Dick made a valiant effort not to forget. Regularly, and always in the same order, he would repeat: Jenny, Anna, Joe, Calvin, Doris, Stephanie, Alden, Jim, Rosie, Grace, and Ashlyn. He learned his list of family names by heart.

         To “learn by heart” probably comes from the Old Testament. When Solomon imparts his words of wisdom, he urges his listeners to “write them upon the tablet of your heart.” With each iteration, Dick engraved the names more deeply in his heart.

         He started with the most important names, those of his children, Jenny, Anna, and Joe. He also included their spouses (Jim, Alden, Stephanie), his grandchildren (Calvin, Grace, Ashlyn), his deceased aunt (Doris), and, for some reason unknown to me, Jenny’s dead dog (Rosie).

         Dick always began his recitation by naming his children in their order of birth. I believe it was his way of declaring himself “Father of Jenny, Anna, and Joe.” His assertion reminds me of the Biblical begats—which, in newer translations, has evolved into “became the father of.”

         Dick’s fatherhood resembled an inner map on which he always could locate himself, like a genealogist tracing branches in a family tree. One’s genealogy places a person within a larger story, and it provides an answer to the question, “Who are you?” Dick knew who he was when he declared his fatherhood.

Anne-Marie Erickson

Featured image: Joe, Jenny, Dick, and Anna Cain (left to right), 1988

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