Before I was born.
Before I was even thought of.
My dad had a dream about how his life might be.
What was it?
He told me once that he liked drawing. Did he dream of being an artist?
His father did. But then the Great Depression happened and he came back to South Chicago after a year at Notre Dame to work in tin mills.
It turned out to be a good life. A life that included creating art. A life that was even enriched by it. In fact, when he began creating models of the floor process at the tin mill out of a purely aesthetic interest, he discovered a whole new way to complete the tin making process.
Even a stroke couldn't stop him from creating work. Despite severe paralysis later in life, he continued to work in pastel chalks that had an abstract vibrancy that earlier work never had.
What about my dad?
He's never talked about his itch for art, though I know it's in there from the way he attends opera and talks about movies. But still, what was it? That dream? Was it art?
Or was it something else? Was it the simpler, easier to express dream of a family and a house and a good retirement plan?
A relative who helped him get the mortgage for his first house told me once that when she asked him what his goals were, he replied he wanted to be a millionaire.
But that was after his first child, me.
I'm wondering about before that.
Before he was a young Naval officer in Hawaii married to a woman named Ursula who was going to be my mother.
What was his dream?
Did I and my brothers and sister make it better? Or worse? Or the diplomatic "different"?
After all, I'm not sure he ran around in the south Chicago streets saying, "Some day, when I grow up, I'm going to the father of a guy who writes for a precarious living."
Or maybe he did.
I'm going to be a dad in about a month. I'm wondering about all that. Not that there's really any real answer.
But still. Sometimes a question is worth asking just to look at the curving mark it leaves in the air.
I can tell my boy what my dream was and how it all changed and accelerated and everything - everything except whatever it was in my head to begin with. Which is how it always is - with, or without, kids.
Above, a photo from 1962, two years before I was born. My dad, William George, sits closest to us. Then my grandmother, Mary Kay, followed by my Aunt Jan and my namesake, Malachy (who is himself named after his uncle, Malachy Flanagan, who raised Mary Kay and her sister Helen after their father was killed in a boating accident.) Finally, my grandfather, William George - a painter, sculpter, dad of three, tin mill worker - several years before his stroke.