Franz Kafka wrote a long letter to his father. It said a lot of what I wanted to say to my father but did not have the words or self-composure or courage to say. So I left it on his desk and sometime later I found it on the stairs going up to my room indicating he had read it and had nothing to say.
To be humiliated by your father in any way and not be able to respond or defend yourself is a great and unholy defeat, a great pervasive experience of impotence. Even a bright kid against a doltish father doesn’t have a chance. A bright kid is still a kid without the tools, yet, to defend himself. Maybe that is why it is said that a man never becomes truly a man until his father is dead. It is not all about Freud but Freud’s ideas have something to do with it. Limbic man is wired to overpower and fuck, simple as that.
My father was an arrogant pain in the ass. His quick mind and mastery of the English language made him almost completely unassailable. His defenses were iron clad but a probing eye could see what they covered up, a very simplified view of the world and a lack of depth in understanding. He would say,” my mind is open from twelve till noon” which was about as self-deprecatory as he ever got and a relief for all of us in the family. To have a narrow view of human experience must be a comfort.
He was sarcastic, critical and mean; impatient and angry often. Most of the time we fled from him. He referred to his family as “this chicken shit outfit”. Our well-appointed house including a couple of servants he referred to as “a pig sty”. If you have four children and a wife sometimes the cushions are not fluffed up all the time. When he wasn’t drop kicking the family dog out the back door he was guzzling martinis out on the screened porch and seeking to nab a wary child for a lecture on “principle”.
Since his wife had been seriously chopped up in the face by a series of cancer operations and no longer looked like the woman he married he had reason to think about “principle” as I later figured out. At the time I doubt even the smartest of us knew what the hell he was talking about.
“Principle” was good to have, we slowly began to understand, if it kept the family together and had to do with loyalty. By the end of her life our mother referred to him as “her steadfast oak”. If you got in trouble he was there for you; he would defend you when the world attacked. He stayed the course despite some temptation in his office from a beautiful young divorcee. Our mother shut that down without much trouble. She said, ”All the marriages I know about through my friends have faced a major challenge of one kind or another.”
Our father, Roy William Winsor,(nee Winsauer), was funny, sharp, and about the most succinctly articulate person I have ever met. He was also handsome, athletic, energetic and virile. His attractive qualities were there without any embellishment other than a fastidious attachment to personal hygiene and conservative, tailored, English clothing. He shaved with a straight razor. He was talented and versatile. He was a fine writer, golfer, photographer, cartoonist, and flower gardener. I think those were his main interests.
He rose out of poverty with parents who never made it past elementary school to academic excellence through high school and to the green pastures of Harvard College where he distinguished himself as a scholar of English Literature, especially Charles Dickens from whom he learned the serial form of storytelling which he later adapted to television and the creation of daytime serials, “soap operas.”
And that is almost all I know about my father whose last serious communication with me was this: “You lead your life and I will lead mine.” To which I replied,” I respect that.”