Our dreams have a way of regressing us, don’t they? In our waking hours, we can remain masters of our own domain (or so we like to think), but in our dreams we may become the lost child we all fear we are—the kid who forgot to wear pants to school or the one stranded and alone in a shopping mall the size of a small city.
When I dream of my own childhood, I often dream of rocks, rows and rows of them. Walls of them. Our house was built atop a steep hill, and over the years, my dad built rock walls all around the yard, giving the place the appearance of a small castle. I remember a friend from school said once, “Luke’s family is rich,” and he said it in the way a person does when stating something obvious, like ‘water’s wet’ or ‘poop stinks’. My dad was a tool maker; my mom a school teacher, and though I didn’t have the same understanding of income and expenses that I do now, I was pretty sure my family was not rich. It was those rocks, you see. They made us appear as suburban royalty. You are reading the words, not of a middle class peasant, but of the Duke of Unincorporated South King County.
When I think of fathers, I think of gift givers. Those of us fortunate enough to have had fathers at least nominally involved in our lives, we can likely recall some moment in time when our dads gave us something special or showed us something we had never seen before. My mom likes to tell the story of my grandfather bringing home a puppy, presented to her as a tiny ball of fur inside his pocket. That’s a dad sort of thing to do.
Then there are the bigger gifts, the kind that can direct your life. I used to believe the most important gift my dad gave me was the way he modeled the role of provider. Dad struggled a lot. That’s obvious to me now that I’m a father myself, because we all struggle a lot, and we all find ways of coping with our struggles. One of the ways Dad coped was to go out in the yard for many hours and build walls of rock. He also drank a lot. But each day, before rock and booze time, he went to work. Now I carry that part of him with me when I go to work each day.
But that wasn’t Dad’s most sacred part; I see that now. The man may have made his living at Boeing, but his Work was in all those rocks at home. He was an artist. He didn’t use paints or clay, instrument or rhyme, but he was an artist nonetheless, an artisan of dirt and rock. One of my favorite story passages talks of the need for an artist to “lie a little”, in order to get people to see the way you see things. I guess that made Dad a rock liar. He told a story with those rocks, told it so well he had my friends convinced we were rich. Well done, Dad.
He’d be seventy years old were he alive today, but he couldn’t make it here. His walls are still there, though, still telling his story. I wonder if the family living in that house today are seen as rich like we were. And I wonder what other artwork my dad would have created had he stuck around longer.
If I could speak now to his younger self, I think I’d say to him, “Hold on. Just hold on a little longer. This existence won’t get any easier, but you will learn some things, ways of working through the pain. If you hold on just a little longer, you will learn there is more Work to do, more walls to build, and an endless supply of rocks with which to build them.”