Around the community where we live, I am known to most of our neighbours as Donna’s husband. This, I think, is due more to my wife’s friendly, caring nature with everyone she meets, than it is to my somewhat more reserved approach.
I don’t mind, of course, because it garners me automatic entry into the circle of regard in which she is held. I benefit from instant credibility, instant relevance, instant acceptance.
“Oh, you’re Donna’s husband!” is an exclamation I often hear, followed quickly by a wide smile from the speaker, sometimes even a hug.
Among my own family, however, my identity has morphed into something I never quite anticipated. Increasingly now, whenever I encounter sisters, nieces and nephews, or other extended family members, I am told I look like my father.
“You’re just like him,” they declare. “You even sound like him.”
They’ve heard me sneeze, you see, which reincarnates my father every time.
Although I loved him very much while he was with us, I confess I never aspired to be exactly like him. I wanted to be my own man—not so unusual a desire, I suppose, for sons of successful, admired fathers.
As a young man encountering people who knew him, I would often hear, “Ahh, you’re Bill Burt’s boy.”
And I would struggle to suppress the haughty reply, “Actually, he’s my father.”
But now, happily entrenched in my mid-seventies, I am no longer possessed by that same hubris. Just as I am inordinately proud to be both a father and grandfather in my own right, I am more than happy to be recognized as my father’s son.
Still, it comes as something of a shock to be reminded by those who knew him that, more and more, I behave just like he used to. In photographs, I gaze at the camera with the same bemused expression he always had. I remember thinking he was trying for a mix of casual and noble at the same time; I don’t know what I’m attempting to do, but I somehow attain the same inane facial expression.
My mouth, at rest, turns downward at the corners, making me appear grouchy, when I am anything but. I try to smile broadly for the camera, as he did, if for no other reason than to dispel that impression.
In many pictures, I’m sitting the way he did, or standing with the same posture. As my jowls begin to droop, as my hair turns white, my profile shots are becoming eerily similar to his.
In videos, I walk the way he used to, shoulders hitched slightly high, strong chin tucked in, eyes peering out from under raised eyebrows.
And (somewhat depressingly, I must admit), I feel awkward now as I clamber from my easy chair to my feet, as I try to step into my trousers without falling over, as I walk slowly upstairs one-step-at-a-time—just as I remember my father doing at my age!
I must confess, however, that I do like it when the comparison is reversed; for example, when my grandchildren see a picture of my father (whom none of them remember), and say, “Wow, Grandpa, he sure looks like you!” That turns the corners of my mouth up every time.
And I appreciate the truth now in the lines from William Wordsworth—
…So was it when my life began,
So is it now I am a man;
So be it when I shall grow old…
The Child is father of the Man.
No one in our community ever knew my father; but if they were ever to see a picture of him, I’m sure I’d no longer be known as Donna’s husband.
Instead, the whispers would be, “Can you believe it? She married her father-in-law!”