Dreams and Plans — Finding It: Chapter 26
After giving Patsy a final couple of pats and cleaning her fur from the currycomb, I returned it to a nail beside her bridle and followed my father outside.
Dad offered me a ride home. It was still cold enough that I accepted it. Inside his truck was still warm from his driving around to each of the barns to check on things. He started his engine and I thought we were going to leave but the truck remained in neutral while we sat there.
“I’ll call that family today about Patsy.”
“Do you remember the first day we got her?” Dad asked.
“It was a complete surprise.”
“You were so excited. You always wanted a horse. That’s all you ever talked about for a while. You wanted one so bad that you could taste it.”
“And then the first time I mounted up to ride her…”
“You couldn’t wait for the saddle. You were sure you could ride her bareback.”
“Everybody on TV could do it.”
“Was that your first lesson not to believe everything you see on TV?”
“I don’t know, Dad. But she took off with me clinging onto her mane.”
“And she leaped over the ditch and left you hanging in mid-air above it.” Dad laughed at his remembrance.
“I’m glad you thought it was funny.”
“Well, you landed in water and mud, so once I knew nothing was hurt ‘cept your pride — yeah, it was funny.” Then he seemed to change his present focus and mood. “So, tell me, what was the occasion today?”
“I don’t think you’ve spent more than an hour totally alone with Patsy for the past year. Something’s going on.”
“I needed to think.”
“About what we were talking about?”
“That was some of it. That and other things. I needed to be alone and talk to someone who would listen but not argue with me, I guess.”
“Patsy hears every sound you make but as for listening…”
“She listens. She’s smarter than you think.”
“Maybe so.” He allowed. “But if any horse ever talks back to you, that could get you committed — or make you a rich man.”
“Sor of like Mr. Ed.”
“You loved that show. You watched it every week.”
“I wanted a horse more so back then, but I got a pony for Christmas instead.”
“I know, it wasn’t the same thing. And because you saw truck tracks in the snow on the way to the barn, you knew that Santa’s sleigh hadn’t delivered your Christmas gift.”
“That was the beginning of my doubts.”
“The sparkle of Christmas was tarnished.”
“All that commercial stuff.” Dad scoffed as he shook his head. “It’s all fantasy. Fantasy’s one of those things that if you can afford it, it’s pretty good,” Dad said. “When you’re so focused on just surviving, you have to rely a lot on other people’s fantasies to see you through.”
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean.”
“You tell me you want to write, making up stories for other people to read. If that’s truly what you want to do, you’re going to be in the business of make-believe. Most people don’t, can’t, or forgot how to make-believe. If you write anything that is printed anywhere, anyone who reads it will be sharing your fantasy instead of making up something of their own.”
“I guess I’ve never thought of it that way. You’re pretty smart, you know?”
“What do you think I do all day when I’m out in the fields on a tractor or running a combine?”
I stared at him, suddenly seeing my dad in a new light.
“My education was limited, not my imagination,” he continued. “I know that if I had a better education, I would have a better life. That’s why I wanted you and your sisters to get a good education and attend college. Your mother and I have saved what we could for all our lives to make that a reality. Joy decided not to go to college. Jean did. You seem to be taking the path, too.”
“I really don’t know about how important education is,” I said. “You did okay.”
“I did okay. It wasn’t easy. It would have been easier if I had an education and knew better than to try all the things that turned out to be mistaken. That’s what I’m saying.”
“There’s no college I know of that teaches people how to be writers. I don’t even know if it can be taught. They can teach the nuts and bolts of how to make sentences and paragraphs, how to give speeches, and present ideas to lots of people. I guess I can learn how other people put their stories together from reading what other writers have published. But I doubt anyone can teach me how to be a writer.”
“Still, all those pieces you learn about are important.”
“That’s true, but there’s a lot more to becoming a writer than knowing the mechanics of it.”
“It’s the foundation, though — where you begin. When I was starting out as a farmer, I knew things grow better with the green side up.”
“That’s a good start.” I laughed.
“It’s about all I knew, that and you had to cut out the weeds before they took over and stole all the sunlight and water from the good plant. I learned that as a kid working in the fields. I learned animals need to be fed, cows must be milked. But I had to learn a lot of things by doing them. Maybe writing is a lot like that,” Dad said.
“It’s a lot of time and a lot of money, going to college.”
