No Man's Land

Traversing the rough terrain between a father's expectations and a son's aspirations

According to family lore, on the day I was born my father changed the name of his lawn-mower repair company to P.B. Robson & Son. In 1953 a son in the Robson family merited a new shingle in big block letters. Three years earlier, much to the disappointment of my father's parents, my mother and father had a baby girl. One of my earliest memories is a ritual my mother would enact when she put me to bed as a toddler, mimicking my dad's reaction to my birth. "A boy!" she'd say, her face exploding with glee as I giggled joyfully at the happiness I'd caused and sank deeper into my pillows, ready for sweet dreams, while my older sister listened silently from the top bunk.

There was never any doubt that my father would name me Paul Britton Robson Junior. All his life he has cherished and championed his family legacy. He venerated his parents, especially my grandfather, a gardener who managed a greenhouse and the surrounding grounds of a spacious estate in the Boston suburb of Brookline. My dad was born, the second of two sons, in 1926, in the gardener's cottage on the estate. Aside from a brief period when he dropped out of high school and joined the navy near the end of the Second World War, he lived as close as possible to his parents from the time he was born until the days they died.

My first home was approximately 200 yards up the driveway from the cottage, where my parents, my two sisters, and I were wedged into a small apartment above the estate's six-car garage. Despite these modest circumstances, my status as the only son in a patriarchal family made me feel as if I was born into a place of honor. A dominant trait in Robson males, a high, square forehead that sets off our facial features, invariably prompted people to comment on how much I resembled my father.

On weekends I frequently stayed down at the cottage with my adoring grandparents. Many weekday nights, when my mother was working as a waitress or going to school to learn how to keep the books for my father's business, my younger sister and I would nestle on my dad's lap as he watched our little black-and-white television set, or we'd pester him to play games with us. We'd walk up his body and do backward somersaults with him holding on, or clutch tightly to his wrists as he bent down and pretended to pick us up by our ears.

Best of all was the "roughhousing" that my father reserved just for me, a toughening ritual that simultaneously flooded me with exhilaration and exasperation. Crouched in the middle of the living-room floor, he'd whip out an arm and upend me, then pull me beneath him and rub his stubble against my cheeks like sandpaper, then push me away and curl into a ball, taunting and laughing as I pummeled him with my hands, arms, and knees. At the end of one particularly torturous bout, my mother announced that it was my bedtime. I was still in a rage as my dad came up on his knees to hug me goodnight, and I punched him as hard as I could in the eye. Whether his reaction was reflexive or punitive, I was suddenly halfway across the room, literally seeing stars. Aside from the time I became enamored of the word fuck and was spanked for the impertinence, it was the only occasion when my father laid a hand on me in anger.

Although the family didn't have much money, there was always a trove of gifts under the tree on Christmas morning. The year I was eight, after everything had been unwrapped, my father led me down to the garage. There, gleaming with a fresh coat of blue paint, was a roadster specifically built to my size, powered by an old lawn-mower engine and complete with an ignition key and a black button that would kill the power should I ever steer into danger. After strapping on my helmet and whizzing up and down the estate's winding, quarter-mile driveway a few times, I emerged from the vehicle intoxicated by childlike greed and a desire that the holiday bounty never end. "Are there any other presents?" I asked. The word crestfallen was invented for the way my dad looked. It was not the last time I would cause him to feel that way.

 

A few months later, in the spring of '61, my parents and grandparents pooled their resources and bought a 14-room house--an old stagecoach stop built in the 1800s, complete with a barn and three acres of land--in Norfolk, about 35 miles southeast of Boston, in the Massachusetts countryside. Strapping down our belongings in the back of a pickup truck, my father bristled with purposeful energy. Before we had finished unpacking, he was propping up sagging walls and painting over the nursery-rhyme murals that were holdovers from the period when the house had been converted into a school.

Room by room, the place was reconfigured and remodeled. As my mother handled the wallpapering, linoleum, and upholstery, my father (initially in comically bickering tandem with my grandfather) did the paneling and other carpentry, along with the drywalling, masonry, electricity, and plumbing.

Soon my sisters and I each had our own completely refinished room. In the corner of mine was a group picture of my father and his navy buddies, plus a certificate of his graduation from a martial arts academy, described by my grandfather as "a man-killing course." To get into the class, my grandfather once told me, potential recruits had to run and do a forward flip six feet in front of a concrete wall. When I asked my father about all this, he'd put me off with a wave of his hand and a cryptic, "Oh, that was a long time ago." Years later, when he was in his early forties and was being egged on by a childhood friend, I saw him do a running flip in the side yard.

