My father listed the address of every house where he ever lived. He listed every company he ever worked for. He listed his religious affiliations, his schools, and his absence of anything else to list. He listed his life in addresses and employers.
So I googled the house where he was born on 15th Street in Moline and it’s a clapboard duplex, sadly leaning into itself, unsteady on its foundation after a hundred years on a beautifully shady street with lots of cracks in the sidewalk. Hanging branches of greenery obscure the large front porch.
The second house, where he was a toddler, has more character and is also over a hundred years old, with a better roof. I didn’t look up all the other addresses. I think I will. Will it help me to know him better?
I have spent the day obsessively transcribing ancestor information to my family tree. I pulled down the frayed manila envelopes with all my Dad’s genealogy charts, reading them for the first time, though he must have sent them to me over twenty years ago. There is so much I wouldn’t look at for so long. My father’s precise handwriting fills page after page. I find my father’s cover letter with a copy of Grandma’s self-published coloring book, an artifact from another generation. To my surprise, he praises Grandma, saying she “was at her best as a mother to my wife and a good mother-in-law to me. You can see her in my wife, almost two peas in a pod. May their souls rest in peace.”
Who was this man? He never spoke well of my mother’s family. Ever.
I watch myself trust his genealogy information when I didn’t trust him. I watch myself meticulously transcribe his neat handwritten boxes to my computer charts and I wonder, will this help me to know him? What am I doing with all this secondary contact? Is this a healing endeavor?
It used to be utterly confusing to find Good Daddy co-existing with Bad Daddy. Venturing on purpose into Good Daddy territory now, I feel its weight as something I can bear. Finally. Accepting his good days as I let the photographs of his old homes fill my imagination, I don’t know where this leads. I’m beginning to trust it.