Jan 3, 2008

My Father's Imprint

It's amazing to me the life I've begun to find in this desert. Sitting here for months on what appears to be barren ground, has given me the time to look at things previously unnoticed. The tiny flowers that have gone ignored in the busyness of my life, my memories long forgotten, have begun to catch my eye. Coming more into focus as I start to pay attention, really pay attention to something God is trying to tell me about His imprint in my life. One of these revelations is about my Dad. All of my life, up until now, I've had a story about my Dad and his presence in my life. About how he failed me, hurt me, abandoned me. That had to have been a mistake God made to give me such a Dad. I was very clear about the scars he had left, but now I see that there was more.

The story goes like this: He left my Mother. Often. Finding women who believed his handsome words of love, he abandoned us over and over only to come back when his mask slipped and the object of his most recent affection wanted what every woman he slept with wanted; a relationship, commitment, longevity of love. He only wanted assurances that he was truly a man. One who could make the conquest and have his desires met without attachment or responsibility. He was a very broken man. But, at the same time, a very talented and handsome man. Charming with a quiver full of quickly retrieved and fired puns that had us groaning for their valiant yet failed attempts at humor. He was charming and witty and thought for a while that maybe he could be Dick Van Dyke. He adopted some of Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. My dad could do voices. He wanted to be Mel Blanc. He could paint, carve things from wood, build things, act, impersonate cartoon characters, write and be adoring. But his absences made him more like a ghost that would visit on occasion than a father. I thought he left me only a broken heart, but God has shown me the treasures in my Dad that He has used to imprinted me with.

Getting away from the mold of the American Church and stepping into my own skin, I've discovered that not only am I much like my Mother, who I miss terribly, but I am more of my Dad than I ever realized. My love of books started with my Dad who ignored us over a good Sci-Fi or Louise L'Amour. What better way to get into his world than read a good book across the room from him. My Mom saw that love of books and signed me up for numerous book clubs. Every month a new book would come in the mail just for me. It was like Christmas and it was magical. I'd get dropped off at the library to browse for hours, even at the ripe old age of 7 or 8. When my Mom came to get me I had armfuls of books to take home and devour before next week's visit. My dad gave me that love which was then nurtured by my Mom who was a school teacher and reading was life. My Dad even wrote a book, never published, sometime before his death. The last I heard it was over 900 pages long and no one would ever read it. So, I guess my long winded writing came from him, too.

I saw a photo two months ago in a design magazine I bought for remodeling ideas. The article was about Wichita's carthalite architecture. The photo was of an art supply store, long gone, but seeing that photograph was like water to my dehydrated soul which poured out a flood of memories. I remembered my Dad and I shopping together at that store and then I would sit in our Kansas basement for hours watching him apply acrylic onto canvas. I'd watch him sketch out his thoughts and then cover them with the vibrant colors of the 60's. I still have one of his pieces. It's titled Sunburst and it's ridiculously large with lots of orange, yellow and red, but it's one of the few things I have of him that didn't get lost or sold before his death. I love Monet, Renoir, Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Da Vinci and Van Gogh because of my Dad.

I love the smell of sawdust and the feel of a good power tool because of my Dad. He and I would go into the garage on warm summer nights to watch the June bugs gather as he worked his magic at the table saw. Creating chess boards and pieces that he would teach me the game on. Building cabinets for the garage so Mom could organize our lives. Carving the head of Mohammad Ali when he was still Cassius Clay. Sitting in my house is a wooden hand, a replica of my Dad's hand, with a thumbs up, and my Dad's pun of a title; Thumb Fun. It's cracking and the light green stain my dad rubbed on it is fading, but I don't think I can ever get rid of it. My Dad told me those little creepy June bugs that I would let crawl on my hands were for me because my birthday is in June. I loved those little bugs, the sound of the saw running, the feel of the sandpaper on my fingers and brushing the lovely and aromatic sawdust out of our hair before going into the house long after bedtime.

I love theater because of my Dad. The sounds and smells of an empty theater. The mystery of all that happens backstage to make the magic happen upfront. All because of his desire to be discovered and become famous. Every summer he performed with the Wichita Crown Players; a group formed by a mortician that gathered to put on good old fashioned melodramas. Player pianos, popcorn in buckets, sing-a-longs with the audience, the villain, the damsel in distress, and the hero. My dad always played the villain, with a dark cape and a menacing black mustache. It was campy, over the top, but so much fun. I had my first love in one of those summer productions. I was 7 and he was 18. For weeks during rehearsals he would give me piggy back rides up and down the rented theater aisles. I was sure we would marry.

There were also attempts at real theater with The Arc, a production about Joan of Arc, which my Dad built a stool to use for her inquisition. I keep that faded stool in my attic. He did a a few productions of summer stock and he tried movies. He was actually good for the 3 minutes he was in the beginning of "SuperVan", but the rest of movie was not worth watching. I was so proud of him, despite being embarrassed around my friends who endured that awful movie with me. One of his last acting jobs was in a very poor made for TV movie about a grown Tom Sawyer. My dad played an angry judge, but not very well. His dad had been an aspiring actor back in the 30's. A Day at the Races with the Marx brothers was his only commercial success. Leon Otis Seeley then slipped into oblivion with a few poor choices of roles and an angry wife who demanded he quit acting and get a real job. My Dad followed in his Father's footsteps.

All of these treasures that God used to make me who I am, so close to my DNA that I never noticed them until I was put in this desert to do nothing but think and wonder and question. I never thought I was creative. I watched my Dad with awe and wonder at his gifts, so wasted, so untrained, so broken, but wonderful. My sister taught herself to play guitar, sew, draw and cook. She's a gifted writer, too. I figured she got all the creative genes that were left and I got to be youngest, which had it's benefits. But, I have heard God's whisper in my heart over this past year. All that my Dad was, all the time I spent with him, God used those moments, brief and unpredictable, to pour something into me that He has awakened and I'm very excited.

I'm going to take a pottery class in February. A gift from my husband. I'm signing up for stained glass lessons soon, too. And I'm going to learn to take this love of beauty and make something of beauty to share and explore and wonder over. And for the first time since I was 11 and my Dad left for good, I am truly grateful for Ralph Seeley and the gift that he was to me.


Lori S. said...

What a beautiful discovery! I'm looking forward to seeing your creative works...

The Black Swan said...

thanks my friend. love that you're showing up here and facebook.