There has been such a succession of news cycles with astounding violence and terror in the past couple years. It’s enough to make a former Journalism major and news junkie stop watching and listening just to get through the day. I find myself, overly empathic being that I am, stunned, shocked, revolted, disgusted, and terrified lately. This repetitive overload of horror leads me to wonder how we go forward each day without seriously spinning out of control and giving up all hope of ever leading “normal” lives again. Some of us cannot, and some of us will not. Some of us will slip into deepening depression, hide from the world, and self-medicate more with our drugs of choice. Conversely, some of us will find the way to seek beauty, creativity, and love in everything we can, as a counterbalance for the awful and negative that predominates the headlines.
I have been wondering why I am able to avoid madness and Keep Hope Alive. Perhaps one of the reasons is the way I was raised, and the people who raised me. I don’t know if it is Nature (my DNA) or Nurture (my parents), but something has sustained me and continues to keep me moving forward.
My Father, Bronson David Beardsley, was a complicated, intelligent, neurotic, and hilarious human being. Did I hear someone say something about the apple not falling far? Anyway, from my earliest memories, I can recall him being there in the Dad way. He taught me to swim, to ice skate, to be cautious, and to follow through. He told a million jokes, and I learned how to entertain. He played his records on the Hi-Fi, and sang along with Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Sammy Davis, Jr., and I fell in love with Music. He encouraged me to play piano, and I learned to play. He helped me learn to read by reading to me, and I devoured books before I attended the First Grade. We used to watch the Huntley-Brinkley report together in the 1960’s, and I became aware that being informed was important, and being able to discuss politics, world news events, and cultural events, was required. At bedtime, we often did a special greeting to one another; since my Dad’s middle name was David, he became Brinkley, and I was Huntley. “Good Night, Chet”, he would say from his bedroom on the other side of my wall;”Good Night, David”, I would reply.
I always knew that my Dad would have my back. As I grew up, and we had many differences of opinion, I still,somewhere in the recesses of my mind, believed that when push came to shove, he would show up for me.
I remember being a Freshman at Boston University, and having a gum infection. I was given penicillin at the Infirmary, and was alone in my dorm room for a few days. I started breaking out in a rash that itched like I was tied to an anthill. Raised welts started to completely cover my body, until I looked like I had some new version of Elephantiasis. I phoned home. When I described what was going on, my Father said”I’ll be right there”. Now, Portland, Maine is about a two hour drive from Boston if you encounter smooth sailing, no construction, and no traffic jams of any sort. My Dad arrived at my room in about 90 minutes. He whisked my now enormous puffy body into his car, and drove back (at top speed) directly to our Doctor’s office in South Portland. Dr. Paul Rieger diagnosed me immediately with a severe allergic reaction and I was treated with the proper antidote. I recovered at home in a couple days.
During my College years, the differences were more visible. I was as staunchly Left Wing as he was Republican. I was protesting the war that his President was waging. I was a vegetarian from the age of 19, and he was a carnivore. I joined Greenpeace, Amnesty International, the Sierra Club, the World Wildlife Fund, and lots of other ecological organizations. Dad was in the local Kiwanis, the Shriners, and involved in teaching and coaching hockey. Ideologically, we went our separate ways as I became an adult.
When I married and moved to San Francisco, Dad and Mom came to visit. Two decades later when I married for the second time, and moved to Homer, Alaska, Dad came to visit.When I became a professional singer and performed in local bands in Portland, Dad came to gigs. When I opened several gift shops and made my living as a retailer, Dad came to check out my shops. He might have disagreed with all my choices, personal and professional, but he did show up to see what I was doing, and to have a basis on which to form his opinions.
My Father had strong convictions and he was usually immoveable. Right or wrong, you knew where he stood. Here are several things I learned from him that have been very important to me over the years: 1. Your Word is your Bond.2. You better be able to support yourself in this world, as it might be that no one else will. 3. Having good friends is essential. 4. Clean up your messes. 5. Give something back to the community.
Dad found it hard to express sentiment and emotion. Like most men of his generation, those things were frowned upon and mostly suppressed. But, in the end he was able to always tell me he loved me and was proud of me.
These days I think that all those lessons I learned from my Father long ago taught me some other things. I learned that much was expected of me, and that was all right. I learned that having strong beliefs and knowing yourself well could propel you forward. I learned, too, that someone having your back gives you a kind of self-esteem that not everyone owns.
I’m not sure, but I think the influence of these ingrained precepts helps me every day. The instruction from a tough-love Yankee Father made me strong, independent, and confident.
So, Dad, you were right. You were right about me not going to Woodstock. I cried and despised you for not allowing me to go with my friends, but you were right. I would have hated the rain, the mud, and no bathrooms! And you were right when I cried about a young man who dumped me after a three month love affair; you said “Flash in the pan, huh?”, and I thought you were unfeeling and heartless. But, you were right again. I was infatuated, and it would never have worked.
The photograph above was taken in late Summer, 1970. I was 19 years old, and had just returned from my first trip to California, tanned and exuberant. We were sitting on my Dad’s cabin cruiser boat after a day on the ocean. That was a good day.
If you were here tonight, we would watch the evening news together, and you would shake your head at the mess in which we find ourselves today. But we would have an intelligent discussion about all of it, and find a joke in it somewhere.
“Good Night, David.”