Saturday, January 15, 2005

My dad, Shakespeare, and why I love them both

I finished A Midsummer Night's Dream today. Quick read. Can't wait for the lectures; Dr. Gurney is pretty darn impressive when he's talking about Shakespeare. Also a bit risqué. Lovely class, can't wait 'til we get to one of the plays I haven't read before. The Merchant of Venice, for example.

There's a few classes that I've taken in college that are more personal than most. Shakespeare is one of them. It's not just a class I'm taking in order to graduate, though that's a fine and valid reason. I'm also taking it, in part, because it makes me feel closer to my dad.

When I was growing up, I remember my dad always having a mind for music and poetry. He was constantly singing songs from his childhood in the 40's and early 50's (yes, my dad's that old), and constantly quoting poetry and plays that he learned in high school and college. My dad loves Shakespeare in particular, and I remember sitting at our kitchen table listening to him recite bits of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Julius Caesar, and anything else he could remember. We always had a copy of the Complete Works of Shakespeare sitting on a shelf in the den, and I remember thinking that it was an almost magical book, something that held the secrets of the educated and the cultured, the things that I strived for most, even at the age of 12 when most girls are more worried about boys and their newfound womanhood. It's not surprising; I'd been a bookworm all my life, and I continued to be, hormones or not.

During my senior year of high school, despite my insistince on applying to a science college and choosing to study physics, I carved out a place in my schedule for a Shakespeare class during my last semester. Despite the fact that much of the homework seemed like busywork to me (tedious, very easy), I thought that the class itself was completely worthwhile. I'd pulled out that big book of Shakespeare in the past and discovered quickly that without a guide to the antiquated language and some hints to the many-layered symbolism, I was lost. So I slogged through the work, but payed the most attention to the lectures and the modern translations in the text, as well as the footnotes. And suddenly pieces began to come together; I could find the humor in places where before, all I saw was a maze of tongue-tangling old-English jargon. The characters came alive, and I could hear their voices and see who they were in my head.

Around that time, too, I started to be able to really talk to my father. Before, my relationship with him, while not exactly strained, wasn't perfectly comfortable, either. Due to all sorts of unhappy events from the time I was 10, my father had always been a little distant, loving but not the person I went to for advice or to show off my newest achievement in school. It always seemed to me that he had his own world, and I (angsty teenager that I was) had mine, and the two were incompatable. Conservative vs. liberal, true Catholic vs. Christian searcher, realist vs. dreamer. But I remembered his soliloquies and the book in the den, and one night while we were sitting up after my mother and sister had gone to bed (both of us are night owls), I mentioned my Shakespeare class and we started talking about the plays I was reading, which lead to a conversation about my Dad's high school and his old teachers, and the two of us going into the den and pulling out his senior yearbook so he could tell me about his past. That was the first time I remembered where we'd been able to have a conversation, not just have him tell me things like he was lecturing to me. That was about the same time when I learned that, not only had he written poetry in high school, too, but that he still wrote on occasion. I started to realize that maybe my father wasn't completely the rational, serious, scientific mind I'd thought him to be.

Things changed for a while after I went off to New Mexico. My dad had lived there before and told me a little bit about it, and even drove me down to the dorms to move me in (which is a whole long story in itself, and one I should probably tell someday). My dad is an engineer and he was really excited to have his daughter go into a scientific career, because in his family that seems to be the mark of the intelligent ones. But while I was there and going through the whole emotional crisis/depression thing, I turned back to my mom for support. As I started to get better, I started talking to my dad more often again. I remember that when the US forces first went into Iraq in 2003, my dad and I would turn on CNN and, even though we were 1400 miles apart, we would watch the war coverage together and talk about what was going on over there. My father is a former Vietnam draftee (never went overseas, tho) and staunchly patriotic, while I'm non-violent and anti-war, but we still were able to have civilized conversations even about the military action.

When I moved back to Minnesota, Dad and I became even closer. At first I had the feeling that he was disappointed that I was leaving the scientific field and going into the liberal arts. But after a while, that feeling sort of faded and instead of talking about college or my future, we'd stay up at night and watch sci-fi shows or, more recently, poker competitions, and talk about just general things, what was going on in the world, the rules of Texas Hold'Em, books that he'd read by Robert Heinlein and other famous sci-fi authors... It was such a different relationship than I remembered from my childhood, and I started to discover that my father was no longer an authority figure, but had instead become my friend.

Last summer while I was home for vacation, my dad were up at midnight, talking about Shakespeare again. He was trying to remember a part from The Merchant of Venice, so we went into the den and pulled out the big book so he could look up the lines. I don't remember th exact section we were reading, but I do remember the feeling of belonging, the feeling that I could truly relate to my father, and the knowledge that he understood why I had chosen to study English: despite his talent for science and mathematics, he loved language just as much as I did.

So now I'm taking a college-level Shakespeare class. I'm interested in the literature for my own sake, of course, but I'm also interested because I know that this is something that will bring me closer to my father and help me to hold my own in a serious literary discussion with him. It's also a way for me to show respect to him, by learning about the things that he considers important, showing him that I agree that they are vital to my education. So for me, this class isn't just about a well-known old white male writer. It's about love, respect, family, and growing up.


Natasjia said...

hey...I really enjoyed reading this post. Something about the introspection was compelling... =)

Tammi said...

fabulous post

Angel said...

Hey, thanks you two.