My father still looks remarkably like I remember him when I was growing up: hair full, body trim, face tanned, eyes sharp. What’s different is his gentleness and patience. I had remembered neither as a boy, and I wondered which of us had changed.

My son Matthew and I had flown to Arizona for a visit, and his 67-year-old grandfather was tuning up his guitar to play for the boy. “You know ‘Oh, Give Me a Home Where the Buffalo Roam’?” my father asked.

All the while, four-year-old Matthew was bouncing on the couch, furtively strumming the guitar he wasn’t supposed to touch and talking incessantly.

My father and I were once at great odds. We went through all the classic resentful and rebellious teen stuff: shouting matches, my weird friends, clothes and beliefs. I still vividly recall the revelation that finally came to me one day that I was not my father, and that I could stop trying to prove I wasn’t.

When I was a boy, my father wasn’t around much. He worked seven days a week as a milkman. But even at work he was the task-master in absentia. Infractions were added up, and at night he dispensed punishment, though rarely beyond a threatening voice or a scolding finger.

I believed that manhood required that I stand up to him, even if it meant fists. One day some friends and I buried our high school’s parking-lot barriers under the woodpile for the annual home-coming bonfire.

We hated the things because they kept us from leaving school in our cars until after the buses had left. I thought the prank was pretty funny, and I mentioned it to my father. He didn’t think it was funny, and he ordered me to go with him to dig the barriers out.

Can you imagine anything more humiliating at age 16? I refused, and we stood toe to toe. Dad was in a rage, and I thought for an instant that the test had come.

But then he shook his head and calmly walked away. The next day my friends told me that they had seen him at the bonfire celebration. He’d climbed into the woodpile in front of hundreds of kids, pulled out the barriers and left. He never mentioned it to me. He still hasn’t.

Despite our father-son struggles, I never doubted my father’s love, which was our lifeline through some pretty rough times. There are plenty of warm memories – he and I on the couch watching TV together, walking a gravel road in Crete, Ill. , as dusk, riding home in a car, singing “Red River Valley.”

He had this way of smiling at me, this way of tossing a backhanded compliment, letting me know he was prod of me and my achievements. He was a rugged teaser, and it was during his teasing that I always sensed his great, unspoken love. When I was older, I would understand that this is how many men show affection without acknowledging vulnerability. And I imitated his way of saying “I love you” by telling him his nose was too big or his ties too ugly.

But I can’t recall a time my father hugged or hissed me or said he loved me. I remember snuggling next to him on Sunday mornings. I remember the strong, warm feeling of dozing off in his arms. But men, even little men, did not kiss or hug; they shook hands.

There were times much later when I would be going back to college, times when I wanted so badly to hug him. But the muscles wouldn’t move with the emotion. I hugged my mother. I shook hands with my father.

“It’s not what a man says, but what he does that counts,” he would say. Words and emotions were suspect. He went to work every day, he protected me, he taught me right from wrong, he made me tough in mind and spirit. It was our bond. It was our barrier.

I’ve tried not to repeat what I saw as my father’s mistake. Matthew and I cuddle and kiss good-bye. This is the new masculinity, and it’s as common today as the old masculinity of my father’s day. But, honestly, I don’t believe that in the end the new masculinity will prevent the growing-up conflicts between fathers and sons. All I hope is that Matthew and I build some repository of unconscious joy so that it will remain a lifeline between us through the rough times ahead.

It was only after having a boy of my own that I began to think a lot about the relationship between fathers and sons and to see – and to understand – my own father with remarkable clarity.

If there is a universal complaint from men about their fathers, it is that their dads lacked patience. I remember one rainy day when I was about six and my father was putting a new roof on his mother’s house, a dangerous job when it’s dry, much less wet. I wanted to help. He was impatient and said no. I made a scene and got the only spanking I can recall. He had chuckled at that memory many times over the years, but I never saw the humor.

Only now that I’ve struggled to find patience in myself when Matthew insists he help me paint the house or saw down dead trees in the back yard am I able to see that day through my father’s eyes. Who’d have guessed I’d be angry with my father for 30 years, until I relived similar experiences with my own son, who, I suppose, is angry now with me.

More surprisingly, contrary to my teen-age conviction that I wasn’t at all like my father, I have come to the greater realization. I am very much like him. We share the same sense of humor, same stubbornness, same voice even. Although I didn’t always see these similarities as desirable, I have grown into them, come to like them.

My father, for instance, has this way of answering the phone. “Hellll – o,” he says, putting a heavy accent on the first syllable and snapping the “o” short. Call me today and you’ll hear “Hellll – o,” just like the old an. Every time I hear myself say it, I feel good.

