Born too early (preceding, far preceding, as we humans measure time, enlightened acceptance):
his skin too dark,
his heritage, mixed, with hair too straight,
to be accepted anywhere,
at any time.
His mind, mathematically agile,
yet with none, neither family nor friend
to encourage his exploring, his becoming,
his dream to share real time and space with this Queen of the Sciences –
so, hand in hand to gambol through the fertile fields of myriad patterns
in search of the ripened grains of conjecture, the succulent fruits of proof –
a vapor evaporating at the break of every day.
Then, as a soldier in that war of worlds, numbered 2,
sent half-way ‘round the world to the Philippines,
there, tho’ fighting for America,
to be reminded of what he already had learnt at home:
the discrimination of segregation
Tears red he cried,
he bled with blinding rage
and daily drank his bitterness
to drown his unsinkable anguish.
Peace he neither entered
nor could render (to anyone)
in this life.
I feel, I fear he hath found it only in death.
So, daily, do I pray that what he may hath found
(for how can I know?)
aye, is true.
6 thoughts on “William John Abernathy (Guillermo Juan Silva), August 7, 1911-April 27, 1996, A Personally-Pained Tribute”
Your tribute to your dad was the first thing I read this morning, and I was moved by it. It is so hard to come to grips with the pain of our parents, isn’t it? It sounds like your dad and mine shared at least two things: the war experience of the Philippines, which must have been terrible, and abuse of alcohol. While I can never begin to understand the pain inflicted by society’s race pathologies, I can only imagine that all pain is magnified in the cauldron of that experience. And your dad had the added confusion of ethnic heritage as well. He sounds like a brilliant and fascinating man.
I will pray with you today that both of our fathers have found peace beyond this earth, since they never found it here. I believe a loving God does not ignore such pain as our fathers suffered, nor the fact that many of their damaging choices were made in an effort to relieve it.
I wish you peace today, Paul. I think I know how proud your father would be of you and what you have done and do every day of your life. His pain was perhaps instrumental in helping you to become the man you are, as hard as that may have been for him to imagine while he lived.
My dear Karen, oft I refer to you as my sister, who, of course, you are. Still, with so many, so very many shared experiences and intuitions/senses of things, you, too, are my kindred spirit.
All of that which you write here resonates powerfully within me. In this, sometimes, I wonder whether – as you write, my father may have had difficulty imagining that his pain (and, therefore, his frequent expression of it) was “instrumental in helping (me) to become the man (I am) – I, too, had the same difficulty. Truth to tell, on those sometime occasions that I wonder about it, generally, I answer “yes.” For my father’s inner pain when inflicted on me was only painful at the time. Thus, hardly the stuff of formative instrumentality. Nevertheless, time and growth and change and forgiveness allow me see precisely that…
Moreover, I think…I feel that this poem, on second thought, is, in part, a manifestation of my ongoing engagement with my father’s memory; what I think of him, what I feel for and about him, what I see of him in me. Thus, I shall engage until I breathe no more.
Hi Paul and Karen,
Let me jump in here from the great State of Maine! I too felt the pain in Paul’s post. It’s so horrible to not be accepted for who you are and to not have peace. My father too was not accepted… he was a highly educated man with a PhD, but because even African-Americans with PhD’s weren’t accepted and he struggled mightily. He drank to excess too, but not because of his profession. In addition to being black, he was gay…. and tried to be something he wasn’t. He married and had two kids with my Mom but never found peace because it wasn’t who he was.
I’ve always felt lost because I didn’t know who he was and what he felt. I only know what I was told. My search for a dad most of my life has been filled with several men who guided me in the best direction for me. It’s ironic reading this piece this morning that I’m spending this week with the man I called Dad for a long time….. my first real mentor Larry Payne. I met him in 1991 when he hired me and our families have been forever connected since then. They drive from GA to ME to be with me as I crossed Maine off the bucket list Tim and I started years ago. They also helped me celebrate Tim’s birthday this past Sunday.
I’ve forgiven my dad for not being in my life because I know my mom had a lot to do with my not having a relationship with him. But I miss not knowing who he was and how he thought and what he wanted his legacy to be. Thankfully I’ve had men like Larry who have filled many voids in my life except for the one in my heart to know the man who helped give me life.
Dear Paul and Loretta,
That word “other” jumps to mind again, as I try to come to grips with your sadnesses over the fathers you lost to other people’s dogged determination to draw excruciating lines. It’s such a small word that we often overlook, but it seems to me we humans see it as a category that we must fill to overflowing with people we can somehow deem to be “different” from ourselves, no matter what those differences may be or how much commonality we share with them all around that glaring “otherness” that seems to be all we can see. Skin color and sexual preference or identity should matter so little in terms of the humanness and the sparks of divinity we share, and yet, those categories in particular seem to be in blazing lights, while hearts and souls go wanting for human regard and bonding.
Paul, “… I shall engage until I breathe no more.” Yes, you will, as you should. You will examine and refine the essence of your father for as long as you live, and you will be sustained by riches that you find there, and you will mourn the things that hurt and damaged your father and the things of your father that hurt and damaged you. And from that and other similar engaging the dear, wise, beautiful man that I know as Paul Abernathy was/is built and greets and blesses the world.
And you, Loretta, will continue to seek that mystical, hardworking, accomplished man who was your father in every nook and cranny for all of your life. And out of that search, in part, you will find yourself, the world-loving woman I know as Loretta Veney, magician and superwoman par excellence. (When I read your post I wondered whether you had ever found the time to read Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. You two have much in common, I think. I hope that book has brought, or brings you, some comfort and companionship.)
I love you both, but in some measure even more for dwelling still with your fathers, as I still dwell with mine these 42 years after his death. I know those men are with us in ways we can’t comprehend; otherwise we would not reach so often for our memories and thoughts of them. I think they seek to bless us now, if we could perceive their intentions.
Father’s Day approaches soon, but in some sense, every day is Father’s Day somewhere deep in our psyches.
Love and gratitude to and for you both,
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Thank you, dearest Karen, your words are a blessing unto me. More on this in a moment…
And, Loretta well knows, I have embraced and employed that word and concept AND reality of “the other” since the fall of 2005 in preparation for my 7-month sabbatical (June 2006-January 2007) during which Pontheolla and I went around the world with an expressed intention to engage those who were not like us, indeed, to put ourselves purposefully in places where and when we were “the other.” And all to the end of seeking to understand others and to have them understand us and without the need or desire to convert anyone to our way of thinking and feeling and believing. That journey ever has changed our lives, particularly regarding our increased (and still increasing) capacities to seek out and to listen to other voices.
In these your words – “I love you both, but in some measure even more for dwelling still with your fathers, as I still dwell with mine these 42 years after his death. I know those men are with us in ways we can’t comprehend; otherwise we would not reach so often for our memories and thoughts of them. I think they seek to bless us now, if we could perceive their intentions” – I find blessing. Know that I shall continue to listen for my father’s voice within me.
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Being a part of this “blog trip” gives me life! Thank you both so much!!