The last time I saw my father, he was sitting in that huge wing-chair of his with a glass of “the good stuff” in his hand; “the best stuff money can buy,” he said; as usual. Even then, so many years after my coming-of-age trip to Israel, I was still focused on the crystal tumbler and not what was in it. Light from the stained glass of the Tiffany lamp on his desk sent colored rays across his hand, sparkling and refracting from one geometric prism of the deep cuts in the crystal to another. Magic. Those damn glasses still held such power over me, just as they always had.
My father was talking in that careful, measured way of his. No doubt I should have been listening. Had I known I’d never see him again, I would have. But I was distracted and seduced by that gorgeous cut crystal glass winking at me from his hand. How does time get trapped in an object of no particular significance? Israel was supposed to set me free from everything that came before; everything in England and everything at home; in fact, every thing. But apparently I was still held hostage, then just as now, by beauty.
“What the hell do you want to do a damn fool thing like that for, David?” my father grunted when I told him my wonderful plan at the age of twenty. I took no offense. Groaning was often the punctuation of choice associated with my name, if he used it at all.
“Oh I know.”He brushed my words off like an annoying insect. “You have some naïve notion you can save the world. The fact that you know nothing of farming, fighting or deprivation of any kind, in fact, nothing of anything much at all, should be a deterrent.” He sounded so matter of fact I had no doubt he was right.
“I expect a two year stint on a farm in Israel will teach me a lot, and I do hope to be of some service while I’m there.” My father’s expression of disbelief exposed both my Oxford Don’s recycled speech and me at the same time.
“Escape, my boy; escape and adventure. That’s what you’re after, so let’s be honest about your do-gooding abroad. You’ll break your mother’s heart right here,” he added in the same factual tone. “You do know that, don’t you?”
Yes; I wanted to escape the entrapments of wealth and status my claustrophobic country and family had strangled me with. I could feel the ‘O’ ring of class and expectation closing in around my throat with every day I spent in that house and on that soil. “It’ll help you grow up jolly fast,” he said. The sudden shift of direction sent me into emotional whiplash, wondering why he wanted to push me out so fast if I wasn’t grown up yet.
“I’m going to help others,” I told him; “not myself.” He looked at me over his reading glasses, the sharp angle of his eyebrows suggesting extreme skepticism.
“Charity begins at home, David.” The brows were still arched precipetously. “Take care of yourself fist before becoming someone else’s burden.” It was advice I’d heard often growing up and ignored just as often. Contemplating my escape to the kibbutz, I thought he was referring to a complex financial scheme to escape British taxation. He had little interest in swelling the queen’s family coffers, so I assumed the home he referred to as worthy of charity was ours. It didn’t occur to me it was my own soul. The last time I saw my father, I’m sure he was still saying that and I’m just as sure I wasn’t listening.