I live inside the secret world of my father’s ambition.
Maybe it isn’t so secret.
How to describe Mel? I don’t know. I suppose if being a child meant my mother being the sun, then Mel was the moon. There was something about him that lived in me too. Perhaps, our drive.
Our want to leave this world for a better one.
Mel lives inside so many different spaces in my memory. My favorite space is always the early nineties where I look my worst but feel my best. I’m long-socked and crimped-banged and fanny-packed and have developed an absurd need to find and marry Macaulay Caulkin.
I like to think I’ve grown.
And Mel’s there too. He’s the skinny guy in the trucker hat and short shorts at my grandparents’ doublewide in Pangburn. He has a mustache but doesn’t take that or himself too seriously. I remember him joking and laughing and everyone saying his name, the type of blessing you never concede as one.
And then there’s the fish, all hanging dead-eyed on the lines ready to be scaled and gutted. Mel works with an electric meat carver and the smell is metallic, the sort of smell that should turn you off unless it reminds you of someone you love.
As I get older, Mel becomes more elusive. He is the man whose plans went sideways yet he still manages a shade of greatness. He was supposed to be a lawyer and then the governor of Arkansas, but God rescinded the memo. He would have been phenomenal at those things. And I think maybe that’s why God couldn’t let them happen.
We yearn for greatness and then become it. So who’s left to trust but ourselves?
Instead, he becomes a businessman—a national sales manager—and he travels the skies in a metal bird. I think a sliver of me misses him when he’s gone but whose heart yearns for the moon when the sun is still around?
We go on trips though. We go everywhere. Disney World and California, out to the desert, and then travel the waters on big boats with all-you-can-eat buffets.
Mel comes alive in these pockets of time because who doesn’t cut ties with reality when reality wasn’t invited?
As an adult, I want to go back in time and ask things like: “Are you stressed?” “Do you need a hug?” “What are you worrying about right now?”
But perspective is never tempting to a child.
As I get older, I write and Mel reads it—Mel, who’s an incredible writer himself. I’d read all his books if he ever got to write them, but again, I think this is something God knows about.
It reminds me of a story a friend told me once. How this man knows he’s to lead people to Jesus but he only leads one man to Christ. But that man becomes one of the greatest pastors the world has ever known.
Is that what’s happening to Mel? Is he pouring out all of himself into me because it’s spilling over and all the glasses are dirty?
I know the feeling.
I have a daughter now myself.
I grow and we grow apart. How did that ever happen? Because even in the times when he wasn’t around, he was always around.
He’s there teaching me tennis and basketball. He’s with me when I do my report on Kareem Abdul Jabar and when I buy my Sean Kemp sneakers. He suddenly pops up like a lone flower in a field at my volleyball games with his infamous hand-held camcorder. And I’m brokenhearted for all the generations who don’t know what it feels like to be forever esteemed on VHS.
But we both know there’s a boy. There was always “a boy” in that flighty heart of mine, and how I wish I could go back there, down the bleachers and past the screams of sweat-stained parents to meet me on the court and rip that heart right out.
Time passes, and I get older. I hear that happens a lot. And I see the same things my father saw. We sit on that bright edge of darkness, weighing it with words. For so long we watered those seeds of ambition only to realize they grew nothing but weeds. We’ve pulled them out, the roots dangling in front of our faces, and buried them with all the hope and desire that haunt our human flesh.
They say you relate to God in how you relate to your father. So maybe that’s why I’m always in awe or talk to Him like we’re just two souls sharing a skiff. All the fish are alive and well and swimming.
But still, I can smell the scent of something we never lost but will never get back again.
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