When I was about nine, my father enrolled both of us in a Friday-night judo class. At the end of each session, the students engaged in matches. My dad, wearing the white belt of a beginner, rarely participated. But one time he agreed to square off against a brown belt, a man much bigger than my father, who stood a couple of inches below six feet and weighed 155 pounds. In my memory it was a legendary tussle: My father never tried to flip the man, but despite the increasingly vigorous efforts of his opponent, never let himself be thrown. Afterward in the locker room, the man clapped my father on the shoulder and asked him if he'd ever had any previous training. My father allowed that he'd "fooled around some" when he was younger. Then, as was the pattern on Friday nights, nearly all the fathers and sons finished off the night with a naked swim in the YMCA pool.

One evening around then, my father announced that he was going to show me some things "so you can take care of yourself when you have to." Within an hour I'd learned how to incapacitate someone by grabbing and twisting his hand, driving my elbow into his nose, or squeezing sensitive pressure points in the back of his neck. ("One thing," my dad emphasized. "You never, never, hit a girl.") Months later, when an impromptu wrestling match with a much bigger teammate from Little League suddenly turned into a brawl, I remembered what I'd been shown. Using a judo pin move, I slid my knee beneath my opponent's shoulder on the ground, wrapped him in a headlock, and nestled my head down tight against his. Frightened by his angry vows to "beat the shit" out of me, I began squeezing the back of his neck until I heard him begin to howl, and then cry. Much to my relief, he finally yelled, "Okay! Okay!" I let him up and began to walk away, only to have him spin me around and land a haymaker on my nose.

Arriving home sobbing and covered in blood, I told my father what had happened. He leaned down, his face inches from mine, and spoke with a passion that further unnerved me. "The lesson here is, never, ever let someone up until you're good and ready and you're sure he can't hurt you any more." Right then I knew that I lacked my father's killer instinct. Although I have never run from a fight, they have always terrified me and left me emotionally rattled for weeks afterward.

 

By sweating and scrapping to ensure that his children would live more comfortably than he had, my father buffered me from experiences that might have hardened my character. It wasn't easy: A few years after moving to Norfolk, he decided it would be better to sell his repair business and sell lawn mowers and snow blowers to small dealers throughout rural New England instead. When his first employer went out of business, he signed on with a friend who owned a construction company to make ends meet. I remember one afternoon when he came home for lunch caked in dirt and sweat from head to toe, ate a sandwich at my grandparents' kitchen table, and then, without a word, drove off to finish out the day.

Things got worse. My mother entered the hospital for three weeks, beset by gallstones and an ulcer. While she was there, I awoke one morning to a commotion in my grandparents' living room. My grandfather, his face porcelain and blue, was hunched forward, a thin trail of mucus hanging from his lips, his left side numb. It was a heart attack. "It's all right, Sonny, it's okay, Paulie, there's nothing you can do," he wheezed to my father, who stood with him until the ambulance arrived. Two things remain with me from the day my grandfather died: the look of abject helplessness on my father's face, and the word Sonny--the same term of endearment my father often used with me.

Parenthood is about perseverance, the heroism of daily reliability. My father found another sales job and later turned down a better opportunity when the family voiced its opposition to a move to Wisconsin. He and my mother surrounded us with a marvelous menagerie: a horse for my older sister, pigs (that we eventually ate) for my younger sister and me, sheep, a passel of dogs and cats, a talking myna bird that dominated a corner of the kitchen with his chatter.

My parents played as hard as they worked, and in sleepy Norfolk (population 2,000), the parties they threw in our barn's refurbished basement became the hedonistic social event of most every season. At least four or five times a year, and especially on New Year's Eve, anywhere from 35 to 100 people would converge on a Saturday night, consume massive quantities of alcohol, and stage a revelry, occasionally piling into an antique fire truck my father had renovated for a jaunt around our field, whooping, singing, and clanging the bell. A short night's sleep later, a dozen or so guests would return to clean up the mess, drink bloody marys, and tease those with the biggest hangovers.

