If you’ve read my blog, you know that I am a lover of questions and you know I encourage my daughters to ask them - whatever they may be.
But, I’ll be honest, this one caught me off guard. And, just to confirm - yes, it was in reference to President John Quincy Adams.
My five year old was in stream-of-consciousness talking and questioning mode as she was both trying to get my attention and trying to pretend that a nap wouldn’t be her best option at the moment.
At some point, in hopefully as kind a way as possible, I shared that I was not going to keep answering questions that I knew she already knew the answer to - that I was happy to answer the questions I could, but I wanted her to try and answer for herself when she could. (This was a modestly diplomatic attempt at avoiding saying that she was driving me absolutely crazy.)
So, I was pretty well tuned out when she dropped this one on me. It worked. She got my attention!
I was immediately laughing hysterically inside - trying to process exactly where this question came from and how - and if - I was supposed to pretend I knew or didn’t know an answer. So, I did the obvious thing that any decent Dad would do: I let my 7 year old answer.
Yes. Someone had to have seen John Adams’ penis.
With her confident and informed response to her little sister, I recalled that the 7 year old had been learning about Presidents at school. And, of course, she’d remembered the most important facts underlying our Democracy: William Howard Taft got stuck in the White House bathtub and had to be craned out, and John Adams went skinny dipping in the Potomac. So, again, by a leap of logic easily made by a 7 year old but still suspect by a 5 year old - President Adams’ penis was out for the viewing. (Perhaps, a timely lesson on the value of transparency in Democracy?)
The giggles about learning what skinny dipping means had long passed from our initial discussion, but this burning question persisted in my daughter’s mind. And, I was reminded that the barrage of questions she’d been asking that she already knew the answer to were not bad questions. They were just unnecessary. She had to be reminded she knew the answer already - or could easily find them for herself.
So, the only bad question really is the one you have but you don’t ask.
For so many reasons, this was not just a good question, it was epic.
That every day we may ask and be asked at least one good question…
Some days my heart allows me to dream. He’s still out there somewhere. Maybe in Idaho or Montana or Arizona - somewhere alone with his demons, but liberated from his guilt that they were also haunting others - the ones he loved. Alone, maybe thinking of us, free in his suffering - if not of it.
My brain knows better than my heart, but often in April - even before my brain realizes it’s April - my heart can sneak up and insert this vision. His birth month. His death month. A beautiful day. A big sky. A beautifully unsettling storm. An image of my Dad in some big country, feeling as small as he needs to, expanding as large as the day will let him.
I’ve said to many who knew my Dad that he probably should have lived life as a drifter, someone alone, detached, and free to move on when he needed to wrestle with or run from his demons of Depression, sexual abuse, and religious shame and guilt. I tell them that his choice to settle down with a family, in a place, to build a neighborhood was the hardest personal path he could have taken. But, he took it - until he couldn’t anymore.
He committed suicide on April 27, 2006 - a day before his 62nd birthday.
Suicide was the only way he could silence his demons. He was tired. He felt old. He had M.S. I sat with him, wringing his hands, scrubbing them, staring hollowly and telling me how awful he was, sobbing, un-human, not my Dad. He believed deeply that he was the worst thing that had ever happened to his family, to me. “I love you all, but I hate myself.” His final words scripted in his elegantly violent handwriting.
I don’t know if my heart’s dream actually makes me happy. I don’t know if I find it comforting. It just appears in April. I guess for a fleeting moment it makes me feel slightly less alone - a selfish indulgence. But, quickly, I’m glad he’s no longer suffering. I’m glad he’s not here - not even out there. The contradictions of living with suicide.
Some days my heart allows me to dream, and for a moment the world is different - slightly warmer, a little bigger, but not necessarily better.