02 August, 2007

Recurring nightmare

I've been having this dream since at least when I was a teenager, and maybe even longer. It's the one where I am screaming at my father. I'll tell you about the dream, but before I do, I should tell you about my Dad, so that there's at least a little context.

My Dad is probably the most responsible person to have ever lived. He's prudent, methodical, organized, and reserved. He never believed in excess, and he never made any choice or purchase or decision to fulfill his own urges or whims. He had a remarkable career. He served in the Navy at the very end of WWII (in the middle of his engineering degree at Northeastern). While in the Navy, he learned about electronics, to complement his education in Mechanical Engineering. Then he finished college, got married to my mother (I think that was 1948, but maybe it was 1949). My brother was born in 1950. He worked from around 1948 (plus or minus a year) up to around 1973 as an engineer, at a few different companies. As I understand it, he achieved mid-to-upper management levels, though I don't really understand it well, and it is difficult to get him to discuss it because a combination of modesty and convenient "loss" of memory (i.e. modesty) usually prevents you from gleaning too much about his past. His career as an engineer probably cost him the significant hearing loss that he has suffered from for many years, because the product they made at one of his companies was high-speed printing machines, and I gather that it was very loud.

So, in 1973 (again plus or minus a year), I was 5 years old, and my Dad finds out his company is moving to upstate New York. He doesn't want to uproot the family. The job market is horrible, too, because of the recession at that time. So my Dad makes a rather bold transition. He decides to go to work for Prudential Insurance. And from 1973 until well past his late-60's (he turned 65 in 1990) he worked full-time as an insurance agent, focusing mostly on life insurance and home-owners' insurance, and something called "mortgage-life" where your family will own the house free-and-clear if something happens to the bread winner. My Dad, who did not come from a business or sales background, was one of the most successful agents in his office for a long string of years, and won many sales awards. And when you think about what those products are that he was selling, it really kind of fits his personality - prudence, caution, planning for the future. It was a difficult job. His typical week would involve several processes: 1)reading a trade newspaper called the "Banker & Tradesman", which contained listings of all the houses that have been bought - this is the launch point for making phone calls, because these are the people who need the insurance. I don't know if that method works anymore since I know in some states like Washington you need to have your insurance lined up before you even pass papers - but maybe it's different in Massachusetts, or maybe times have changed. So that would be a chunk of his time. 2) Cold calling massive numbers of potential clients. I remember sitting outside his office (he also had an office at home) and listening to his calls, and it got to the point that I had memorized his entire call monolog... "god forbid something should happen to you or your family...". Of course, I never heard the other side of those calls. I don't know if people hung up, or were rude, or didn't know what he was talking about. It was actually quite remarkable that he had enough successful calls to have a very booked appointment schedule! Actually, about his home office... it wasn't until 1979 (6 or 7 years into the career) that he had a "real" home office. When we lived in Mattapan, his office consisted of the wooden workbench that used to be his toolbench, tucked up on a small concrete "shelf" that extended along one entire wall of the basement of our house, among hundreds of boxes and crap that were stored in the basement and had been there for many years. It wasn't much of an office. But then they had a room made into an office when we moved to Stoughton (I was 10 at the time). I guess I wonder if I was listening to my Dad's calls, and someone hung up on him, would he keep going with his monolog so that it wasn't obvious? I really don't know that about him. 3) After the calls, comes the appointments. On most weeks, he would have 1-3 appointments a day to meet new or existing clients. He would drive all over the place in evening traffic, because you need to visit people when they're home from work - so 4pm to 8pm was a busy time for him. There were a lot of days where I saw little of him.

In spite of his success, he never branched off and started his own office, or a private business. It wasn't the "cautious" thing to do. It wasn't "necessary". For my Dad, "necessary" and "sufficient" and "adequate" were always big terms used when explaining why we weren't doing something, or why I wasn't allowed to do or have something.

He could have had quite the affair with those hours and no one would have been the wiser! But that wouldn't have been necessary or prudent! If it were me, then look out!

My Dad continued to follow-up with his existing customers well into his 70's and I think only now, at 82, he probably doesn't see any clients anymore. Though I bet I'm wrong about that. I bet he goes to see the long-time clients even still. It might only amount to one appointment every 6 months, but he probably does it!

So... where are we...

Throughout my life, from say, junior high-school onward, my Dad's career was a source of shame and embarrassment for me. People always made fun of the profession of insurance sales, and I never wanted to tell anyone that's what he did. It wasn't high-paying, though it could have been if he took the risks. It wasn't glamorous. I always felt the need to give a long explanation to anyone who asked what he did. I would always say "he used to be an engineer, but...". I am now a bit ashamed that I was ashamed. And I guess I am ashamed that I can still feel that same shame if I really think about it.

But you just know when you meet a new girlfriend and she or her parents want to know what your parents did for a living, that "insurance salesman" garners a different intellectual response than "doctor" or even "police officer" or even "chef". He was never embarrassed about what he did - at least outwardly. I actually am not sure if embarrassment is an emotion that my father displays. He is quite stoic. He has a couple of emotions: happiness, nervousness, and anger. And his anger is usually not "rage" or violence or anything like that. My Dad's anger comes about when he feels threatened or challenged, or when someone questions his motives or ideals.

Gee, doesn't that sound familiar?