“Still, I think you should go. You know that.”
“It’s a great opportunity for me. I appreciate that, but you don’t think studying journalism is intelligent.”
“I never said that. I just think you need to be a doer, not a watcher. Do you get what I’m saying?”
“There are enough people watching and then reporting to me and other people on how bad everything is. Maybe some people need that. Usually, I don’t. I can see things and I’m pretty good at figuring things out. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming people, maybe we need to figure out how to fix this world, get it out of the messes our politicians make, and expect us to live with. Now, they didn’t do that on their own. A whole lot of stupid people elected them. We’re all to blame for letting that happen.”
“Some people think computers are going to help save the world. I don’t know about that. But I’ve told you what I’d do if I was in your shoes. You have the ability to learn anything you want and maybe you can change some things and make everything a little better for everyone else.”
“If you’re expecting engineers and computers to save the world…”
“I’m not. Honestly, I think anything short of Divine intervention will fail, but we’ve gotta try our level best. The world was a rotten place when I was your age, and over my lifetime, it’s only gotten worse. My dad used to tell me that the world was going to the dogs and the best I could do was pick off the fleas.”
“I think you can do better than that, though.”
“I think you did.”
“One man can only do so much. That’s fine. You carve out your place, find a good woman who you love, and she loves you back. Settle down, raise a family and teach your kids to be the best people they can be. If everybody did that, maybe the world wouldn’t be better, but I think it wouldn’t get any worse.”
“Maybe we can fix things in my lifetime.”
“I hope you can.” Dad sighed. “Let’s go for a drive.” He shifted his truck into gear and turned around in the barn lot before heading out the open gate. I got out and closed it behind us. I got back inside the warm truck cab as Dad continued down the lane to the next gate, the one that would lead out onto Jamestown Road.
From experience, I knew what going for a drive meant. It was time I could spend with him, riding shotgun in his pickup. He relied on me to tell him if anything was approaching from the right side. You see, Dad lost his right eye in an accident when he was a young man and it nearly drove him mad. But he learned to live with his limitation.
When we reached the gate, I got out to open it and shut it behind Dad’s truck as he waited for me to climb back inside.
“You know,” he began. “You think what you’re going through is the worst thing in the world, but you should never think that. There are plenty of other problems you’ll have. Some will be so difficult that you’ll feel the pressure in your chest as if there’s a boulder set down upon it. But if you believe, truly believe, you can get through anything.”
“I doubt I’ll ever be as wise as you.”
“You’re a good deal smarter than me.”
“Being smart is not the same thing as being wise.”
“No, it’s not. But at least you’re wise enough to have figured that one out already.”
“When I was younger, I closed my right eye and walked around trying to understand what it was like seeing the world the way you do.”
“You don’t want to know what that’s like,” he said. “I’ve never gotten used to it. If I think about it too much, it smothers me.”
“I’m sorry I made you think about it.”
“I learned a lot about myself from that and not all of it was good. I think everyone goes through some sort of crisis when doubt and despair take over. Maybe you’ll go through it several times. I learned I’m weak and I needed my faith and your mother,” he said. “Without knowing you’re loved a man is less than a man.”
I sat quietly appreciating what Dad was revealing to me.
“When I was younger, I was a lot like you are now. I thought I was indestructible. I was strong and people told me I was handsome. I guess I was. Your mom always said so.”
“You still are.”
Dad shrugged. “I’m older,” he finally said. “And someday, you’ll be my age and probably you’ll have a son of your own.”
I smiled, having heard the remark on several occasions. I was his youngest, his only surviving son. In a few months, I’d turn eighteen. I already registered for the draft and for voting.
“You know, it was almost thirty-five years ago when I lost my eye. You and your sisters wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for what your mom said and did. All we had was Barry,” Dad cleared his throat. “If you’re fortunate enough to find a woman like your mother, she’ll make you a good man. And when you’re not with her you won’t feel complete.”
“Whenever I’ve dated someone, I feel some things. I know I like them otherwise I wouldn’t go out with them. But…”
“Did it feel like something was missing inside whenever you weren’t with them?”
I shook my head.
“You weren’t in love, then.”
“I saw the way each of the girls looked at you. Just like you, they were confused and frustrated and didn’t completely understand everything. I guess we all want to do what’s right, but sometimes we don’t know which direction we need to go.”
