My mother died of breast cancer when I was six. I remember a few things about her. Her voice, her red hair, and the way she raised one eyebrow when she laughed. I sometimes wish she’d died when I was younger so I wouldn’t remember her at all. I remember her green eyes.”
– pg 5, “Flight” by Sherman Alexie
In turn, though this quote happens to be about a dead mother, I completely read it through as a quote about a dead father and had to do a double-take after getting about three or four paragraphs past it. I just started the book today. My first exposure to Alexie was through the film Smoke Signals. It was a story and film packed with reflections of a missing father, a failed search and breath-taking takes on the impact he had on the main character’s life. And the final reflection with the shot panning over a river, sticks in my head, though out of context it needs context:
How do we forgive our fathers? Maybe in a dream. Do we forgive our fathers for leaving us too often, or forever, when we were little? Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage, or making us nervous because there never seemed to be any rage there at all? Do we forgive our fathers for marrying, or not marrying, our mothers? Or divorcing, or not divorcing, our mothers? And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness? Shall we forgive them for pushing, or leaning? For shutting doors or speaking through walls? For never speaking, or never being silent? Do we forgive our fathers in our age, or in theirs? Or in their deaths, saying it to them or not saying it. If we forgive our fathers, what is left?
Having lost my own father, having occasionally thought how life might have been different with any father figure early on in my life (none after about three to about 10) – who died when I was older but I never met again, it was devastating when I watched Smoke Signals and completely snatched my breath and ripped down tears. It will be again when I watch it again – and I need to read the book, as well. Now, when I do it will have new, painful layers of meaning because of new people in my life who I love dearly and deeply, whose father passed away. The film’s father is flawed, violent absent, as mine undoubtedly was. Still, father, right? And I’m stepping into that role with purpose and an awareness of the awesome responsibility it entails.