For some reason when Father’s Day comes around I mostly think about my own father. John O. Lyons was my dad. He had six kids and lived a fascinating life full of youthful enthusiasm during his early years, adventure then the pragmatic realism of fathering during his middle years, and a comfortable retirement later in life while he took his pills and struggled with Parkinson’s Disease. One of his books, The Invention of the Self: The Hinge of Consciousness in the Eighteenth Century, Southern Illinois University Press (1978) is an amazing read. The first chapter “Into the Void” should be required reading for undergraduates going into the field of psychology or history. Today, it would no doubt confuse the youth often obsessed with the notion of the authentic self and identity.
In the mid 1960s, my father who was an English professor at the University of Wisconsin, for reasons unknown at the time, took a side job delivering the Wisconsin State Journal on Sundays. We never questioned why he did this side job. Was the price of milk too high? Were five kids just too much? I have two older brothers and on these Sundays we each took turns waking up before dawn to help dad with his rural paper route. We would take off in the dark in the family blue VW bus. My job in the backseat was to collate the stacks of newspapers, put a rubber band around each one and then hand them up to my dad to stuff into newspaper boxes. I was maybe five or six years old.
Years later I was told that on my first day as my dad’s helper, I was surprised to find out that all the newspapers were exactly the same. Obviously, I was way ahead of my time, predicting the demise of a single source of truth years before Facebook, social media and digital journalism monetized silos of falsity. We would deliver hundreds of identical Wisconsin State Journals. In the wintertime it would sometimes get a bit precarious on the icy roads as spinouts did happen and word of uncontrolled donuts on icy farm roads would reach the discussion at the dinner table. For sure, when we got home I would go back to bed and fall asleep in the warm soft sheets that I had left a few hours before.
When I was in high school, while scarfing down a bowl of cereal in the kitchen, my dad informed me out of the blue that he had a son with a previous wife. Anthony, was evidently my half-brother. Even though I had never been informed or this I looked at him and was neither surprised or shocked. When you are a self-absorbed sixteen-year-old, such news means nothing. Later on we learned that Anthony had died young in a car accident in his thirties – our half-brother from another life we never met.
A few years back, after both of my parents had passed, we all started putting the pieces together. The morning paper route in the blue VW bus was surely to help pay for child support for Anthony. The irony is that while I was with my dad on his morning paper route helping him pay for past deeds, it turned out I was the lucky one as I was the one able to spend those magical mornings with my dad. I still remember the smell of the seats in the VW bus, the noisy sound of the motor and can see his hand reaching back for the next paper.