Sunday, August 21, 2016

Third World Green Daddy 64: Nostalgia for my dad

Some years ago I wrote about various ways that I was becoming like my father.  As I continue my slow journey into the depths of adulthood, I've dug up a lot of my dad's old things.  Reading books that haven't been touched in decades, and that were last touched by his hands, makes me feel closer to my departed father, and specifically to a younger version of him that I didn't get to know as well, since I was just a little oblivious baby back then. 

Along these lines I'm finishing a book with a 1983 copyright called How to take great trips with your kids.  I don't know if my dad ever even read this one, or if he simply bought it because it looked cool, and never had time to get to it.  In any case, he and I took a lot of good trips together, but I think things went so well less thanks to the advice of the book and more due to my dad's having a good sense of what could be interesting for me, as well as my own being a pretty taciturn kid, capable of sitting long stretches just looking out the car window at the countryside going by.  That said, I am enjoying reading the book.  It has a lot of advice that is really just common sense, but that I am always surprised to see few people following.  Things like planning a trip together as a family and always thinking of whether kids will be entertained or bored by proposed activities, scaling daily driving time to match what the kids can handle instead of what the adults can, putting the kids in charge of little things like packing the books and toys they want to bring along.  I feel validated to read in the book a lot of tricks that Caro and I have figured out by experimenting and trial and error.  And it's fun to see certain dated references, like lots of discussion of travel agents and traveler checks, and even a plug for this new invention called the box juice.  It appears that this book is now out of print, which makes sense, since a lot of cumbersome things travelers used to have to take care of themselves (looking up hotels, calling ahead to reserve and confirm, etc.) are now greatly aided by the Internet, so traveling doesn't require as much forethought.  Still though, I think it would behoove many of us to reach such a book, just to help us think things through despite the technology that allows us to be at times thoughtless in our planning.

Another bringer of joy that I forgot to mention in my long piece about our recent surge of materialism is the record of the Three Penny Opera's original first US run, with Lotte Lenya and an actress that was later on Golden Girls or something.  This was father's favorite play, Brecht's Three Penny Opera.  My folks took me to a production of it in a pretty rough part of Wicker Park, Chicago when I was maybe 8 or 10, and my dad often referenced the work, in addition to honoring its dark cynical teachings with much of his day-to-day thinking and commentary.  When I set up my sound system as an adolescent this was one of my favorite records, and indeed it was the major driver of my setting up the sound system again 15 years later when we moved to DC.  I still listen to this record maybe once a month, especially the 2nd act finale where the singers assert that "even saintly folk may act like sinners, unless they've had their customary dinners".  Such lines have stayed with me throughout life, inspiring not just my choice of profession, but also (I like to think) imbuing me with more sympathy and understanding even of people that others roundly condemn as immoral or criminal.

Lastly, I've just dug up a book called The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, written in 1987 by Paul Kennedy.  The book was written at the height of Reagan-era frets about the waning place of the US on the world stage, as Germany and Japan enjoyed seemingly unstoppable economic growth and China showed hints of a future drive to rapid industrialization and newfound dominance.  My dad would have been reading this book just as he was being laid off from a prestigious law job, his own personal taste of the explosive, precarious wealth of the 80s and the upcoming doldrums of the early 90s.  Most interesting of all is that my dad's copy has a business card from the Japanese consul to Chicago stuck in it as a bookmark.  There is handwriting on the card, with the name of this book and one other about the Japanese industrial machine, and the back of the card is written in Japanese characters.  I can only wonder what the back-story is, what might have taken my dad to the Japanese consulate at that moment, and who exactly gave him these book recommendations, and why.  It's like something out of a spy novel.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to reading the book, which traces the relative power positions of different countries in terms of military and economic might, from the 1500s to the late 20th century.  I especially want to see what the author's predictions are for the early 21st century that we're now living through.

These books and records and other memories of my dad make me feel, if momentarily, like I'm reliving the 1980s, reliving both my dad's entry into respectable adulthood and my own remembered bits of childhood.  So even as I'm stumbling through this somewhat joyless age of Trump and civilian murders, global warming and refugee crises, I enjoy the luxury of my low-tech virtual reality goggles, whereby I can overlay the past on myself and my kids, pretend that I'm my father as a young father, feeling his way through the late Cold War politics and postindustrial decay of 1980s Chicago, trying to teach my kid that there is still wonder and truth and nobleness in the world, despite all evidence to the contrary.  And we've got to not just seek out the noble and beautiful things, but also to make them ourselves and share them and participate in the suffering and the liberation of others.

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