Magazine article The Spectator

Farewell, My Father: The Sun Sets on My Horizion

Magazine article The Spectator

Farewell, My Father: The Sun Sets on My Horizion

Article excerpt

When the sun lowers itself into the Pacific Ocean, west of California, it has a way of lingering on the horizon that makes you imagine it will stay for ever. It is perhaps less bright than at its zenith, but more beautiful.

You don't want to let it go. Then, just as you are sure it won't disappear, it does.

The other day, my older son and I walked along the beach near my father's house between Los Angeles and San Diego. We did not talk much, and I forgot to tell him that in that same briney wash north of us my father taught me to body-surf and to fish. My son is 30 years old, a year older than my father was when I was born. My father was always the measure. He finished school at 17, as did I. I studied philosophy at university, as he did. He refused his father's offer to take over the family firm with its assured income and thousands of employees, much as I did not follow him into the law under an inscription that would have pleased him, 'Glass & Son, Attorneys at Law'. We were both 21 when we ventured overseas, he sailing as a merchant marine and naval officer in 1942, me as a grad student in 1972. He came home five years later. I never returned.

He married my mother when he was 28.

I married at 26. He had his first child, me, at 30. Mine came when I was 27, but it felt strange to get ahead of him. His marriage lasted five years, mine for 17. He had a second wife, for a year, and a third, whom he loved profoundly and happily, for 40. God, he was lucky. I have yet to find a second, putting him well ahead of me.

As a youngster, he made his father proud.

He was a champion American football player at Loyola High School, one of the 11 players chosen in 1937 as the best in all of Los Angeles. I did not play football. At law school, he finished first in his class and came top in his examinations for the California bar. That may have softened Grandad's disappointment that neither of his sons would assume the family business. As a son, I was proud of my father too. But I did not give him much to be proud of.

In my last year at university, when the draft board seemed poised to call me to the colours, I met Dad for breakfast in one of the coffee shops where he had ham and eggs in the company of other lawyers, horse trainers and touts, criminal clients, meat packers and businessmen. He was on his own with the Los Angeles Times when I walked in, concealing my fear of him and of his reaction to what I had to tell him. I can see the restaurant now, but cannot remember whether he was eating his eggs or drinking his mug of coffee when I came to the point. If the army called, I would not serve. If prosecuted and convicted, I would go to prison. He did not agree or disagree, and he was not angry. If the government took me to court, he said, he would be my lawyer. He had saved men from the gas chamber. He would keep me out of prison.

It was an era, denied retrospectively by many of my newly reactionary and prosperous contemporaries, when fathers and sons stopped understanding one another. I knew someone whose father reported him to the police for smoking marijuana. The boy spent a few months in jail. His father told me years later that he believed it was the right thing at the time, but he had regretted it ever after.

There were other resolute fathers and rebellious sons. Many ruptures did not mend. …

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