There were a lot of things I wanted to do, or wanted to have, that we didn't do, and I didn't have. Because of that attitude of no-excess. I don't think we were hurting for money. But we didn't go away on extravagant vacations, probably because neither my mother nor father liked to travel. We didn't dine out, probably because neither my mother nor father really cared to do so. We didn't buy a lot of new stuff, but the house was always decorated and updated appropriately and always looked fresh and clean in a very Jewish uncluttered way. You see some people's houses strewn with shelves of books and photographs and you get a strong sense of the character of the individuals based on these piles of their existence. But our house was more like an air-conditioned museum with wall-to-wall plush carpeting in cadet blue and mauve.

So... there's some background on my Dad. I can say just a little bit more about him though. One of the most striking windows through which I have ever had the opportunity to view his personality were the photo albums from his Navy days that still exist intact. He was young - probably 21-23 years old. And he was very good-looking. Much more so than either of his sons, lucky for him. And in all the pictures, he is happy. And he seems carefree, and life of the party, and it is so obvious that everyone liked him and that he was a lot of fun. There's pictures of him with Filipino women, posing for photographs. There's pictures of him on the boat he served. There are also pieces of artwork that he drew when he was in the Navy. Very entertaining. There are also some photo albums of him at parties back home before he met my Mom, where he's on dates with at least one other girl who came before her. And it's so strange to see him at these parties with his dates. I always have that absurd, and completely biologically irrational thought of "that could have been my mother!". And I wonder if he married her, would his life have been different? Better? Worse? Would he have been less prudent? Less reserved? Who knows. So that's a tidbit.

Another tidbit, final one, is that when my Dad was around 62 or so, he had a very severe illness - appendicitis, that went undiagnosed for so long that he should have probably died from it. The appendix ruptured and when they finally brought him to the hospital, the doctors were iffy on what was wrong and not incredibly optimistic at first as to what the outcome would be. But he survived. And that "near death" episode caused my father to undergo a huge change in lifestyle. He was never an unhealthy person anyway, but I think he realized his mortality at that point and decided he was having none of it. He began eating right (in his opinion... my opinion is that eating frozen "Healthy Choice" meals 3 times a day is not "eating right" but that's another story), and he began exercising like a complete fanatic. Seven days a week. Treadmill for 90 minutes, and some light weights. Occasionally the rowing machine or some other ridiculous piece of equipment he has.

Okay, one more final final thing... as he got older, he became much mellower, and compared with the years I lived there, he and my Mom now do many things together. They shop together. He cleans for her. They go out to eat all the time. She's not that well, though not suffering a particular "disease". Just having a hard time as she gets older. And he is so incredibly supportive and caring of her. And it's strange because it evolved into that closeness. I never saw that growing up, and I am not sure it was there. He was too stressed and busy to be "present". So they got lucky to have it evolve like that.

So... to the dream.

Ever since I was a teen, I would have periodic dreams where I would be having some type of debate with my Dad, and he would probably be telling me I was not allowed to do something, or explaining to me how something was not necessary - and I would lose it in my dream. I would scream at him. And this happened quite often. Every year, at least a couple of times. In waking life, I would say that I have only "screamed" at my Dad a few times, and it was mostly (strangely) in the last 10 years, I think, where I finally couldn't deal with it anymore. Maybe not. I don't remember if I've screamed at him. I know I have screamed at my Mom! But that's a different story. And I never have dreams about screaming at her.

So it has been quite a long time. But last night, in my dream, I was in the garage in Stoughton. And it was night. And the garage door was open. And I was doing something on the computer which was there (though there is no computer in the garage). And I hear a car coming down the street and turning into the driveway. And for whatever reason, I am frantically trying to close the windows on the computer, and it's hard to click on them. And I don't even know what's on them, but I know I don't want him seeing it. And he pulls into the garage and gets out of the car, and I don't remember the exchange we had, but he didn't even say much. It was all me. I completely go off, and I am screaming at him at the top of my lungs, and swearing, and calling him all sorts of things that I have never, and would never call him. I don't remember ever insulting him before in the scream-dreams. I usually yell objectively at him. This time it was direct verbal assault. And it goes on for quite some time. And it ends with me telling him in no uncertain terms, that I am "out of here", and I go storming upstairs past my mother, who didn't say anything to me.

Then I wake up, feeling very agitated. It's 6:47am. And I am immediately trying to understand what it was all about. I thought about writing the blog on the subject right away, but decided to wait until I woke up properly. Now I am making myself a little late for work writing this, but it seems important to me.

So what the hell is this dream about. I am not sure the dream means the same thing every time. But for some reason, I think it does. Just like when you lose all your teeth and it means fear of losing control. So what does it mean? I kind of think that my Dad is me. That's what I kind of think. And I don't like it. And I'm pretty sure I'm right because of the way it makes me feel when I write that. In fact, I know I am right. So why am I screaming at myself? I think it's because I am doing to myself what I always felt my Dad was doing to me? Repressing? Overprotecting? Being too cautious? Too reserved? Only doing what's necessary? I am not my Dad. But part of me is. I used to make fun of him, no ridicule him because he was driving his piece of shit 1969 Chevy Nova in 1983. After 14 years. Hm... so what year is my Corolla? Um... 1994... I am my Dad. I could talk about how I am also my Mom... but I'll save that for another blog.

So the question is why that dream now?

And the answer is, "I don't know".

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