“Renée and I talked a lot, mostly about her. She wants to complete her education and achieve a lot of goals, but she doesn’t realize those goals aren’t really hers. That’s why she’s confused. And she could never fit me into those plans because they aren’t hers.”
“Or she’s afraid of the consequences of taking a chance on you,” Dad said.
“And Dawn doesn’t know what she wants to do, but she has a lot of confidence.”
“She puts a lot of faith and trust in her best friend, maybe too much. But who am I to say? She’s known her almost all her life.”
“Sometimes friends are good, but sometimes they aren’t.”
“We’re still friends.”
“Friends can sometimes make good partners in a relationship, but partners have to be more than good friends if things are going to work out,” Dad said.
“Maybe I’m better off just walking away.”
“You want them to realize they made a mistake?”
I shook my head. “Does that ever happen? Does it even matter?”
“I don’t know if it ever happens, but sometimes you probably want it to.”
“When you get comfortable being with someone you don’t want to lose that.”
“No, and that’s just it. When you walk away you both discover the truth. If it hurts so bad you want to die, then maybe you need to turn around and figure out how to make it work. Part of the problem is that women and men have different points of view.”
“Isn’t love always love?”
“It is, but you see, a man has different priorities. The reason that a woman doesn’t feel the same way about you is that you haven’t done something for her that was necessary for her to know that you’re the one.”
“So, the reason a woman looks for someone else is that she wants something that I couldn’t give.”
“Isn’t that why you’re seeing another one? Or maybe you’re both trying to make the last one jealous.”
“I don’t think that’s it. It just happened.”
“You let it happen.”
I silently considered what Dad said.
“Now, you’re trying to fill the emptiness you feel with someone new. But is that fair to her, this new one, Pam?”
“I don’t know, Dad. Pam is different from Renée or Dawn. They’re all smart, but they’re completely different. I like each of them…but for different reasons.”
“Before, I asked you which one was prettier. You told me they were like different sunrises. But now you’re trying to compare them.”
“How do I avoid it?”
“If you want a relationship with Pam, you have to leave your feelings for anybody else behind. It’s not fair to a woman for you to compare her to any other woman you’ve known. How can anyone ever measure up to something they can never be?”
“It was innocent how Pam and I started talking. It was at the tournament where I defeated Mark Heath.”
“You impressed her.”
“We had spoken before that match.”
“Then maybe she was attracted to you before you became famous.”
“I’m hardly famous, Dad.”
He took a deep breath. “You don’t know the truth.”
“People you knew in grade school are asking me about you. A few people have always done that, the kids you knew, your friends. Polite interest — that sort of thing. But it has never been like it is now and that started a few weeks ago.”
“Don’t get a big head from it, but…”
“I never thought it was that big a deal.”
“When you did it, I was proud of you. I knew you could do it. It was just I didn’t know if you ever would… if that makes any sense.”
“It makes complete sense. I did it because I believed.”
“You gained the control you needed to do it.”
“I don’t know what it was, Dad, but it felt amazing. I knew what needed. All the training came together at the right time. I know you don’t believe in magic, but it was magical.”
“I’ve never said I don’t believe in magic. There’s magic in everything,” Dad confirmed. “We’re the ones that decide not to see it. We lose our direction because we don’t believe. We follow the lies people tell us instead of embracing the truth we have inside of us. I’ve always tried to teach you and your sisters there’s nothing beyond you. But it’s still up to you. Nobody is gonna do it for you.”
“That’s where you and Mom differ from other kids’ parents.”
“A lot of people make very good money giving people advice on how to raise kids. I don’t think there is one right way because every child’s a fresh start. Every baby absorbs everything like a sponge. Anyone’s advice is only an opinion, son. If you believe the person giving you the advice, then you listen. But it’s still an opinion. Advice isn’t always right.”
“So, for what it’s worth, if you were in my situation, what would you do?”
“I’d do what you’re doing, except I’d probably take it slow with Pam. You don’t know her. You gotta ask, why is she interested in you? And you have to also be honest enough to ask yourself why you are interested in her?”
“She invited me to a dance at her school next weekend.”
“You should go to her dance. Maybe you’ll find out what you need to know. You might even learn something about yourself, something you didn’t expect.”
“My life’s been filled with a lot of that lately.”
Dad reached across the front seat of his truck and patted my knee. “That’s because you’re becoming a man.”