Daddy/ The Unleaving

parker's back 2In Flannery O’Connor’s short story Parker’s Back, the main character, O.E. Parker sees a man at a carnival with tattoos at the age of 14 and somehow starts to question the meaning of his existence.  The man’s skin was “patterned in . . . a single intricate design of brilliant color.”  He grows up with this urge to always be on the go; to find that which will plug the hole in his soul.  Remembering the man at the carnival, he starts to get tattoos all over his body and finally gets one on his back of the Byzantine Christ.  Somehow the tattoos help O.E. have a sense of identity and temporarily appease his longing, but the urge to go off into the mountains is always there.

I can relate to this feeling of wanting to go west and start a new life far away from everything.  It’s an itch or a longing or something that I can’t describe and I’m sure I got it from my father.  Unlike my father, I would never leave my children and feed the desire to ride off into parts unknown, nor do I have any plans of getting a tattoo like O.E.  For the longest time, I resented my father’s willingness to abandon his kids and go where his whims led him.  On the other hand, I have a jealousy of his indifference.

The picture I have always painted of my father is one of an irresponsible jackass who was too selfish to consider anyone but himself.  He was easy to hate (although this is a strong word) and vilify when he was far away and unknown.  Even after meeting him again for the first time in 12 years, I felt anything but respect for him – probably something closer to contempt.

For reasons unknown, the poet Sylvia Plath also had issues with her “daddy”.  We do not know if he was abusive or uninvolved or what the case was.  We do know that, in her poem Daddy, she paints a picture of an evil Nazi who did his best to ruin her life.  In the poem, he tells her deceased father that she finally had to kill him, but he was already dead.  In reality, Otto Plath was not a Nazi, nor many of the things she purports him to be in the poem.  By making him other it seems that it was easier to hate for Sylvia to hate him.  Her tumultuous relationship with Ted Hughes bleeds into the narrative of her father and the two seem to become one – a man she detests whom she will no longer allow to have a hold on her.

As with O.E., I can also relate to Sylvia.  It’s much easier to hate someone who is other or unknown.  I have a father – I have never had a “Daddy”.  But I no longer see any reason to vilify him or hate him.  In my going to him and spending time with him, his leaving becomes an “unleaving”.  He becomes to me someone who is not merely known, but someone that I can sympathize with as I imagine the towering western peaks that await me.  I imagine the urge to pack up and leave is in within us all.  The thing that makes us different is that some of us decide to follow where the urge takes them and others stay while embracing the urge – thereby negating the necessity of an “unleaving”.




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