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For Dad on Father's Day

Yoshio Matsuoka 1918 - 1978

Neuroscientists now tell us that memory is a creative and plastic artifact subject to our own willful and inadvertent influence, the most powerful of which, I think, is the compulsion to understand things as coherent narratives.  But judging from what I hear from friends, associates, and regular ol' people on the street, most people's parent-narratives are about as plausible as their religious ones.  We keep our fathers and "Our Father's" in tiny little self-serving boxes.  And come to think of it, I guess most of us keep our own selves in some tiny boxes too.  Not saying this is good or bad or whatever.

I was disturbed not too long ago when I experienced what I thought might be the initial signs of age-related mental diminution when I couldn't remember something.  Actually, I could remember the actual events, but what I couldn't remember was the relationship between two events.  And it seemed to me that the events were related.  I just couldn't remember in what way the two were related.  The relationship between the two events competed with what seemed like a huge assortment of other events that I felt obligated to keep a grip on simultaneously.  It literally felt like I was losing my marbles, as though I was holding a big double handful of marbles or ball bearings that were slipping away because my fingers had become smaller or less dextrous.  I have always prided myself on being able to hold a lot of mental marbles.  I think of myself as someone with long and dexterous mental fingers, better technique than many -- maybe most -- people.  So this experience was a bit distressing.

But really, as we grow older, the number of marbles under our responsibility grows and the reasons between the relationships between many chains of marbles break down because the narratives were created by others, or because the narratives themselves no longer serve any useful purpose, or because the narratives were seriously inaccurate and malformed to begin with.  So I've been releasing the artificial relationships between a lot of events/memories, and letting false chains dissolve.  I'm even doing that with my own life narrative.  Rather than occupy a series of linear remembrances, I now exist in a spicy bouillabaisse of current and past events.  Younger Dougs come by and drink and smoke.  There are precious moments here experienced unmoderated by temporal perspective and full of the ardor and terror of being.  It can be a little intense but I sip it like good wine.  It is as good for the heart, I think.  

As these experiences become more immediate, my viewpoint ascends to a different place. It's as though I were a distant entity with an assignment of "being Doug."  The height of this perspective is unsettling at times even as daily experiences become more vivid.  This perspective may just be a result of contemplations pursuant to angioplasty and the prospect of sudden death.  And yes, the effect might be somewhat unreal and over-dramatic.  But heck, we all have to live our lives within our own skins.

Oh, and anyway, my parents.  The point really of all these words is for me to report something about them.  At a certain point recently, I decided to release them from their parental responsibilities and just let them be who they were, or who they still are in the Big Bouillabaisse.   The narrative models I had created of them were comically dwarfish and deformed and not even close to being real. 

How could that artifact of memory, imagination, and fantasy that I called "Dad" accommodate a real human man's life of joys and torments and secrets and private moments?  And what reality or lack of understanding or intention or absence of intention should require his thoughts and actions to serve my desire to make sense of my own life?  Can you imagine the indignity of being forced to perform in some puppet-show narrative over which you have no control even after you thought you had passed into the safety and privacy of death?

So I dismiss them from my service, both my parents, and especially this Father's Day, my father.  I can see him happily scampering away like a dog suddenly untethered from a post in the yard.  I can tell you for certain that it's a lonelier world without "parents" and those people I had interacted with in my imagination for so many years are now so much more mysterious since their lives are unknown to me.  Like the cars on the street they make inexplicable moves over which I exert no influence at all.

Yoshio Matsuoka -- born 1918, died 1978.  This very day, I release you without condition from the indignities of your indenture to my narrative or to any narrative -- even your own.  You're free, man.  You're a free man.

H. Doug Matsuoka
19 June 2011
Makiki, Honolulu


  1. You are an awesome writer. The soul of your writing is very moving.

  2. as we grow older, we begin to see that parents aren't just parents, but people. this is a lovely essay. thank you for sharing with someone else who is losing her marbles and learning to be ok with it.

  3. So kind of you!

  4. well framed essay, Doug! mahalo for posting! (again)


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