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Dark Wood

James Wood, the eminent book reviewer of The New Yorker, has in the current issue (subscribers only) a memoir about how we grow to resemble our parents: "Becoming Them." The reflections are elegant, bemused, poignant, and by the end, grieving.He muses:

Sometimes I catch myself and think, self-consciously, you are now listening to a Beethoven string quartet, just as your father did. And, at that moment, I feel a mixture of satisfaction and rebellion. Rebellion, for all the obvious reasons. Satisfaction, because it is natural to resemble one's parents, and there is a resigned pleasure to be had from the realization. I like that my voice is exactly the same pitch as my father's and can be mistaken for it. But then I hear myself speaking to my children just as he spoke to me, in exactly the same tone and with the same fatherly melody, and I am dismayed by the plagiarism of inheritance.

But the reflection moves beyond bemusement to poignancy:

I could hardly imagine my parents' life without thinking of him sitting in an armchair, while Haydn or Beethoven or Schubert played. But, of course, this idea of him is an old memory of mine, and thus a picture of a younger man's habits -- he is the middle-aged father of my childhood, not the rather different old man whom I don't see often enough because I live three thousand miles away, a man who doesn't care too much whether he listens to music or not. So even as I become him, he becomes someone else.

And, by the end, the music becomes G-minor mourning:

"How shall I mourn them?" How indeed? For it sounds like the title of a beautiful song, a German lament, something my father might have listened to on a Sunday afternoon, when he still did.


About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



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It does seem a poignant reflection.It makes me reflect on the gifts my parents have given me, which in my case also includes a taste in music. It's unlikely I would have latched on to classical, jazz, church music or the Broadway songbook if not for them. And while I don't share their distaste for rock music, I have to say that it's not my cup of tea, and there is not a single rock band or act for which I would shell out money to take in.Surely another gift (and, I suppose, cautionary tale) a parent gives us, if they're fortunate enough to make it long enough, is how to live through the latter 3/4 or so of a life.

I resonate with the phrase.. 'plagarism of inheritasnce'. In the time left, as a grandfather of six children, I alsdo recognize the shifting of roles from son/father to father/father.

Beautifully said. Thanks, Father.

I agree with Mike I...It's too bad that having a loving father, one of the greatest gifts a man can receive, is not recognized until ones later years. .

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