But most weekends were spent working. With my grandfather gone, I was frequently enlisted to help my dad chip away at his never-ending list of projects. Something always needed to be fixed, made, moved, tuned up, or otherwise maintained. At times the work was hard, steady labor, as when the house and the barn needed a new roof, or a crop of potatoes was ready to be unearthed, carted up the field in wheelbarrows, and stored in the shed. Other times my role was to fetch tools or hold something in place as my father--always talking to himself and inventing new combinations of curses--saw to the task. On that score I was far more valuable to him for my youthful brawn than my common sense. He'd be in some godforsaken position (wedged, say, into the narrow crawlspace between the stone foundation and the 120-year-old floorboards, wrestling with a pipe or some electrical wire) and yell for me to run to the barn for a clamp, socket wrench, or shears. With comic regularity, I'd dash out to the workshop, frantically rifle through the clutter where he'd told me to look, and dash back to report that I couldn't find it. Two minutes and one baleful stare later, he'd be heading back to the job with the tool in his hand.

Any friends unlucky enough to happen by before I was set free often were included in the project at hand, a fact that earned my father the nickname Little Hitler--an unfortunate moniker that, in the classic tradition of teenage perversity, was affixed to him with a good deal of affection. His larger-than-life image among the guys I hung out with was cinched one night during high school when we were playing cards in the kitchen after a grueling week of summer football practice. As my father was getting a snack from the refrigerator, one of my friends, John Finase, commented that the workouts had strengthened him to the point where he just might be able to best the old man in a pushup contest. My father casually replied that he would do two one-handed pushups for every one my friend was able to do with two hands. John promptly reeled off 50. My father, his left hand behind his back, proceeded to double that. Another friend then did 30 and told my father he only had to match it. My dad, this time with the other hand behind his back, did 60.

 

It would be easy, and perhaps accurate, to conclude that my father used his physical strength to compensate for his lack of formal education. Yet he is also one of the most intelligent and perceptive people I have ever met, and he has exerted more influence on the way I think and interact with others than anyone else.

The only time I have ever heard him even obliquely criticize his parents is when he expresses regret that they let him quit high school--a mistake he was determined not to repeat with me. Before I had finished the second grade, he had begun to propagandize about my future, telling me that I was going to enlist in the navy and then attend MIT on the GI Bill. Even my innocent fantasies about becoming a professional baseball player were carefully rebutted with detailed explanations of the long odds of achieving such a goal. "Get your college degree and then figure out what you want to do," he'd say.

Among my father's often-repeated golden rules: Never gossip or speak ill of someone behind his back; criticize a person to his face, speaking directly and without rancor. Give at least as much value as you're being compensated for, and never owe anybody anything. No matter what the circumstances, he practiced what he preached.

He'd sit and talk with me for hours on end. Generally these conversations were of two distinctive types. In one type, usually begun as the dinner dishes were being cleared, he taught me how to argue. (It being the 1960s, there was no shortage of polarizing issues.) Specifically, I learned from him how to cajole and parry, when to hammer on a salient point and when to change the subject or obfuscate by invoking a semantic technicality or an outrageous overstatement. Through trial and error, I gradually became adept at thinking on the fly. Because the person who left the table in a huff was perceived to have lost the battle--and my father reserved a rankling, victorious chortle for just such occasions--I learned how to speak with passion without letting my emotions take control. Whenever my logic was particularly taut, or whenever I identified a fundamental flaw in his reasoning or refused to let him bait me, my father's proud, satisfied smile (albeit a brief one) revealed where his priorities lay.

The second type of conversation usually happened late at night, and usually after my father's sentimental streak had been set loose by alcohol. At their essence, these discussions were about the glory of family and centered on rhapsodic paeans to my grandfather, my mother, and me. Although all his children were given these "Robson talks," I received the lion's share. "Your grandfather--my father--was such a remarkable man," he'd say. "Like all Robsons, he was a scrapper and a fighter, a person who stood up for his family and held it together. He and your grandmother--there isn't anything they wouldn't do for you. And now your mother is part of it too. The best thing I ever did was marry that woman. And you, you and your sisters, you've got some of that same stuff. It's in
your blood."

