I suppose that most everyone who has had the experience of growing up in some sort of family situation where they have been influenced directly by a father and events that have involved his effect have a particular story to tell. These events influence the course of our lives on a scale that in the hindsight of later life seems astounding in their effect on one’s subsequent existence. My own tale, still being discovered, involved a rise and fall in my esteem for my own father that extended over the greater portion of both our lives. It seems that all heavenly bodies however brilliant must rise and then eventually fall. For my own impressions, as sketchy now as they have become from too many decades of holding them bottled up within the long held casks of supposedly inviolable assumptions, I can offer much less to decant than I have for so long expected. The residue offer much less in fact and flavor now that the actual man that they revolved around has been been gone so long enough as to be less upon the daily musings of my conscious mind. One might think that all dust has settled on these topics except for occasional haphazard incidents and discoveries that unexpectedly come forth to light.
I was a movie child. Whether by fact of my parent predilection for the cinema or the larger era that focused so many in the culture to avidly attend, I can recall so many poignant family moments and milestones as being associated with the mental impressions in the aftermath of a night at the cinema with my folks. Little was I aware of how significant some of the these popular productions were to my father and the experiences of his generation. Nor could I know not help but recognize a larger sense of fatal destiny encompassing not only the unresolved issues of my own family but the culture that has equally seemed to have been effected in a similar sense of unforeseen destiny. The greatest of authors and filmmakers seem more recognizable for their genius long after the initial clamor pro or con of their published works have long faded into the obsolescence outside the collective memory. Tonight, my discovery, or should I say re-discovery, is a popular cinematic epic from the nineteen-sixties on the siege of Peking entitled, “55 Days at Peking.” Superficially a flashy tale of a former world of unrepentant Hollywood amplified male virtues transfixed upon a subtext of a larger twisted backdrop of political intrigue of the sort that the unspoiled child would be completely immune to. Like so many things in that time of transition into adolescence, it being impossible not to trivialize the experience of my parent’s lives as being simply ‘out-of-date’ to my own embryonic introduction to what seemed at the time the ‘real world’. To me, the story had no context beyond the usual glitz of some easily identifiable contemporary actor flexing their star power persona in another playground of historical fiction posing as probable fact. To my father however, I now see it was quite something else.
My father was a China Marine. One of those rare destiny struck individuals whose existence had been marred by a larger epic sense of economic exploitation by the few only to be enlisted int a great and terrible adventure known as the final conflict of the Pacific war and then subsequently as part of the final force of pan-European occupation of what we are told is the now most dominant up and coming cultural force of the coming era. He was stationed in Tientsin, after being shipped from a birth of fire in Okinawa and experienced vital transformations that I can only now in some small way begin the understand. Small seemingly innocuous artifacts that have persisted in view over the years attest to a narrative that his actions in later life were formed by. The deep intensity of a passing romance that was abruptly cut short by a decision to return to his loved ones back in the United States. Landscapes wrought in a faux Chinese style of painting that still set enthroned in the master bedroom of my aged mother’s home. Lingering stories of bathing suits, drinking parties and a recognized preeminence summoned from a mundane offhanded gift of ball point pens swirl about like scraps of paper within a restless whirlwind. I can only imagine now the type of intense reflections that the initial viewing of this now forgotten cinematic epic might have summoned sitting within the flickering darkness of a downtown movie palace with his wife and his son. And I can now, in this present time some forty years after the fact, taste an equally bitter barb of an awareness that I through my own attitude of vainglorious ignorance of never asking a simple question or two about what it meant to him. The adage that the grave is silent also holds the inference that one’s knowledge of self is equally as finite and elusive as the solitary source of the life of that significant force in your own existence which has now been permanently extinguished.