Men at Forty
This weekend my father-in-law died. All three of his children were there but no spouses; I get to remember him as he was when I saw him last, at Christmastime, still 6’6”, sitting in a recliner built up on a wooden platform to accommodate his creaky knees and never losing any arguments.
He was a history professor, and I admired and was entertained by him because we met as adults. I think we liked each other from the first time I walked up to his house to find him putting an inch-thick layer of concrete on top of a big picnic table he had built, the only picnic table I ever sat at and could swing my legs.
He was my remaining father after my own father died, and I keep thinking of Donald Justice’s “Men at Forty” now that Ron and I are both left.
Men at forty
Learn to close softly
The doors to rooms they will not be
Coming back to.
At rest on a stair landing,
They feel it
Moving beneath them now like the deck of a ship,
Though the swell is gentle.
And deep in mirrors
The face of the boy as he practices trying
His father’s tie there in secret
And the face of that father,
Still warm with the mystery of lather.
They are more fathers than sons themselves now.
Something is filling them, something
That is like the twilight sound
Of the crickets, immense,
Filling the woods at the foot of the slope
Behind their mortgaged houses.
If fathers can die, then whose broad shoulders can we see from the backseat? Who’s driving this thing?