This new empathy for my father has led me to a startling insight: if I am still resolving my feelings about my father, then when I was a boy my father was still resolving his feelings about his father.

He raised me as a result of and as a reaction to his own dad, which links my son not only to me and my father, but to my father’s father and, I suspect, any number of Harrington fathers before. I imagine that if the phone had rung as the first Harrington stepped of the boat, he’d have answered by saying, “Hellll –o”.

For reasons to profound and too petty to tell, there was a time years ago when my father and I didn’t speak or see each other. I finally gave up my stubbornness and visited unexpectedly. For two days we talked, of everything and nothing. Neither mentioned that we hadn’t seen each other in five years.

I left as depressed as I’ve ever been, knowing that reconciliation was impossible. Two days later I got the only letter my father ever sent me. I’m the writer, he’s the milkman. But the letter’s tone and cadence, its emotion and simplicity might have been my own.

“I know that if I had it to do over again,” he wrote, “I would somehow find more time to spend with you. It seems we never realize this until it’s too late.”

It turned out that as he had watched me walk out the door after our visit – at the instant I was thinking we were hopelessly lost to each other – he was telling himself to stop me, to sit down and talk, that if we didn’t he might never see me again. “But I just let you go,” he wrote.

I realized that his muscles just hadn’t been able to move with the emotion, which is all I ever really needed to know.

Not long ago, Matthew asked me, “sons can grow up to be their daddies, right?” This was no small struggling for insight, and I was careful in my response. “No,” I said, “sons can grow up to be like their daddies in some ways, but they can’t be their daddies. They must be themselves.” Matthew would hear nothing of these subtleties.

“Sons can grow up to be their daddies!” he said defiantly. “They can.” I didn’t argue. It made me feel good.

All morning I am anxious. Matthew and I are about to leave Arizona for home, and I am determined to do something I have never done.

There is a time in every son’s life when he resents the echoes reminding him that, for all his vaunted individuality, he is his father’s son. But thee should also come a time – as it had for me – when these echoes call out only the understanding that the generations have melded and blurred without threat.

So just before my son and I walk through the gate and onto our plane, I lean over, hug my father and say, “I want you to know that I love you. That I always have.”

父亲、儿子和我

(美)沃尔特•哈林顿

 

父亲还是我孩提记得的模样:脸色黑里透红,目光炯炯有神。一头浓发更使他仪表堂堂。不过,他现在比过去温和耐心多了。当初可不。也不知道是谁起了变化,是他还是我?

我和儿子马修乘飞机去亚利桑那看望父亲,六十七岁的父亲调好吉他给孙子弹奏。知道“哦,我想有个个家,野牛在它周围溜达”这首歌吗?

那当儿,四岁的马修一直在沙发上蹦跳,偷偷乱拨他不该碰的吉他,口里还絮絮叨叨个没完。

我和父亲曾格格不入,剑拔弩张。那是成长时期的儿子与父亲常有的“敌对“。我们咋咋呼呼的比赛、我们的衣着、我的信仰,以及我处的朋友,都为父亲所不屑。现在我还清楚地记得,孩提时,有一天我突然意识到,我和父亲不一样,我也不必证明我们不一样。

孩提时父亲常不在家。他是个送奶工,每周工作七天。即便外出,他也是个缺席监工。我们在家犯的错误被一一记着,晚上回家他再找我们算帐,但却很少遭责骂或吓唬。

那时,我认为,作为男子汉,我得勇敢地面对他,哪怕是吃拳头。有一次,我和几个朋友把学校停车场的栅栏埋在柴堆里,准备用来烧一年一度的篝火,庆祝放假。

我们恨这些栅栏,因为它挡着我们,只有等公共汽车走完之后,我们才能乘自己的车离校。我觉得这恶作剧很好玩,就跟父亲提了此事。可他一点也不觉得好玩,命我立即跟他一块去把栅栏扒出来。

你能想象,对于十六岁的我,当时还有比这更丢脸的吗?我当然不干,我们针锋相对。父亲气极了,那一刻,我意识到考验的时刻到了。

可他却摇摇头平静地走了。第二天朋友告诉我篝火庆祝会上看见我的父亲了。他当着几百个孩子的面爬上柴堆,扒出埋在里面的栅栏后走了。他从来没跟我提及此事,至今没有提过。

尽管我们格格不入,但我从不怀疑父亲很爱我,这便是连接我们的纽带。当然也有不少温馨的记忆----我们一同坐在沙发上看电视;一块在伊利诺洲克里特的碎石小道上散步;夕阳中一起唱着《红河谷》驱车回家。

父亲从不正面赞扬我;还常常对我冷嘲热讽,却从中透露着对我的自豪以及对我的成功的喜悦。父亲粗鲁、朴实。爱戏弄人,可我从这戏弄中感受到深厚的父爱。长大了些以后,我开始明白这是男人为避免脆弱而表达爱的方式。我也学着他的样,想说“我爱你“时,却说他的鼻子太大或者领带太难看。

父亲似乎从不搂抱我、亲吻我。可星期天早晨挤进他的被窝,偎在他怀里睡着时的温暖感觉,我至尽记忆犹新。可是男人,即便是小男人也不搂搂抱抱。男人握手!