I wasn't so sure. I usually emerged from these conversations suffused with a sense of pride and foreboding, questioning whether I was worthy of the responsibility of my place in the family and, if so, whether I wanted to accept it. Over time it became increasingly apparent that the answer to one of those questions was no--that I was not going to become the person I thought my father wanted me to be. In retrospect it's probably no coincidence that writing and organized team sports--arenas that were mostly foreign to my dad--became the outlets for my artistic and physical creativity, while I never was able to absorb his gift for working with his hands. Despite the hours we put in together, I remain the person who infamously, as a teenager, tried to refuel the family tractor by pouring gasoline into the radiator. And were it not for a high number in the draft lottery, I would have been more likely to be jailed as a conscientious objector than to enlist in the navy.

I knew all this was disheartening to my father just as surely as I came to know there was nothing I could do to change it. Throughout my childhood and beyond, we executed an unspoken emotional dance: I did my best not to disappoint him and he tried to prod and instill in me his intense fidelity to family without undue pressure. Because the potential for failure was high on both ends, we clung to our roles as the dutiful son and respectful father.

In lieu of the GI Bill, my parents volunteered to bear the cost of sending me to college, and I naturally gravitated toward schools that were hundreds of miles away. In September 1971 my mother and father drove me and my stuff out to Ohio University in Athens. My mother told me later that after he'd dropped me off, my father pulled off the road and cried in her arms.

 

During my first year away at school, my dad immersed himself in the grand project of coordinating the construction of two duplexes on our property. With the last of their children soon to graduate from high school, my parents had decided to sell the house and barn, subdivide their land, move into half of one of the duplexes, and rent out the other units. Given how much value their craftsmanship had added to the property and the fact that both held well-paying jobs, their economic prospects had never been rosier.

My father began subscribing to the Wall Street Journal and educating himself in the maze of financial management. When I came home for the summer, the relative importance of money became a hot topic of our dinner-table arguments. At 19, already a veteran of anti-war marches and ROTC building takeovers, I was conveniently oblivious to the irony that my father was not only footing the bill for my education, but paying me to help him get the duplexes up. Indeed, it was such an easy way for him to checkmate my self-righteous idealism that he almost never mentioned it.

By Christmas break of my sophomore year, I had determined that I was going to quit school after the spring. When I told my dad, he was bricking in a new stove in the old house in preparation for putting it on the market. Covered in mortar dust, he sat on an upturned bucket in the middle of the floor as I explained that I knew this meant his financial commitment to my education was over and pledged that I would someday earn my degree. For about half a minute he said nothing. Then he said, "Okay, I guess you're old enough to begin making your own decisions," and returned to his task.

For the next four years I was happily adrift, frequently hitchhiking on cross-country jaunts, living in a tent for four months in the Berkshire Mountains, and settling down briefly in Boston, Cincinnati, and Seattle. After a lucrative stint on a General Motors assembly line, I took a couple of stabs at the University of Washington in Seattle in the mid-Seventies but dropped out for good when a woman I had met in Cincinnati came to live with me. After two blissful months together, Anita and I hitchhiked through Canada and down to Ohio. I was heading back to Norfolk, where my younger sister and a good friend of mine from Seattle were getting married in the field between the duplexes and the old house. After a couple of days in Cincinnati, Anita would join me for the wedding.

The next two weeks were an emotional train wreck, a spectacular internal collision between my childhood role as the family golden boy and my self-styled persona as a Kerouacian vagabond. Arriving at my parents' home, I was immediately enmeshed in helping my father build one of his contraptions: Fifty-gallon barrels were sawed in half and welded together to make a long grill for a bed of coals, over which spits of meat would be rotated by a gear system hooked up to a lawn-mower engine.

Amid the tumult of odd jobs, old friends and relatives, and the ceremonial aspects of my dual role as best man and brother of the bride, Anita walked in, a little nervous about meeting my parents and looking to me for support. Unfortunately, I was still naive enough in the ways of romance to blur the distinction between infatuation and love. When I didn't immediately feel that familiar sexual frisson toward her (quite understandable, given the circumstances), doubt bordering on panic set in. As I was trying to talk myself down, my mother let it drop that Anita and my father, who had picked her up at the train station while I was on another errand, hadn't hit it off on the ride home. Specifically, my father found her to be "funny"--as in a little bit strange. The morning after the wedding, I told my horrified lover that I couldn't bear to have her around right then, and put her on a bus back to Cincinnati.

It would be an overstatement to say that my father's ambivalence toward Anita prompted my immature reaction. But it's undeniable that my panic was caught up in family dynamics, and that an inevitable reckoning was at hand. After the wedding, my father was in high family fettle. For the past few years he had exercised admirable restraint in response to what I'm sure he felt were my pointless shenanigans. But now he perceived an opportunity to simultaneously rescue me from my obvious agony and realize his desire to have me live nearby. The next few days were a veritable marathon of Robson talks. In the course of his testimonials to family pride and loyalty, my father advised me to get into sales or marketing, promising to help in any way he could.

