This is the second attempt at an entry about my father's father. I decided after a year of delaying and stewing on the subject that it didn't have to be just one post. Thus the beauty of having a nice old-fashioned blog like I do. So. This will be an introduction.
Last August I took a trip to Bangor, Maine to do something that nobody in my family had done before: visit my father's father. I called a couple weeks in advance, having not spoken in years, and asked whether it would be alright. I was interested in learning more about his faith, I told him, which was true.
The drive up was pretty epic. I listened to a Roches compilation CD about forty times in a row, listened to about a million Radio Lab episodes. It was the longest drive I'd ever taken anywhere, alone or with somebody. In brief: I had a lot of time to think.
About thirty years before, my grandfather had made the same drive (shorter, actually; he didn't have to come from Southwest Pennsylvania!). But he was running. Running from a family and a life that he had built, that he had destroyed. Father to seven children and one foster child in suburban New Jersey, he was also a successful OB/GYN with a private practice, ready to retire at forty-five years old. Although stories differ on timing, one thing led to another and he started sleeping with a local woman, who he described to me as a "grown-up child" when they'd met.
According to him, it was through her that he found faith. Started witnessing miracles. Again, timing differs depending on who I talk to, but the miracles started appearing around the same time that he was being dragged through some serious legal mud by my grandmother. The collapse of their marriage was then and would remain the major event of her life, and she would not be had. They took their divorce trial to the supreme court of New Jersey, ultimately changing state custody laws (I checked and it's still on the state's Divorce Law website). This, of course, cost them what would today be millions of dollars in legal expenses, and it nearly ruined them both. It certainly prevented them from becoming very rich.
He ultimately moved when his house, one night, burned to the ground. According to him, he called upon God for a sign. He was depressed, financially wounded. His family had largely turned away from him. So he prayed. That night, an electric surge ran through the house--over 200,000 volts of electricity--and every light bulb in every socket burst, and every electrical outlet in the house started streaming sparks. He and his new wife Diane fled from the house, and across a dewy lawn strewn with live electrical wires that had fallen.
He had witnessed the miracle of his life, and took it as a sign. Diane and he had been discussing the possibility of their moving to their summer home on a lake in Maine. In no time, they were headed up there with Diane's two kids, and they never came back.
The years that followed were full of pain and confusion for the whole family. He and Diane squandered his remaining money, and according to him, his accountant made away with the rest in a scheme of some sort. Some of my father's brothers were very young, as young as five years old, and it was confusing for them. My grandmother established her own practice and started working again. He refused to attend my father and mother's wedding on account of the fact that they failed to invite Diane's children (a major event in my parent's relationship with him). The rest of the details aren't particularly clear -- I'm assuming it's because everybody is telling self-truths. Eventually he started treating, they became missionaries and traveled the world preaching to poor people in faraway places.
And then, God again spoke to him. And -- he learned that he had the potential to heal with his hands, with his mind. There is a passage in the Bible about this -- about how it is possible. And he became a Prophet of God.
This, it seems, is his truth, and I'm really ok with that. As I drove up, I was not thinking, like I had about my other grandfather -- the alcoholic, philandering, truck-company owner -- that I had to be prepared to not like him. A big part of me felt some sort of affinity to his calling. I feel like my creative calling is somewhat supernatural. I'm not sure where it comes from, but it's like -- this energy that I can access if I give it the space to just flow through me. I assumed that he, like me, used his reputedly awesome intellectual capacity (after all, he was a doctor, had attended Georgetown, had made numerous contributions to his field prior to his shift) to harbor something unexplainable. That I could relate to -- actually wanted to relate to. And also, I have a propensity to be skeptical of my parents and I was rightly convinced that what they had to say about him was sullied by their hurt. And for that I could not blame them. He missed most of the lives of all of his children, the births and subsequent nascent existences of over twenty-five grand children. But then, he had done nothing to me, so I could enter into the picture a cool observer. Old enough to sort of decide for myself. But still young enough that I allowed myself to really hope that I might find something truly extraordinary in Bangor, Maine.
What neither he nor I could have sort of predicted was this. In his life as healer and prophet, he missed most of the lives of all of his children, the births and existences of over twenty-five grand children. For this Purpose. I was the second oldest, a sort-of-woman, articulate, intelligent. The first, though, of anyone to visit. And I didn't mean to become part of his Hurt, but I did. And though I entered his life clean of hurt, with open and flexible intentions, without a need to forgive, I think he started to be assumed into my Sadness.
And so. That's an introduction ... More to come.
notes - Mel Chin talk at MCAD
1 day ago