Men can be full of silences. I grew up in a family of men who didnt talk much.
Sometimes I wonder what happens to all the words men fail to tell each other. Where do these words go? I imagine them floating in space like minuscule stars, searching for an unknown civilization who could use them.
We hold back us men too much. Take my own father. I think often of all the conversations I will never have with him. His death when I was 15, I sometimes feel, has left me bereft of words, like a stunted plant.
An early memory: Im with my father, in the backseat, as he turns the car onto a country road, heading to his older sisters house. He is driving a dark blue Dodge Polaris, just recently purchased.
Lets see what this thing can do, he says, and pushes the accelerator to the floor. The car shifts into overdrive, moving swiftly over uneven road: 50, 60, 70, 80 miles an hour. The engine sounds like a small jet; I think we are going to fly. I hang onto the back of the front seat as the car leaps and lunges over patches and ruts: 90, 100, 110.
The Dodge finally peaks at 115.
I often too often rise at 4 a.m. I spend these wee hours writing and reading.
But often as not Im quiet and still, half-meditating, listening to the refrigerator hum, the furnace kick-on, and, outside, hearing owls cackle and hoot. Sometimes, during these hours, my inner-voice talks to me. Its a crazy time to be awake a time that automatically lends itself to reflection, and, if there is anything I like to do its reflect. I remembered the other day, for instance, when I was a boy and a fellow classmate asked me the morbid question, What do you think will be the last thing youll say before you die?
It depends whos with me at the time, I said.
Right. Good answer, he said.
He hesitated. Suppose it was your father? he asked.
I disregarded the idea of dying before my father and thought about it for a minute. I havent a clue, I said. I just hope I dont say something stupid.
I decided fairly late in life to have a child, perhaps because of my own life experiences. When I did, I made an oath to myself two things I would never do: I would never leave my family, and I would not die young.
We have a dependency on each other, all of us. The simple act of noticing another human being, including, and perhaps most significantly, the invisible and put away, should be a basic expression of our humanity.
My father wasnt a man of words. Sometimes I think words frightened him. He used to come home from his factory job, already shaved and showered, and wed go outside and throw a football or baseball. Sometimes hed say, Go long, or Throw straight overhand.
These direction-like instructions were mostly fill-in- the-gap talk. He didnt speak much about his work the dirty, smelly, and loud job in a paper mill. Or his childhood. The future. In the winter, wed shovel the driveway quietly; only our heavy breathing communicating. Sometimes we would stop and catch our breaths and just look at each other. Hed smile at me. Sometimes he might say, How about some hot chocolate when were done?
Or he might just look around, survey the sky, and watch the driveway fill up with snow where we had just shoveled. I think he didnt want to mess things up by talking. There is a kind of language in working hard beside someone without talking.
My father died when we were both too young. But he didnt die alone; my grandmother was with him. I do not know what his last words were, but I know he hadnt spoken for months before his death.
If my father suddenly and mysteriously appeared before me, what questions would I ask of him? Who was your grandfather? I might ask. Did you talk much with him? What was he like? Did you and my grandfather talk much? What possessed you to drive like a maniac down that country road? I will never have the opportunity to ask these questions. Yet, I sense my father walking with me.
I have often wondered what my father would have said to me, had he known it was the last time he was going to speak. Though he was a quiet man, I think I know what he would have said.
Be generous with your life, I believe he would have said.
And so should we all. Robert Wallace is the author of the novel A Hold on Time. He can be reached at email@example.com