One day we drove two and half hours up to York, Maine, and stopped along a side road on a ridge overlooking a beautiful vista, where herons stood watch in the cranberry bog below. This was where my parents were planning to move in order to escape the high taxes of Massachusetts. Pointing out the stakes that demarcated his lot, my father said, "Isn't this a great place to build a home? Can you imagine it?" I nodded, remembering that before I was born, he and my grandfather had built a house together in Massachusetts.

Two nights before I was scheduled to return to Seattle, I found my dad asleep in a chair after one of our long conversations. After I'd helped him upstairs, he stood in his bedroom doorway and gave me a long hug. "You know, Sonny, you don't have to go," he said. "There's so much we can do together."

 

But I did go. After stewing in Seattle for three months, I went to Cincinnati and moved in with Anita. (Although the relationship lasted four years, we would never completely heal the damage I'd wrought the weekend of the wedding.) My father never again broached the possibility that I might come home to live with him. As is his wont, any hurt he felt from my leaving he kept to himself. I will always be grateful for that.

After a series of jobs at construction sites and nursing homes, I began to find my niche writing for magazines and sent the clippings home for my parents to read. During my hitchhiking days, I had published poetry, prose, and music reviews, which proved to be just enough grist for arguments with my father about the viability of the endeavor. Still, for my 28th birthday, my parents sent me a reverse dictionary, a thesauruslike tome designed to supplement a writer's vocabulary. Beneath my mother's inscription inside the jacket, my dad had written, "You're getting there. Prove me wrong! I love it!"

A few months later, my mother called to inform me that she had cancer. After a year's worth of chemotherapy treatments, she eradicated the disease. Because they couldn't disassociate the house in York from dreadful memories of the ordeal, my parents sold it and moved into what originally had been their summer cottage, in the woods of Gray, Maine. Over the years my father had already added a master bedroom, bathroom, and sewing room to the place. Once it became their primary residence, he went to work constructing a huge garage--he called it a barn--as a combination workshop and storage space. If such a thing was possible, my mother's illness strengthened the bond between them. "That cancer, Jesus Christ that's nasty stuff," my father would say. After the chemo, he took to calling her Nails--as in "tough as nails."

When she went in for a five-year checkup, my mother learned the disease had returned. As is often the case, the cancer was more virulent the second time around. Because my father has never been comfortable around hospitals or other signs of pending mortality, my younger sister flew in to help. Within six months of her second diagnosis, in March 1988, my mother died at age 59. That morning, my father took us out to a quiet restaurant near the hospital. He ceremoniously presented my mother's wedding ring to my older sister, and to my younger sister he gave the diamond ring he had surprised my mother with one Christmas. Then he began to talk about their 38 years of marriage, concluding with, "If you're asking if I think I'm ever going to see her again? Yeah." It is the only time I have ever heard him say something even remotely religious.

All three of us children were concerned about what might happen to him, residing on his own in the middle of the woods. Yet we knew he'd reject the notion of staying with any of us, either in Maine or where we lived. He had too much pride to share the depth of his grief. When he did visit me six months later in Minneapolis, where I had moved three years earlier, it gave me enormous satisfaction to know that the fundamentals of my life--marriage, a new son, my own house, and a job as the speechwriter for the governor--were consonant with his hopes for me.

To my surprise, he gradually began dating. His first semi-serious relationship was with a wealthy woman who owned a house on the ocean but who made the fatal mistake of nagging him once too often. The second one provided just the tonic he needed. At a singles gathering at a Maine bar, he wandered away from the nametagged group and struck up a conversation worthy of Bogie and Bacall. "Do you want to go to Mexico with me?" was his opening line. "Sure," she replied. "I'm not kidding," my father said. "Neither am I," she answered.

She was Pol, a vivacious woman 17 years younger than my father who eked out a living selling her homegrown herbs at the local farmers' market and put great stock in Native American spirituality and various new-age behaviors. But what she and my dad shared was an intrepid sense of adventure: Mexico was just one of many places they went together. Before long my father invited me up to Gray--wanting me to tell him, I suspect, whether he was making a fool of himself. "Nobody will ever take the place of your mother," he asserted, then sighed. "But that was another life."

