Archive | May, 2006

Pops


DadDad & his granddaughter.

I just sent in an essay today, musings on the occasion of Father’s Day for consideration at an online ‘zine. If it doesn’t appear there or anywhere else, digitally or via ink, I’ll definitely post it here on Pops’/Baba’s Day. Meanwhile, all that thinking about fathers and Fathers’ Day and my own lesbo fatherhood has gotten me all warm and runny about my own Pops.

He is a very loving person, and he has seen his younger sister, his wife of 30+ years, and his first grandson die of cancer. He made it through WWII, landed at Normandy Beach, and I asked him, wasn’t Erik’s death harder, and he said, by far. War was a piece of cake by comparison.

Here we all are, trying to make sense of our being left here. Here he is, at 85, outliving so many people he’s loved. When he searches for reasons, he usually comes up blank. But he rapidly agrees, when reminded, that meanwhile, we keep each other company, and open our hearts up as wide as we can to as many people as we can. That about does it.

His own father basically kept saying a similar thing, but in the language of a god-reared, farm-bred, first generation born in America, South Dakota German immigrant minister’s son: Service to mankind, Tom, that’s the thing; service to mankind.

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On the same page

So this spring, Confessions of the Other Mother came out and of course I’ve been watching its progress as it (bearing my humble essay) inches its way up and down the Amazon.com sales rank list.

Imagine my thrill when I saw it debut at a sales rank in the vicinity of 855,592 (out of 4+ million books). “I’m no mathematician,” I said to no one in particular, which usually means my dog or my cat, “but that’s in the top 21.389 percent!” Imagine, next, my crestfallenness when I did a little research and discovered that books with such rankings are flying off the shelves at something like the rate of like a coupla per year. Nationally. One has to crack the top 10,000 to start to represent anything beyond friends & relatives’ purchasing power.

Still, I watch.

What I’ve begun to enjoy is the serendipitous juxtapositions. On the same sales rank page as Confessions–that is, the 25 books within spitting distance, sales-wise, have been, variously:

    Poor Richard’s Almanac
    Bird Songs of Minnesota
    Success Secrets of a Top Member of the Mary Kay Sales Force

On the classy side, one day we were snuggled up alongside Jaques Lacan’s Ecrits: The First Complete Translation in English.

But today was the bonanza: Sidney Sheldon’s The Other Side of Midnight. That The Pelican Brief shared the same page barely caught my notice.

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At the library


The Berkeley Public Library reading room.

I spent some time yesterday working in the Berkeley Public Library. My mother spent most of her after-school hours there, as a Berkeley High School student in the late 1930s. But before her afternoon at the library began, she went across the street to Edie’s Ice Cream shop and had a sundae. Edie’s closed not long after I returned to the Bay Area after graduate school, but I had many a sundae there in college, thinking of my mother. Now it’s a Peets Coffee shop, and when I went there for some pre-library java, I thought of her again, and the dark wood-panelled booths that filled the place in days of yore.

My mother hid daily in the library, befriended by books, a heavyweight adolescent living, as few of her peers would have, with a divorced mother in an apartment. She was extremely intelligent but equally shy, self-conscious of her size and of the very few dresses she owned. She receiced free violin lessons from the San Francisco Symphony’s concertmaster, on account of the combination of her high talent and low income.

In the library, when she looked up and out of these vaulted art deco windows, I wonder what she might have wondered about her future. Might she have dreamt of one day enjoying a storied career as a concert violinist? That had been a credible dream of hers, but a rare one for a woman, and a scary one for someone coming from so few resources. I would imagine, too, that she dreamt of college: though her mother had fallen in class status (disowned after marrying a WWI flying ace/mechanic), before the fall she had served as a class president at Mount Holyoke, and was part of a long line of New England college-educated women, the first of which (my sister and I were frequently reminded) was my mother’s great-aunt Sabra Snell, who would have attended Smith in 1850 or 60-something or another. One of my mother’s most oft-repeated refrains was that my sister and I would become the fifth in that multi-generational line. That books would be in our future was a given; which ones, and where, were the only questions.

I wonder: did she think one day she’d become a mother, maybe even a better (more conventional) mother than the one she knew? We heard no stories of boys she knew in high school, or even young men she might have dated later in college.
It’s now almost seventy years later. Since her high school afternoons here, she gave up her dreams of becoming a professional violinist, instead attending the University of California at Berkeley, where she received undergraduate and graduate degrees; there she indeed did meet the man who would become the father of her children; she worked as a Corps of Engineers hydrologist and an environmental impact report researcher and a community college professor. But she would say that her proudest, most gratifying occupation was as a mother. That’s how I knew her, and I testify, as a daughter, that she was both a natural at it and an enigma. And I wish I could ask her about it all now.

I wonder what she would think about my own forays into a novel kind of parenthood. I would hope that she would understand my babahood as the logical extension of a childhood as a tomboy. She always wished I was more girly than I was, and yet at the same time, paradoxically, she was unmitigatedly proud of me for who I was (she was an especially rowdy supporter throughout my years in girls’ softball leagues).

Were she here now, regardless of how she would see my parenthood, I know she would look at her granddaughter and recognize a fellow bibliophile, a one-day Berkeley High student, and a lover of me, from the other generational direction.

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Mr. Mom in the house


Mr. Keaton in his breakout role.

It’s a new day.

A week ago I left full time, 8-5 employment, and began to bob into the sea of fiscal indeterminacy. Scary-painful like pulling off a BandAid all at once. But the payoffs, in the realm of parental connection, have been immediate and profound and I will do all I can to preserve them.

On Monday, the beloved & I took our usual stroll to the cafe in the morning, after which I ordinarily would peel off to go to work. At the point when we all began to stand up and prepare to go off to work. At the point when we all began to stand up and prepare to go, the lil’ monkey said, “Bye bye, Baba.” Mama sqatted down to her and said, “Honey, it’s no more ‘Bye bye Baba.’ Baba’s going to be with you all day.” I squatted down on the other side of her.

The girlie got that faraway look in her eye while she was processing this information. A moment or two passed. Then she plunged straight into my chest and hung on tight like a baby monkey ready for a fast haul through the jungle.

That was Monday, my first real Mr. Mom day. Out strolling through downtown, I saw two friends who are fellow Mr. Moms, but in different ways. One’s a man, a burly, refrigerator-shaped man who was a full-time contractor but now works a sporting goods retail job half-time so he can be home with the kids more. The other’s a full-time working butch mom, like I just was. He was doing errands, she was on a coffee break from work. I felt all hail-fellow-well-met with them, and with every damn person I saw that morning. Two gals, a stroller, some spare time, and some sunshine.

It’s a new day, and a new night, too: last night, for the first time in her 20 months here, the lil’ monkey called out for Baba. The beloved takes the night shifts and I do the early mornings. Around 2AM, the beloved went in to the girlie’s cries, figuring they were for Mama, which they always have been. Countless times, when she has needed the rest, I’ve gone in, only to be rebuffed with “No; Mama!” But last night, just a week into my 50/50 parenthood, it was me the girlie wanted. When she discerned who it was that had come to comfort her, for the first time ever she declared to her Mama, “No; Baba!” After a bunch of confirmation that she indeed knew what she wanted, and wasn’t mispronouncing “Mama,” I went in.

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