Friday, October 5, 2012

My Late Father Helped Me Take This Picture

Last month, Nick and I were at my niece Kathleen's wedding in Greensboro. I hadn't been particularly focused on taking pictures during the reception, other than getting a few snapshots of my sisters and me clowning around. Frankly, I was more interested in raiding the risotto bar than attempting photography.

I was standing across the room from the dance floor when the bride and groom had their first dance. I peered over a few shoulders and caught a glimpse, smiled, and went back to the conversation I was in. A few minutes later, Kathleen was dancing with her father, John. Suddenly, I felt an urgency. I had to get a picture of them. I was behind several people, trying to find a good angle; Nick pointed out an opening and I jumped in. I quickly dug into my pocket, pulled out my phone (which has a decent camera), and snapped only one photo. Here it is:


I posted it on Facebook. It was one of my most 'liked' posts ever. John is currently using a cropped version as his Facebook profile photo. He told me he loved the 'thumbs up' Kathleen gave him in this touching moment. And I somehow managed to capture it.

I suspect my late father played a role.

C.W. Martin was a professional photographer for decades, starting out as a newspaper photojournalist and then launching Martin's Studio in Greensboro with his business partner. He was beloved in the community, his photos won awards; the Greensboro Historical Museum put together an exhibit on Martin's Studio that ran for years.

When I was younger, my father tried to interest me in photography. He failed. The reasons why are complex, and I'm still identifying them all nearly 20 years after his death.

On multiple occasions, as a kid I'd asked my father if we could move away from Greensboro. Partially this was because I was getting picked on a lot as a gay boy in the South in the 1960s. I'd also been watching a lot of TV and was longing to see the world beyond: New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Europe.

My father's answer was practical but not wanted I wanted to hear. He'd explain that he had spent years building up his photography studio in Greensboro. It wasn't a business that could be easily relocated to another city. We'd have to go without so many things because he'd have to start all over in a new place, he said.

So I got it into my head, which seems preposterous to me now, that photography was an anchor, or at least, it was my anchor. It kept my father tied to Greensboro, and so it kept me stuck in place, too. I realize now I resented the entire concept of photography for doing this injustice to me. And while I could appreciate an artful photo, the science behind capturing it bored me. Aperture and f-stop were as interesting to me as an isosceles triangle. I'd rather draw cartoons (and did).

There's more to this story, however.

I know now that, as much as I loved my father, I rebelled against everything he tried to teach me. Save your money for a rainy day, he'd say. I'd spend it instead on a designer rain coat. Wear a navy blue suit on job interviews, he'd advise me. Navy blue, in my mind, was the color of Southern male conformity. Instead, after college, I wore an off-white suit on all my job interviews, much to my father's disbelief. (Needless to say, it took me a year to get my first job, and only after I ditched the Tom Wolfe look).

Every Saturday night, my father cooked steaks on the grill for the family, except me. I would insist instead on chicken pot pie; anything but steak. I didn't even eat steaks until I was in my early 20s and had left home.

I'm not particularly proud of this. I regret that I wasn't closer to my father, because he was a terrific man, someone everyone respected. But I rebelled against him because I instinctively knew that if I didn't push him away, he might get a better look at who and what I was: his gay son. I couldn't risk disappointing him or, worse, losing his love. And so, I suspect I disappointed him in a different, though seemingly safer, way. Over the years, I've been letting go of this long-ago father-son drama piece by piece. I'm not finished yet; maybe I never will be.

But then, at the wedding, when my niece danced with her father, I felt as if my father and I had joined forces, too. With his spirit and my camera, we captured something beautiful. The partnership only lasted for a few seconds, but it is a start.


Pin It!

21 comments:

  1. Carol W. Martin loves each of his five wonderful children unconditionally. He was right there with you on September 8th at Kathleen's wedding in Greensboro when you snapped the photo. Cherish the moment and keep him well in your memory.
    John

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks John. That means a lot to me. And BTW, you're not only a great father, you're an awesome brother-in-law!

      Delete
  2. I never know what to expect when I come here.
    If a photograph tells a thousands words, you words paint pictures in memories like I have never seen.
    I just visited my dad.
    tissues please

    I bet he, as best we could back then, saw the whole you.
    love tim

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Tim. I'm slowly coming around to thinking that he saw the whole 'me.'

      I so appreciate your comments. xoxox Jim

      Delete
  3. What a touching story, James, that made me think of the small ways I rebelled against my father when I was in my teens and twenties. Over the years, as I've matured and become a father myself, and as my father's views have changed, we've grown closer together. Some part of me is still shaped by the ways in which I did not want to be like my father, but I have a much deeper appreciation of his views and actions when I was younger. My Dad turned 80 last week; one of the best decisions I've made recently was to put aside work and take a few days off in order to celebrate with him (and my Mom).

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're so fortunate, Michael. My father passed away when I was 35, he was 82. I think maybe if we'd had more time, we could have moved past a lot of old crap that got in the way.

      Delete
  4. I've been there --- you feel that need and urge to do something, and it has to be done right then. Nothing can get in the way of your purpose. I bet when you reviewed the photo on your phone that you felt tears in your eyes. Dad was urging you on my friend.

    I think the fact that you were able to write this and realize all that you have means you are a lot further to letting it go than not. I think your dad is awfully proud of you. And this photo.

    Your niece is pretty darn lucky that you captured this moment. As are you.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks JuJu. I do feel lucky, as I have a huge, wonderful family.

      Delete
  5. Your self-revelations bring me to tears again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I promise something wacky and funny next time, Claudia. But thanks for reading my blog so faithfully!

      Delete
  6. You can't miss them when they refuse to leave.

    Love him for having done his best.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Nice piece, Jim. made me a little misty. I also envy your phone camera, which is clearly loads better than mine. ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Chris. For a phone camera, the Samsung Galaxy Note does a remarkably good job. But of coure, right now I'm clamoring to get my hands on an iPhone 5.

      Delete
  8. Beautiful picture.

    Touching story. I think we all push our parents away at some point or other, it's painful to realise it when you get a little older.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I have a loving father who has been my first hero. Your post brings me closer to him in terms of expressing my love for him even as he lives.
    Life is beautiful when gratitude abounds and I'm grateful to you for sharing with me.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh my sweet precious brother - that photo is so endearing and I am just reading your post. We need to talk because Dad was more proud of you than you know (as am I!!) You are, and always have been, amazing!!!! I can't thank you enough for this beautiful picture that captured this sweet moment.
    Love you a bushel and a peck!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Your Dad photographed my daughters and they are treasures just as this photo is treasured by Mimi and John. I'm sure your Dad was there with you at the wedding; he was a lovely man just as it seems that you are too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks so much Robin. I love hearing from people my father photographed. He was there to record the important points in their lives. How great is that?

      Delete