Sunday, June 12, 2005


This is a self portrait by my father. It hangs in the hallway of my grandmother's house, where it's hung for years. When I was a kid it really freaked me out. It is a scary picture, expecially when viewed by a litle boy who has been spanked by the young man it represents. Now when I look at it as an adult who has outlived my father by ten years I see youth -- lots of potential, a bit of self confidence, but also a whole lot of fear and awkwardness. I wonder what drove my father to paint.

On my birthday Friday, my grandma e-mailed me a photo of another painting my dad painted.

Technically this is the worst painting of my dad's I've seen. It seems hastily made, not very sophisticated. But there's a lot there. The harlequin aspect of the face reminds me of my own image of my dad at that time. The man pictured here seems at once kind and loving and mean and punishing. The red is very bloody, painful.

The picture doesn't appear to be have been drawn from a place of intimate familiarity with the subject. It's more like an archetype from a dream. It's too stark to connote love.

I'll never know for sure, but think my dad was scared when he painted it. This Christianity stuff must have been new to him. He knew he wanted it, but I don't think he really knew with the knowing of true faith and grace.

My grandma says she will bring this out to me when she visits in August. In an e-mail to me, she wrote, "It seems to speak so strongly of the black and white dialogue you are involved in, I think you may like it. "

I want it. And yet I don't want it. Where would I hang such a thing? I don't want to sound ungrateful or unsentimental, but how could I live with this face staring at me?

Yes, this is an important image in my life's story. And it ought to be archived someway. But still. I find it unsettling, like some of the letters my dad wrote in the last months of his life, when he was anguishing over the question of whether or not to remarry. This face seems to be saying both "Yes, get married" and "No, it's a sin."

How exemplary of what a difficult challenge being fundamentally Christian sems to be.

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