Writer, editor, stumbler after Jesus

Ghosts and ancestors

THOUGH I’VE LONG been a Bruce fan (first concert: The River tour, way back when), I’ve yet to watch the recording of his celebrated solo Springsteen on Broadway show from a couple of years back. So, I was moved by the clip of “the Boss” that circulated on social media around Father’s Day in which he spoke about his troubled relationship with his father, while introducing the song, “Long Time Comin’.”

It reminded me of my own complicated relationship with my dad, a kind but distant man I longed to know better. Bruce told how, shortly before he became a father, his dad had visited unexpectedly to try to make his peace.

“We are ghosts or we are ancestors in our children’s lives,” Bruce said of that meeting. “We either lay our mistakes, our burdens upon them, and we haunt them or we assist them in laying those old burdens down and we free them from the chain of our own flawed behavior. And as ancestors, we walk alongside of them and we assist them in finding their own way, and some transcendence.

“My father, on that day, was petitioning me for an ancestral role in my life after being a ghost for a long, long time. He wanted me to write a new end to our relationship… It was the greatest moment in my life with my dad, and it was all that I needed.”

Those moving words reminded me of an experience a few months back I’d written about briefly in my journal, but then forgotten. It was an account of a dream—I rarely remember these nighttime imaginings—in which I’d been sitting across from my father, talking about the past.

He asked how things had been for me growing up. I didn’t want to hurt him, but I did want to be honest. “I guess I didn’t feel wanted,” I said. I went on to say that we can feel conflicting things simultaneously, sometimes—and I had known that I was loved, it just seemed to be from such a distance: I had felt like an inconvenience.

He beckoned me over to sit next to him. I did, and we talked some more, side by side. He asked me what I needed.

“Just this,” I said as I laid my head on his shoulder. “Just this.”

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