course, his absent father and his present mother were each in their own way opaque, but they were so for fundamentally different reasons. His father, whether he be in Heaven, Hell, or Harrodsburg, because he creates a moment he cannot himself ever occupy; his mother, because she inhabits a present that itself can only be created, never anticipated.
What else can one do but confess not only what isn’t known, but the all that may yet still be?