It was a Thursday night one January when I arrived home from a trivia night with some friends. Everyone was asleep, everyone but my father. He sat me down and asked me a question: What was I going to tell people about him when he’s gone? What a heavy thing to ask your 29-year-old son after a night of drinking. Nevertheless, I answered and he liked what I had to say though he made some suggestions which I took to heart. Less than two days later he’d die in his sleep. I would go on to eulogize him and afterwards I received many remarks about how similar I was to the man. I’ve always felt like I took after my mother but could it be that in death I’d finally begun to embrace my father?
Sometimes you see a movie and something about it resonates even if at the time of viewing you can’t really relate. I remember seeing Big Fish for the first time at a movie theater in Edison, New Jersey with some friends who were home for the holidays from college. I remember leaving the theater and it was snowing, and I had left my headlights on, and miraculously my car’s batter hadn’t died. I remember a film about a father with a larger than life personality who told many tall tales and his son who struggled to accept this. I remember a film about the stories we tell and the truths behind them. I get now, why it resonated. In telling the story of your life you’re afforded a good deal of poetic license as long as the truth is in there somewhere.
Towards the end of the film the father character is on his deathbed, his son by his side. The father asks the son to tell him how he’s going to die. The son, for the first time, goes on to tell his own tall tale. A frantic escape from the hospital, a car chase, and a burial in a river among loved ones. The father likes the sound of that and then dies. A proper memorial service follows and the film ends. Sounds about right. Death truly is the end of a story and of its teller and someone has to actually bury it all.
I sit here today thinking about what I have in common with the son in Big Fish and it’s obvious. We were both afforded the opportunity to eulogize our fathers before they passed. Through this we were both able to demonstrate our own embrace and understanding of the men, allowing them to stop telling their story, as it was time to let the boys tell their own. My father made his mark on the world and he left it all with us. We were to pick up where he left off.
These are all gifts. This movie. That moment with my dad before he died. My embrace of him, my understanding, and how he is reflected through me. I think of what stories I might want to tell and the truths behind them. I think of the truths. The truths my father spoke. The ones I need to realize. I think of them too much. The truth does hurt, but it’s the stories that help…not to mask it, but to process that hurt and heal of it. Words, thoughts, stories…they swirl over my head like a cyclone. I realize my own purpose: to keep discovering these truths and figuring out how to talk about them, how to write about them, how to sing about them. One day I’m going to want someone to pick up where I left off and leave them a piece of me to embrace. I suppose that’s going to have to start with embracing the truth. I could make the rest up as I go along.