上大学时每次有家返校时,我特别想拥抱父亲,但还是抑制住了。我拥抱母亲,而只与父亲握手!

父亲常说,“男人重要的不在说而在做。“语言和感情靠不住。他每天上班,他护着我,他教我辨别真伪,他培养我坚定的信念,坚强我的性格。这便是我们的契约,我们的屏障。

有了儿子以后我努力避免父亲的错误,对马修很亲昵。这是男子气概的崭新表现方式。如今亲善的脸孔已取代了父亲那个时代严厉的脸孔。可是,父子间的亲善并不能避免成长期儿子与父亲之间的矛盾。我只希望我和儿子马修的亲昵与快乐有助于我们在今后的困难岁月中努力协同,共度难关。

我是在有了儿子以后才开始思考父子间的关系,开始深刻理解了自己的父亲。

所有男人都会抱怨自己的父亲缺乏耐心。记得六岁时,一个阴雨天,父亲在给祖母盖屋顶。这活儿晴天都有危险,何况雨天?我想帮忙,他却极不耐烦地把我推到一边,我不干,结果屁股挨了一顿2。多少年过去了,每想到此事他就窃笑,可我一点不觉有什么好笑。

如今每当马修吵着要帮我刷墙,帮我锯后院的枯树,我拼命忍住性子时,才明白父亲当年眼睛流露的含义。可我为此跟父亲呕了三十年气呢!有了类似经历以后我才理解了父亲的苦心。而今,儿子也许正因为此而生我的气呢。

十几岁时我认为自己和父亲截然不同,现在才发现自己很像父亲:一样的幽默,一样的固执,甚至一样的声音。我并不以为这种相似后和称心,可我生成如此。

比方说父亲接电话时总是口音很夸张第一个音节,吞掉了第二个音节。给我打电话,你会发现我也和老爸一样,“哈……罗!”,对自己的口音还感觉良好。

与父亲的如此想象使我吃惊地意识到:如果我现在在解析自己对父亲的感情,那么当年我还是孩子时,父亲也一定在解析他对自己父亲的感情。

父亲像他父亲养育他那样地养育了我,这不仅联系了儿子、我和父亲,而且联系了我父亲的父亲乃至整个哈利顿家族。我猜,第一位哈利顿下船登陆时,那时若有电话的话,他接电话时一定也是“哈……罗!”

几年前因为某些微妙的原因,我和父亲一度不往来了。最终我克服了自己的固执,出其不意去拜访父亲。我们谈了整整两天,似乎什么都谈了,又似乎什么都没谈。谁都没谈我们五年都没见面的事。

离开父亲时我很沮丧,我想,和好如初是不可能的了。两天后我收到父亲给我写的唯一一封信。我是作家,他是送奶工。但他写信的基调、节奏、感情与简洁与我“如出一辙”。

“假如生活重来一次,我会赢得更多的你留在我身边的时间。我们总是在事情每法挽回时才看清真相。”他信上说。

我要离开父亲时----那一刻我觉得我们父子间的默然已是无以复加----父亲心里一直嘀咕,留住他,让他坐下来再谈谈,否则他可能不会再来看我了。“可我还是让你走了。”父亲写道。

我发现父亲感情不善言表,我早该知道的。

不久前马修问我:“儿子长大后跟爸爸一样,是吗?”儿子试图在洞察生活。我小心谨慎地回答:“不,儿子长大后可能某些方面象爸爸,但他们不可能跟爸爸一模一样。他们应该是他们自己。”马修一定没听出来其中的微妙。

“儿子长大后就跟爸爸一样!就能跟爸爸一样”。他争辩说。我没反驳。他的固执令我窃喜。

我和马修准备离开亚利桑那回家了。整整一个早晨我心里七上八下不能平静。我决定做一件从未做过的事情。

儿子们成长中总有这样一段时期,尽管他具有可吹嘘的个性,但他的模仿还是让他记起他只是父亲的儿子。这种模仿促使他们理解了不靠威胁,两代人完全可以理解、沟通。

带儿子登机之前,我弯下身子,搂着父亲说:“爸爸,我爱你,我一直很爱你。”