Help me to Help Myself
JUNE 19, 2006
I have a ton to talk about upon my return from vacation, but I see all these great Father's Day entries and reading them got me thinking of my fathers. My dad was a teacher and guidance counselor in North Haven, Connecticut.
Bill O'Brien tilling a friend's garden.
He had summers off and would paint houses in the summer, install pools, work in his amazingly lush garden and grow his beard. We would go to the beach all the time and hang out around our above ground pool. He persuaded our landlord to allow him to install one. The yard of our rental had a tree house, a log cabin and a deck and he built them all. In 1973 he found a house in a suburb outside of New Haven and bought it. Perhaps it was the stress of the purchase, or just bad luck, but he died in February of 1974 of a heart attack. I did not know how to react and hardly cried. I was sad but really blocked about crying. Now that I'm an adult and a father I am not very sad about that loss anymore. I missed having him around through my life and could have used him at many different stages.
What I did have was a powerful mother and tender, loving grandparents. Still, they were not fathers. I began to focus on a variety of fathers and select portions of all of them to follow or watch. Muhammad Ali held a special place. Charismatic and funny, he provided a macho influence in a sport that I watched on Sundays with my grandfather. John Lennon was a funny and talented artist. I listened to him and because he looked like my father and had a caustic wit, reminded me of him. My dad also played Abby Road all the time.
At the end of 1980 several things happened that altered me and made me begin to find out who I was. Ali came out of retirement and fought the tough heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes and was slaughtered. It was hard to watch. On December 8th Lennon was murdered. The next night, I went out to our garage and began a large painting on the wall, a portrait of Ali, listening to Lennon songs and crying, finally. There were to be no dads to follow. They weren't mine, they belonged to everyone.
Daniel Maffia's great Time Cover
Ali, October 8th, 1980...Lennon's last Birthday ironically.
I have met many great men over the years and many have been a part of who I am. Funny, articulate, thoughtful and smart friends and teachers. I still am that little boy in many ways, but with a son of my own, I find that BEING a dad has filled my life and made me feel complete.