University of Minnesota
minnesota writing project
center for writing

Minnesota Writing Project.Center for Writing's home page.

Mike Flores

© 2003

What is Worth Remembering?

I’ve just spent three weeks writing, and not writing, about my dad who died more than twenty-five years ago. During that time I listened to other peoples’ stories of their parents, watched kids and parents, and talked to kids and their parents. Basically, I just became more aware than ever of the relationship between moms and dads and their kids. What I’ve come up with is that it’s not worth dredging up all the tough times my dad and I went through.

I was talking to a friend, a mom, the other day, listening to her talk about her daughter’s latest outburst. “Just ignore it! Don’t say anything!” she told herself. I thought to myself, “Yes! That is what I do too, many times a week, or a day, when the 16 to 18-year-olds in my classes blow up, when they whine about this or that, or complain bitterly about their fate, or just sulk silently, saying so much and saying it so much more eloquently.” And I saw my dad and myself.

Granted, it was different. I didn’t have the freedom my students have, freedom to criticize or talk back, but I also had to admit that my dad didn’t have a clue about raising a son, and that I must have been something to handle. And as wrote draft after draft, I realized that I couldn’t change the past, or make myself a better person by recounting our battles. It’s not that the unexamined life is not worth living, that I wouldn’t profit from looking over our relationship. It’s that I realize that he died a couple years younger than I am now, and I’m not sure I can blame him for anything, and I wonder if I could have done any better. I think now that he tried very hard, but he just didn’t have the skills.

Well, I’m a teacher. He didn’t do too badly. And the things I care about—kids and justice and the disadvantaged and people in general—are the things he cared about. I can see that now. So, instead of dredging up an old argument we may have had, I’ll write about a time in my memory that was very good.
I was on leave from the Marines and my dad had picked me up from the bus station, and we were alone in the car driving up Canyon Road. I can’t count the times we made that trip, and not all of them were pleasant, but the road winds through lush greenery, trees rising out of sight on both sides of the road. Today I started to whistle in a moment of relaxation, accompanying something on the radio. My dad said that he liked my whistling. He also told me how well he liked the music I had sent home from Vietnam, (it was a tape of the band Chicago).

We talked about the music and other small things. Then he asked me what he should do about my younger sister, Marianne. They were fighting, constantly. I tried, in my new adulthood, to say something worthwhile, but I failed. It didn’t matter; I was flushed with pride from the compliment from the man whose criticism meant the most to me.

Finally, seemingly out of the blue, he told me that he thought I seemed more Indian than the rest of the family, himself included. I knew that my parents were proud of being Indian, and wanted us to not forget that fact. It was silent in the car for a while after that, but it was a comfortable silence.

Of course there are other good memories. I remember feeling his hand on my forehead as I lay in bed, and how it would move pushing my hair back and how very good that felt, how comforting his touch was, and I wonder if he knew that feeling, if he too had felt it, if his father had pressed his forehead and stroked his hair back with love, and when he did it to me was he longing, too, for that feeling once again?

I think now that he was saying goodbye during that ride, when we were trying to become reacquainted. Goodbye to my boyhood, and goodbye to me, for I only saw him a few times after that before he died.