Son, Husband, Father
Updated: Oct 24, 2021
Some time ago my brother passed away. As it goes an obituary was written. It was shared around to make sure that everything that needed to be in it was added before sending it to the paper to be made public. I gave my approval but I didn’t contribute. To me it seemed so authoritative. Now that his life had been summarized that was it. That was how he would be remembered.
Of course that isn’t exactly true. There was so much more to my brother than what he did or his relationship to other people. I found myself asking, “If he was more than a son, husband and father? Was he more than his accomplishments or the things he enjoyed? If not then how could I describe a man?” I wondered this not just for my brother but for anyone. Maybe what I was really asking was, “How did I want to be remembered?”
So I started listing all the things I could remember about him. I put it in a notebook. Then I spilled something on it. Then I lost it in the bottom of a bag where it became friends with an over ripe banana. It molded, got thrown out, and I started over.
The list went something like this:
He was big
His shoes stank
He gave great hugs
He played guitar well
He was sad a lot but he made other people happy when he was around
He liked to drink and have a good time
The list went on like that for a while. I thought it was good but I still felt like I wanted to find a way to convey what it was like to be in a room with him.
People are more than a list of characteristics. Everyone has something they add to a room and you don’t know what it is that you yourself add either. When you’re a kid you know the smell of your friend’s house. When you tell them that they might have asked you what their own house smelled like. It’s an indescribable notion. How do you describe something like a smell without giving a list of its traits or comparing it to something else. I didn’t want to tell you how he made me feel. I wanted to make you feel that way too. I wanted to preserve a piece of my brother in such a way that I could hold on to him for a little longer.
So I sat on it. I started elaborating on the items on my list to see if one of them could give me a clue. After a while I put them to a meter. A couple of the lines started to rhyme so I let them. Weeks went by and it started to sound like a poem and then I was asked to speak at his memorial. This is what I said:
My brother has a twinkle set aside
He keeps it near at hand for other's eyes
Feet so long they eat miles in a stride
No boot nor shoe those stinking toes abide
He has some fingers made for melodies
Grandiose dreams too vast for guitar strings
The boy is big enough to fill a room
His presence blossoms high, a peacock's plume
A clever grin he hides behind his beard
And you can coax it out with but a beer
He gives a hug so big you loose yourself
When found again your worries on a shelf
Free from a siege upon his heavy heart
The things that made him great shall not depart
The forest where his crunching feet reside
In music when your spirit he will ride
His love and passion will be here awhile
As long as we all keep a clever smile
We love you Brother, We will keep you close.
It’s fine. Certainly not some piece of literary genius, but when I read it I’m taken back. I can close my eyes and imagine that I’m still sitting across from him. It’s too early to get started on chores. We’re chatting about some weird dream one of us had and waiting for the coffee to gurgle. I could wait for that coffee the rest of my life.
I open my eyes and smell the coffee. More than that, I can smell my brother. That indelible mark he left on my soul is still there. I don’t know what kind of mark that I’m leaving on others. Am I just someone’s son, husband, or father? What kind of man am I? No one can tell me what kind of mark I leave on them just like no one can tell me precisely what my house smells like. I’m just doing my best and I hope that my home is an inviting one.