Today we are blessed with an essay from a guest blogger, one of my “Famous” people! Travis DuPriest is a retired English /Creative Writing professor and Episcopal priest who with his wife spends part of each summer on the James River in Isle of Wight Co. VA.
I have a few things that belonged to my father: his bamboo fly rods, a wrist watch which I gave to our older son, some studs and cuff links, some country Chippendale furniture he saved and refinished from various barns and back porches in Piedmont Virginia. When I think about it, though, I’ve probably inherited more qualities than possessions: his body build, his baldness, his love of being on the water, preferably fishing, and I hope some of his dedication, affection and tenderness.
At the time of his death, just on the cusp of his 60th birthday, I didn’t really want any of his “things.” He died much too early, just as I got married and was finally holding down a real job, earning a living, rather than going to yet another graduate school. (I heard from a neighbor that my dad almost cried when I told him I was going to Divinity School after Graduate School). In other words, my dad died before he could be proud of me. Before he could be the grandfather to our children.
And I was angry – angry at him for checking out so early. And I took out that anger, foolishly, by not saving more personal items.
I eventually came to realize how incredibly self-absorbed all this was. After all, most grief is for ourselves, isn’t it? If there was any saving grace in all this, it was that I was even angrier at myself — for the completely irrational reason that I wasn’t with my father when he died. Wasn’t even nearby, wasn’t “home” the night he came back with my Mother from dinner with friends and died. It was completely irrational, but there it was.
I just felt that I should have been in Virginia, in Petersburg, in his bedroom. Near him. For weeks I was obsessed with this notion of not being there. Darting through my mind was the question my dad’s brother had asked me, “T ( my childhood nickname), when are you going to move back home?” I’d hated that when my uncle asked me that question, implying I was some kind of traitor to abandon my native Virginia and my family. Now I was asking that of myself that very question.
Then one evening, quite unexpectedly, my Father let me know everything was OK. He visited me in a dream:
I was in college at the University of Richmond. My dad stopped by the fraternity lodge where I was living my senior year, to take me out to lunch. It hadn’t been planned. My father was in Richmond on business and just stopped by to take me out to lunch on the spur of the moment. Yet somehow, in the dream world, I wasn’t at all surprised.
We ate lunch at a little café out in the country somewhere outside of Richmond, and after lunch, we walked down a country lane, talking. Eventually, we hugged, and I turned to walk back to my car, and my dad walked away in the opposite direction. He turned and smiled then kept walking down the gravel road bordered with tall loblolly pine trees.
And, yes, in my dream he walked into an intensely bright and comforting sunlight. He had come say Goodbye. He had come to assure me that my not being there when he died was okay—because we have never really ever been apart.
“Try as you will, you cannot annihilate the eternal
relic of the human heart, love” – Victor Hugo
After the dream, I regretted even more my hasty decision not to keep more of his things: I wish I had his Harris Tweed sport coats with the smell of his pipe tobacco, his suits, his hats.
But I do have My Father’s Tie.
My dad either bought or was given the tie in the late 1930s — probably while he was a freshman, on a football scholarship, at Wake Forrest.
It’s a woolen “Dress Stewart” made in Scotland. To my knowledge my Father’s family, the DuPriest’s, a French Huguenot family that settled in New Kent Co. in the 1680s, had no claim to be part of a Scottish clan. He must have just liked it. As do I. I wear it because I like it. And, of course, because it was my Father’s. And because, when I put it on, I’m aware of my father’s gentleness and patience.
I guess these feelings and reflections have been kicking around inside me for thirty years or so, but it was portrait painter Deb Marett’s titling the painting “My Father’s Tie” that called these reflections to the surface. Which broadens our conversation:
In a recent issue of the Harvard Divinity Bulletin and on several websites, Vietnamese Buddhist monk Tich Nhat Hanh’s concept of “inter-being,” the space created between the art and the viewer, is referenced. In this space, as I understand it, all that has gone into the piece of art is summoned and something new is created. When I see the portrait titled “My Father’s Tie” a new relationship springs into being between the art and me, and a new relationship between my father and me is formed within.
Material objects often get a bad rap from preachers and spiritual writers. And to be sure possessions can be burdensome. Possessions can own us, as Thoreau put it. But possessions can also form deep connections that bring us into expanded consciousness. In other words, certain possessions function as relics with the ability to transport us out of time and space to a different, perhaps even sacred, sphere.
My Father’s Tie, then, is a “real tie,” but it is also a metaphor that carries a surplus of meaning beyond the literal. It is the title of Deb’s imaginative portrait. It is a relic that transports me to another time and place. It is the “tie that binds.”
How appropriate, this verse from the old hymn “Bless be the tie that binds”:
When we asunder part,
It gives us inward pain;
But we shall still be joined in heart,
And hope to meet again.
If the archeologists of the human condition, Mircea Eliade, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell, are on target, then our life’s work is to find our place, our role, in the central mythos or transformative myth, of our culture, so it is my work to find and live out my proper role in the narrative of my family – as son, husband, father, grandfather, friend.
When I wear My Father’s Tie, I’m riding in the car with my dad’s arm over my shoulder; I’m fly casting at Mountain Hall Farm, I’m learning to back up a trailer, and I’m a freshman at Wake Forrest, just out of Crewe High School in Nottoway Co., Virginia, a handsome, dapper young man, with a head of curly black hair, dating the beauty queen of Lunenburg Co., dancing to the big band music of Tommy Dorsey. And wearing the best looking tie on campus.