He needn't have worried. It was clear that Pol helped restore his old vitality. It wasn't long before he embarked on perhaps his greatest construction project to date: digging into the hillside beneath his home, propping it up with supports, and building a one-bedroom basement apartment he could rent out to supplement his income. Aside from the man who drove in the cement truck and helped him pour the foundation, my father built the entire thing virtually single-handedly, from the excavation to the finish carpentry. He was 67 years old.

A little more than two years ago, as we talked on the phone, I asked him how Pol was. "Okay, I guess. We're not seeing each other much any more," he replied. The breakup had occurred six weeks earlier, but my father, in classic form, hadn't volunteered the news to anyone. "After six years of seeing somebody, it's a little tough to get used to them not being around," he understated. (Since that time, he and Pol have reconciled and split once more; they remain friends.)

That winter, rather than merely take his customary jaunt south to escape the Maine weather, my dad used some of the money he earned as a freelance insurance investigator to purchase a seasonal home in a Florida retirement community. Giving the gambit every chance, he took golf lessons and signed up to play on a softball team. A year later he sold the house. "Everybody in that place is rickety," he complained. "Talking about their ailments--my God, that's an afternoon's worth of their entertainment right there! I had to get out of there."

But he needed another option. When my father is alone in the middle of the woods, it gives him that much more opportunity to worry about how his kids are doing. (Not that he would ever embark on a visit to find out for himself.) Last year he hatched a plan that could at least maim two birds with one stone, and in the process resurrect his vision of the Robson Way. Knowing that my sister's family would probably forever be prohibited from buying a home by the exorbitant price of Seattle real estate, he proposed that he move into the downstairs apartment in Gray and give them the upstairs for a nominal rent. After some initial trepidation about the obvious issues of independence, my sister and her family agreed and made the move last November.

In April my father flew me and my family out to Maine for a week to look over any items of furniture we might want to claim as he downsized into the smaller space. Aside from some nasty weather, it was a surprisingly laid-back, blissfully uneventful trip. On the next-to-last night of our stay, as both sibling families and our father sat down to dinner at a restaurant, he ordered a martini from the waitress. Lest anyone miss the point, he added, "I think I'll have a little truth serum." Somewhere in the middle of his third martini, the topic turned to the oceanfront property in a godforsaken corner of northeastern Maine that my father bequeathed to me not long ago. Mocking my paucity of handyman skills, I noted that I probably wouldn't even to be able to erect a serviceable lean-to on the land. For the rest of the meal, my father devoted himself to the topic. "Oh, you'd do fine," he said enthusiastically, animated by the idea. "You wouldn't need much, and besides, it's getting in there and figuring it out, finding out what you can do, having fun with it." From there he went on to talk about getting to know the townspeople and enlisting the help and cooperation of surrounding neighbors to protect it from vandalism.

I was struck by a couple of things about the conversation: that my father kept saying you could do this instead of we; and that what he was really trying to convey and encourage in me was the infectious joy he derives from the process, as opposed to the product, of his efforts. Normally he would have returned to the subject once we got home, in the form of a Robson talk. Instead he spent the time before bed playing games with his grandson.

 

By my lights, Father's Day, like too many American "Days," is a cynical scam to invoke ersatz sentiment for the sake of commerce. Yet for this year's model, it has been as good an excuse as any to sort out the welter of emotions my father and I have produced in each other. He has loved me, and what I represent to him, with a consuming force that at times has intimidated me with its strength. On balance that's not a bad downside; if anything it has produced more heartache for him than for me.

As for the upside, my father's love, encouragement, and example have provided me with the self-confidence to assume I can interact with anyone on an equal basis--an invaluable, self-fulfilling expectation that continually enriches me. At least in part because of him, I have a nuanced understanding of human nature and cherish my wife for the right reasons. Most of all, because of the adventurous way he has lived his life, and the restraint he has exercised in allowing me to live mine, I have the courage to trust change and embrace spontaneity.

Right now, at the age of 73, my father is caught up in the process of refurbishing a lobster boat to take out on the ocean and dock at a marina--a ready-made social setting to assuage his loneliness. He is living in a home he built himself, and so is his youngest daughter.

Every now and then he will say to me, with genuine concern, "Do you know how proud I am of you?"

I do. And it helps to sustain me, every day.

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