My Father’s Painting

*The image used is Henry Wadsworth Longfellow by Thomas Buchanan.

 

I’m sitting underneath a painting of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

It’s a stately painting, and the man who created this work of art is the man who is supposed to be my biological father. Longfellow’s stern, bearded countenance is aimed down at me as I slug on a dark beer in a cold glass. My own face and beard, less gray and less lined, are lit by a combination of votive candles and streetlights. A mirror hanging on the wall next to my head reveals all this from time to time whenever I deign to gaze back at the man I see before me, the reflection of myself in my 30’s.

The dichotomy of painted portrait by my would-be father, and my own reflection just beneath it, is its own brand of unique strangeness I often find in my life. The great thinker, the bearded poet above – his image framed by my father’s mind and brought to life by his hands and brush strokes. Below, in the mirror, the bearded man who is not a great thinker or a poet – me – is an image brought to life through real years of joy, sadness, anger, sickness, grief, laughter. My father didn’t have a hand in my creation, metaphorical or otherwise. His brush did not touch me.

I found myself drawn to Longfellow, long before I had ever encountered this painting by my father. I have personally explored Longfellow’s lived-in homes, I’ve seen his sat-in furniture, and I’ve examined his old fine china. I’ve wandered where he wandered, strolled where he spent his youth, and thought along the shores of Portland where he used to spend hours of his own time, in his own time. I’ve visited his final resting place and left coins on the stone above where he lay in eternal repose. In many ways, Longfellow, the man embodied by the statue just outside the bar I’m in, is more real to me than the biological father who sired me.

There is more of my father in the painting of the dead poet than there is in me. The man in the mirror, he is my own creation. The lines of his face, the light in his eyes, the life reflected back – those were all made with my own metaphorical brush strokes in the form of decisions made, life lived. And I’m okay with that.

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