I am old enough now (sixty-one) to have lived through the end of innumerable worlds. We all do. It’s common. The end of childhood, for example. Divorce. Losing one’s parents. Any major life transition, frankly, is experienced as the end of one world, the beginning of a new one. Optimistically speaking, I am entering the final one third of my life. (I am not so optimistic as to believe I will live past ninety, but it is theoretically possible.) Having just recently retired from a fourteen year career as a licensed massage therapist, I feel the end of that world acutely. The new world in which I find myself is less structured, less complicated, and, I suppose, lonelier. But it feels good to have the newly expanded energetic space filled with people I truly love: my life partner, Sarah, her teenage daughter, and my two grown children (both around thirty.) And I finally have the time and freedom to write, which was always the plan for my final stage.
I have been thinking a lot lately about my father, who passed away in 1998. At sixty-six he was only five years older than I am now. We shared a love for the game of chess. He taught me to play as a child. He had a few books and was a decent player. In my teens I remember playing quite a few times with my best friend, Chuck, who was an avid member of our high school chess club. He frequently urged me to attend, but I was too busy with musical activities to ever try it. It wasn’t until my father purchased a chess computer in 1979 that I became truly fascinated with the game. I vividly remember visiting him over Christmas break during my first year of college. My brothers and I watched my dad play against his new contraption, and we took turns ourselves. I managed to beat it on my second or third try. I explained to my older brother the mistake I believed the computer had made. Puzzled, he mused, “Wow, but I thought computers don’t make mistakes.” It was the earliest stage of computer chess and the machines of those days were rather weak. I explained to him about the billions of possible positions that exist even a few moves ahead, and how the computer must examine as many of them as it can with limited processing capacity and memory storage, in a finite time. There is no way it can think of everything, so it was possible to beat it. That began for me an exploration of what makes a good player better than a weak player, an obsession that has stuck with me for over forty years. It was a subject I always enjoyed discussing with my dad. Even today, when I am playing or studying, I often imagine him at my side as we discuss the marvelous ideas that emerge from even the simplest positions.
My relationship with my father was quite problematic, actually. Until I got sober in 1985 we never really got along. We got on each other’s nerves, probably because I took after him in so many ways. Friends and family have often commented that he and I were so much alike, and I remember cringing every time he described me as “almost like a clone.” Because it wasn’t really true. I have just as much in common with my mother, but it is different things. I think those parts were invisible to him. He was a bit narcissistic, for one. And also he didn’t like thinking about my mother (they divorced when I was nine), so he wouldn’t be disposed toward seeing her in me. When my siblings, all of whom had major issues with my dad, say that I take after him it never feels like a compliment. I end up feeling a bit sheepish about it, and make an effort to show them that I am different.
When I needed to get sober I reached out to my dad, who at the time had twenty-one years of sobriety. All of a sudden he had a role to play, and he and I went to meetings together and had long discussions about the program of recovery. My world at that time was a terrifying place, and I could visit him as a refuge. It was good to finally experience something like a healthy father-son relationship. I remain grateful for all of that. I was thirteen years sober when he died, and was the only one of his six children to have anything like a positive relationship with him at that point. In my next post I will give more details, because what I am experiencing now reminds me of what his final years were like, even while utterly different.