The first time I knew my father was at seventeen.
We had lived continuously together in warfare since I was nine.
A battered, bitter battle till twelve, and a loud empty truce thereafter,
Mostly absent from the house.
The career officer at school was close to retirement,
As was most of the career information he possessed.
Those he knew were of the last war, names like
Handley Page, and Avro’s at Manchester.
Symbols of heroism. Pegasus and Hector.
Most went into demise in the post-war British industrial decline.
Armed with these few addresses, I wrote:
I would like to serve as an apprentice in your company.
I have completed high school.
Enclosed is a drawing of an aircraft.”
A company wrote back,
Alight from the 44 Ribble bus at the Lytham Arms.
Looking forward to meeting you. Yours truly,”
To request permission to be absent from the trenches of the bitter home front.
The body went erect and soft,
The face, habitually a Greek mask when facing me, turns human,
The lips, lush, framed by the philosopher’s grey beard, said,
“I didn’t think you were interested,” I said, feeling a man.
I had made this decision on my own.
In me the coward vanished, the whipped cur banished.
In a previous era I might have left home and run to sea.
For apprentice, read midshipman. An officer’s boy to a friendly captain.
Instead, I was going off to industry, to a new peace, to a war-pane maker.
“You never told me of them.”
“I thought you might become a scholar, work in a library.”
From he who had never worked since I was seven,
This first recognition of the man who was my father
Looked at me in pride and kindness.
A kindness I had never seen.
Permission was granted. Independence was established.
But it was more a soldier leaving the King’s service.
A faithful retainer deserting.
King Lear left to moan and wail on the rocks alone.
Deserted by his court jester.
Because He could not bear to hear the truth,
His jester had been over-kicked.
The first time I knew my father was a brief moment.
There was no second time.