用心下注的父親

FRANK BRUN◎撰 摘自THE NEW YORK TIMES

0
9
photograph by Fredrik Broden

爹的眼睛閃閃發光。「等着看我的絕招,」他跟我說,「這是祕密,保證讓你贏錢。等我們上桌時再秀給你看。」

他指的是二十一點賭桌。爹愛玩二十一點,尤其愛跟我們兄妹四人一道玩。為了找到足夠的空位讓一家三口、四口,或五口都上桌組成暗樁隊,我們甚至可以在賭場繞上一小時。數十年前他在拉斯維加斯領我們入門;為了能夠多一個理由和方法相聚,這些年來我們持續地玩:這是我們之間的一種儀式,一個避風港。

直到上週末,我們已經有好一陣子沒玩了。但為了慶祝爹的八十大壽,我們一定要他挑一個週末出城的活動。他選了二十一點,還有大西洋城。因為那兒比拉斯維加斯近,而且也挺不錯的。

爹風光一生,心願卻如此平實,實在有趣。他是「美國夢」的具體代表,憑藉勇氣、機運,和拚了命地辛苦工作,終於嘗到甜美的果實。他在紐約的近郊長大,是義大利南部貧窮移民之子,在家排行老大;英文是他的第二語言,高中時卻憑一己之力打敗有錢階級的金髮四分衞當選學生會主席,跟着獲大學給予全額獎學金。但首先他得說服雙親,到新罕布夏州一個叫達特茅斯學院的地方待上四年,跟當學徒學手藝一樣有出息。

他娶了兒時的青梅竹馬,二人攜手,一路唸完商學院,工作越換越好,房子越換越大,直到六十一歲她過世為止。那時距他退休只剩幾個月,原該是二人一齊享清福的時候。他終於學會如何使用洗碗機,卻永遠學不會須臾停止對她的思念。

我覺得因為媽的緣故,他人生這階段最教我信服,理由是:那是對人內在而非外在能耐的一種禮讚。人可以敞開心胸,變得柔軟,向上提升。媽還在世時,爹在家的角色是嚴父,負責扮黑臉,所以媽能做我們的朋友;他從來不必在意我們受了傷或照料我們的傷,也不必為我們的心事提供建議或幫助。

後來他得這麼做了。因為我們只剩下爸爸。他一路扶持我妹走過離婚;向我和我的伴侶保證我們在家的地位和其他夫妻沒兩樣。而他的九個孫子(母親生前只見到兩個)都知道他是最熱心、最寬容的啦啦隊,分分秒秒保持警覺,時時刻刻付出關愛;他們的生日他記得最牢,從不漏失禮物。

他原本就是慷慨的人,後來變得更大方,不只對可以計價的事物如此,不可計價的亦復如此,好比:他的時間、肢體表情、情感等。他已明白什麼事情讓他最快樂,就是盡他所能做些瑣碎小事,把他所愛的人往幸福的方向推一把;就是讓我們知道他多麼希望我們變得那樣;而把這些全都明確地表達出來,而且在過程中為我們的嘴角帶來一抹微笑、雙眼添上一絲光芒。

以下就是他大壽那天的情形。我們終於找到合適的二十一點牌桌,大家圍着他成扇形散開。是輪到他出招的時候了。他要我們每個人(他的子女,還有我們的人生伴侶)伸出手來,然後在每個掌心裏塞進兩張簇新的百元大鈔;也就是說,他幫我們出賭本,讓我們未賭先贏。

他說:「看到了嗎?你們已經是贏家了。」

就是這樣——他玩二十一點的訣竅,也是他人生的訣竅。這個訣竅顯然和金錢無關;其實我們夠福氣,並不是那麼需要錢;而他也夠福氣,不至於給不起。這訣竅和他人生晚年的渴望有關,他要確定我們知道:在他心裏,我們重於一切,而我們的陪伴帶給他歡喜。這祕訣和他寬闊的胸襟息息相關。

我祈禱能學到他的祕訣。我希望能偷過來。


My Father Bets Hıs Heart

Dad had a twinkle in his eye.

“Wait until you see this trick,” he told me. “This secret. You’re guaranteed to make money. I’ll show you when we sit down at a table.”

A blackjack table, he meant. Dad loves blackjack, especially with my three siblings and me, and we’ll circle a casino floor for an hour just to find a dealer with enough empty seats for three or four or all five of us, so that we can have our own little cabal. He inducted us into the game decades ago in Vegas, and we continued to play over the years because it was another excuse and another way to spend time together: our ritual, our refuge.

Before last weekend, we hadn’t played in a long while. But for his 80th birthday, Dad got to choose the agenda for a weekend out of town. He picked blackjack. And he picked Atlantic City because it was closer than Vegas and good enough.

It’s funny how modest his desires can be, given what a grand life he’s lived. He’s the American dream incarnate, all pluck and luck and ferociously hard work and sweetly savored payoff. He grew up outside New York City, the oldest child of relatively poor immigrants from southern Italy. English was his second language. He managed to be elected president of his high school over the blond quarterback from the right side of the tracks, then won a full scholarship to college. But first he had to convince his parents that four years in New Hampshire at a place called Dartmouth could be as beneficial as an apprenticeship in a trade.

He married a grade­ school sweetheart and stayed married to her through business school, a sequence of better jobs, and a succession of bigger homes until she died at 61, just months shy of his retirement and of what were supposed to be their golden years. He eventually learned how to work the dishwasher but never how to go more than a few minutes without pining for her.

It’s this phase of his life since my mother that I find most compelling because it’s a tribute to what people are capable of on the inside, not the outside. They can open up, soften up, and step up. When Mom was around, my father’s assigned role in the family was as the stern disciplinarian—he played the warden so that Mom could be our friend—and he was never forced to notice our hurts or attend to them, to provide succor and counsel in matters of the heart.

Then he had to because he was the only parent left. He held my sister’s hand through her divorce. He made sure to tell me and my partner that our place in the family was the same as any other couple’s. And his nine grandchildren, only two of whom my mother lived to meet, came to know him as their most fervent and forgiving cheerleader, ever vigilant, ever indulgent. Their birthdays are the sturdiest part of his memory. He never fails to send a gift.

A generous man from the start, he has somehow grown even more generous still, not just with items of measurable value but with those of immeasurable worth, like his time. His gestures. His emotions. He has figured out what makes him happiest, and it’s doing the little bit that he can to nudge the people he loves toward their own contentment. It’s letting us know how much he wants us to get there. It’s being obvious about all of that and, in the process, bringing a smile to our lips, a twinkle to our eyes.

Here’s what happened on this milestone birthday of his when we finally found the right blackjack table and fanned out around him and it was time for his trick: He asked each of us—his kids, our life mates—to stretch out a hand. And into every palm he pressed two crisp hundred-dollar bills, so that our initial bets would be on him and we would start out ahead of the game.

“See?” he said. “You’re already a winner.”

That was it—his secret for blackjack, which is really his secret for life. It has nothing, obviously, to do with the money, which we’re blessed enough not to need too keenly and he’s blessed enough not to miss too badly. It has to do with his eagerness, in this late stage of life, to make sure that we understand our primacy in his thoughts and his jubilation in our presence. It has to do with his expansiveness.

I pray I learn from his secret. I hope to steal it.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here