By Matt Gordon
Peter Gordon and I are from different worlds.
Like all fathers, he grew up in a simpler time—whether this is true or not, who knows. But technology and innovation and ingenuity propel things formerly fiction into flimsy reality giving the present tense more and more and more. Complexity is forever a signpost to modernity—sometimes wretchedly so.
My dad did have a train near him growing up, so that’s something. He once told me that older boys would take the possessions of younger boys and hurl them over the school wall onto the train tracks. Lost forever, like so many things. When telling me this, he didn’t see around the corner where my youthful inquisition would be waiting: “When you were an older boy did you do that to the younger boys?”
His face told me plainly: it was simpler times.
We look alike, but that is about it. He grew up in Sydney, Australia, a mythical metropolis chockful of dingoes and kangaroos, and, in my mind’s eye, the cricket bats with which to herd them. He relocated in his college years, bounced around to complete advanced degrees, and at some point had and raised me in Southeast Missouri. No dingoes nor kangaroos—good thing, too, for the only cricket bat was the souvenir one I kept, a reminder of the fatherland, in the corner of my room.
With Missouri serving as home base, my father struck out into the world. He knows Paris better than I know my own hometown; he teaches in Germany some summers; he’s been held at gunpoint in Mexico City and has fallen in a pit in Cuba. Perhaps because of his intrepid example, I vowed never to spend my adulthood in Missouri. I now spend my adulthood in Missouri.
As education goes, he has a heap of it and has devoted his life to sharing it with others. I’ve dropped out of two graduate degrees. What I lack in degrees, I have compensated with in terms of rigorously trying (and failing) to live out the golden rule in the name of faith. My father is a lapsed believer. He was Presbyterian once, balanced that out with a bit of non-denominational autonomy, and finally walked away from the cathedral of religion as a departing tourist exits St. Paul’s. Maybe a bit of Ecclesiastes stuck. Politically, I lean slightly one way; he cartwheels the other. I hesitate to spend a dime; he collects cars and takes risks on rental properties. He drinks like a responsible fish and cusses like a reformed sailor. I’m on dry land in both cases.
My father and I are from different worlds.
Different world views. Experiences. Values. Even accents. And yet . . .
Early in life I recall him bringing international students to our home for dinner, or setting up others in a rental property. Once he brought this massive guy from the university basketball team, Elco Derks, home. Elco was about nine feet tall and held me up so I could dunk. Elco, hailing from some mythic place in Europe, and I were from different worlds, but through my father I saw the good that amounts from coming together. Repeatedly my dad exposed us to different points of views, different colors of skin, sports, languages, and cultural systems. None better or worse. Just different worlds, capable of coming together.
He drives like a madman, my father. He was a man forever with more places to go. I used to be embarrassed at his use of the horn at the school drop-off. More embarrassed still when the van door flew open and out with me and my school things would spill my father’s vulgarities directed at Rush Limbaugh’s radio program. Once I asked my father why he listened so intently and passionately to those with whom he disagreed. He mumbled something about “imbeciles.” But I think his answer is purer than that—it is because he cares. Intently and passionately. Listening breeds an understanding in him, and where no understanding is to be found, it brings forth the hurried fervency of a man with places to go. He likes to push and to be pushed, to learn and to challenge. As his own journey took him from one citizenship to another, this care of his is not bound by race or religion or ethnicity. He has seen enough of the world to know there is much not to like, and also know there are loves that are worth action. Even if all one can do is cuss and honk and chase after the wind. At least it is something, a journey of another sort.
My father macabrely joked with me the other day that he is buying up rental properties in Nashville so that each of his kids can inherit one when he passes. I hope it is a long time before we come to all that. But I do suspect I will learn so very much about my father on his way out. Mysterious pictures and stories and friendships—how can a man that well-traveled not leave a trace of intrigue in his wake? Those stories will span geography and ideals. They will bridge education levels and income. They will show that my father and I are from vastly different worlds. But we both dream and hope and long for a better one. A world in which a swearing, intelligent Australian agnostic and a simple, praying Midwesterner might go down the road a ways, noticing the sights but truly seeing the people and one another. Journeying on out in the open; different worlds, together. The vantage: a wholesome gift a father gave a son.