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Home Boy

[ 0 ] November 5, 2011 |
A Father’s Journal Chapter 7
By Forrest Seymour
Originally published in August, 1994.


“We need a new camera.”

I had heard this before. When Nancy was first pregnant, and beginning to “show,” we headed for our local marked-for-death Woolworths, to, as it were, pay our last respects to this soon to be former community fixture, before they closed and skipped-out, like rats abandoning our wobbly town-ship. And, anyway, they had this great sale on.

There we bought the cheapest 35mm flash camera they had, and proceeded to record the swell that was to become Emily. The pictures were a little out of focus around the edges, but we didn’t intend to show them around much, so it didn’t really matter, until the babe was born. Now we needed a good camera, for the sake of posterity. But like the good apprentice yankees that we are, we had to shop around a bit, and managed to put off the purchase for several months. But now our period of frugal procrastination was coming to a close.

The time does come for all new parents when they must bite the bullet, pack the diapers and rattles into a tight bag, and take the baby home to meet the family. For many this is a seemingly simple journey, taking place in the first hours, days or weeks of their new child’s life, and often leading no further than across town. For me it was a flight across half a continent, and most of a lifetime. For a journey like this, a new camera was needed. And pieces had begun to fall off the old one, anyway.

I had, of course, been back to my mid-western home several times since running figuratively away to New England some years ago. I quickly learned, when I would visit back home, that I could not see everybody I knew. This need to spend my visits with care had led me to drift away from many old friends, and so too from my past. On this visit, however, for sundry reasons, opportunities kept arising to look back at the past, and as I looked anew, the life I found I’d had began to maybe make some sense.

The camera we finally bought was a fairly fancy one, with all the gimics, auto-everything, and it cost more than the first car I owned (it was a very cheap car), but it is fun to use. Often, it seemed, too fun. I fear we may have become a bit of an annoyance to my family, with all our flashing around, but, hey, we’re the new parents. Maybe it was this new camera and all the photo taking, or maybe it was the new baby, but for whatever reason, folks began to pull out old photos from the dusty cupboards they’d long lived in, and our collective past began to unfurl.

Adding to this spontaneous biographical exhumation was my desire to dispose of a batch of old boxes I’d long stored in my mother’s garage. Buried there, it turned out, were more old photos, a spotty record of my life. My quest was to throw things away, but I ended up, in a sense, reclaiming parts of my life.

It is a humbling experience to look back over not only your own life but that of your parents, and their parents, in the space of a few short days. And photos are so revealing. As Ken Burns shows in his documentaries, they have so much more depth than home movies or video. With a photo you can look deep into the eyes of your father’s father’s father on the day your father was born, or recognize, in the beguiling look on your first spouse’s face, the reason why you did that silly thing. The right photo can carry you away.

A lifetime of photos can also reminds us of how dumb we used to dress, of crazy what’s-her-name from the 7th grade, and reveal to us how those aunts, who we remember smelling distincly of moth balls, actually once looked, yes, just a little bit sexy. Our memory of the past is forced to change, to transform, to magically shift to a new shape.

There is great symbolism in both throwing old things out and in finding our past through photos, and I’d like to think that I was not the only one present, as we leafed through these faded and curled old pictures, who felt a sense of resolution in the air.

When faces stare back at you, surprised by or maybe ignorant of the camera, full of complex reactions to difficult situations, it slowly becomes easier, in the revealing light of time, to peal back the clouds of emotion, and feel new sympathy and understanding for the people who, back then, seemed perhaps distant and incomprehensible. One can feel, in looking at the young faces of lost old friends, of our parents before we were born, a wealth of fondness, for both who they were and for who we once were, displacing, perhaps, less charitable memories.

Of course, in examining the new sense of ease which evolved amongst us all during this recent visit, the role of the new child should not be minimized. Though not the first grand-child in our family, Emily still seemed to serve as a catalyst for change, distracting all of us from our usual patterns. There is a way in which I feel now more in my family, even at this great distance, than I did while living there. I think grand-children serve to place their parents more fully in the midst of a family, surrounded now by both older and younger folks, held in place by other generations. It is a cozy and reassuring image, one which certainly helped me allow some parts of the past to rest. While all with my family is not now sudden sweetness and light, it did feel that there had been a change for the better.

They say “you can’t go home again.” I think that we can try, but as in the corollary, “you can not step twice into the same river,” each time we go, home is different. We’ve all changed.

Like most older new parents, I like to make the grandiose assumption that, with my great maturity, I could never subject my child to the same craziness that I was born into, that my sage insight into the dynamics of my family will prevent any possible replication of the past, and that, in fact, as parents, we will probably be so perfect as to not ever make any mistakes. And I know, of course, that this all is bunk.

But perhaps I can, through film and stories and a few choice mementos, one day give Emily, when the circumstances of her life cause her to look back, a chance to reconstruct her own new view of our family, to maybe forgive her parents some of their mistakes, see them anew as people, and see better how she fits into the family story. And if this little overpriced auto-everything camera helps, it’s probably worth every cent.


By Forrest Seymour
Originally published in August, 1994, in the Valley Times Journal, Walpole, NH.

Category: Father's Journal

About Forrest Seymour: See my LinkedIn Profile Forrest Seymour is a social worker, psychotherapist and violence prevention consultant.  He has worked in community based programs, hospitals, schools and colleges supporting individual and institutional efforts to prevent sexual violence and promote emotional and community health since the mid-‘70s.  He has consulted with State Department International Visitor Groups and serves on the Cheshire County (NH) Domestic Violence Council, the New Hampshire Violence Against Women Campus Consortium and the steering committee of the Association for University and College Counseling Center Outreach.  Since 2006, Forrest has been at the Keene State College Counseling Center where he is a Counselor and the Coordinator of Sexual Violence Prevention & Education.  He counts amongst his inspirations the many men he has collaborated with locally, nationally and internationally who seek in so many creative ways to end men’s violence, but most especially, the male and female students at Keene State College who step up as Mentors in Violence Prevention peer educators, Walk a Mile in Her Shoes march organizers, Shout Out Against Sexual Assault speakers and witnesses, Take Back the Night marchers, “Vagina Monologues” and “No Zebras, No Excuses” performers,  and as violence prevention activists in countless large and small ways every year and every day.  These students are victims, survivors, allies and active-bystanders; they are leaders, role models and inspirations for their peers, for their faculty and staff, and for Forrest. View author profile.