my daughter, who turns twenty tomorrow,
has become truly independent.
she doesn’t need her father to help her
deal with the bureaucracies of schools,
hmo’s, insurance, the dmv.
she is quite capable of handling
landlords, bosses, and auto repair shops.
also boyfriends and roommates.
and her mother.
frankly it’s been a big relief.
the teenage years were often stressful.
sometimes, though, i feel a little useless.
but when she drove down from northern California
to visit us for a couple of days,
she came through the door with the
biggest, warmest hug in the world for me.
and when we all went out for lunch,
she said, affecting a little girl’s voice,
“i’m going to sit next to my daddy,”
and she did, and slid over close to me
so i could put my arm around her shoulder
until the food arrived.
i’ve been keeping busy since she’s been gone,
mainly with my teaching and writing,
a little travel connected with both,
but i realized now how long it had been
since i had felt deep emotion.
when she left i said, simply,
“i love you,”
and she replied, quietly,
“i love you too.”
you know it isn’t always easy for
a twenty-year-old to say that;
it isn’t always easy for a father.
literature and opera are full of
characters who die for love:
i stay alive for her.
“No Longer A Teenager” by Gerald Locklin from The Life Force Poems. © Water Row Books, 2002. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)
Today is the birthday of the father of antiseptic medicine: Joseph Lister, born in Upton, England (1827). He was a surgeon, and in 1861 he was appointed to the Glasgow Royal Infirmary. The hospital’s managers had just had a new surgical wing built, in the hope that the postsurgical mortality rate would be lower in the pristine new facility. Lister, who was in charge of the surgical block, was disappointed to report that the mortality rate didn’t drop in the new building: 45 to 50 percent of the patients still died of “ward fever.”
At that time, doctors didn’t really understand what caused infection or how diseases were spread. The prevailing medical theory about infection was that it was caused by miasma, or bad air. Hospital wards would be aired out from time to time, to dispel the miasma. But Lister doubted this theory, and thought that infection might actually be caused by an invisible dust, like pollen, which was getting in patients’ wounds. So he became determined to erect a barrier between the patient’s body and the surrounding air. He knew that carbolic acid was used to clean the sewers, and some doctors were suggesting it could also be used to clean wounds. Lister experimented with a diluted form of the acid, spraying a fine mist into the air of the operating room, cleaning surgical tools with it, and covering wounds with lint pads soaked in carbolic acid. He also required his surgeons to wash their hands before and after surgery, which was a completely new medical practice. The mortality rate in Lister’s ward dropped to 15 percent, and a couple of years later it was down to 5 percent.
Unfortunately, doctors in England and the United States didn’t believe his method had merit. They didn’t object to his use of carbolic acid, but rather to his theory that wound infections were caused by invisible germs. Lister was vindicated when he performed surgery to repair a broken kneecap. The surgery, which was a complicated type that often resulted in the patient’s death from infection, was a complete success. Lister lived to see the entire medical community accept and adopt his methods.
It’s the birthday of the African-American educator Booker T. Washington (books by this author), born a slave in Franklin County, Virginia (1856). After he was freed by the Civil War, his family went north to work the salt mines of West Virginia. In order to keep track of each salt packer’s work, his barrels were marked with a certain number. The number given to his stepfather was “18,” and at the end of the day the boss would come around and put “18” on each of their barrels, and Washington soon learned to recognize that figure wherever he saw it, and after a while he could write “18” although he knew nothing else about reading or writing. Eventually, he begged his mother for a book, and she somehow got him a copy of Webster’s “blue-back” spelling book from which he taught himself the alphabet.
When Washington attended school for the first time, he was puzzled by the fact that all of the children had at least two or three names called during the school roll call, having grown up only being called “Booker.” By the time the roll call got to him, he had decided to make himself equal to everyone else, and calmly responded, “Booker Washington.”
In June of 1881, Washington was asked to become the principal of a new training school for blacks at Tuskegee, Alabama. The Tuskegee Institute began in a single building with 30 students but through his efforts grew into a modern university.
Washington believed that the best interest of black people was to become educated in vocational and industrial skills. In his famous speech given to a racially mixed audience at the Atlanta Exposition in 1895, Washington said: “In all things that are purely social we can be separate as the fingers, yet one as the hand in all things essential to mutual progress.”
Among Washington’s dozen books is his autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901), which was translated into many languages.
He said, “You can’t hold a man down without staying down with him.”
It’s the birthday of the American crime and suspense writer Robert Bloch (books by this author), born in Chicago (1917). At the age of nine, he saw his first horror movie, The Phantom of the Opera, starring Lon Chaney. Afterward, he slept for a long time with the light on. His favorite reading growing up was Weird Tales. He started writing stories in high school, and after he graduated he bought a secondhand typewriter. He sold his first story to Weird Tales at the age of 17. He’s best known for his novel Psycho, which later was adapted into the famous film by Alfred Hitchcock.
It’s the birthday of poet Algernon Charles Swinburne (books by this author), born in London (1837). He came from the aristocracy and never had to work for a living, so he worked instead on cultivating an outrageous image. Oscar Wilde, no stranger to such matters, once called him “a braggart in matters of vice,” and said all Swinburne’s claims of depravity were just posturing. He was small and delicate in looks, with vibrant and untamed red hair, and he drank to excess, screamed his poetry aloud while skipping around the room, and wandered Oxford at night, screaming blasphemies. He wrote poems calculated to shock Victorian audiences: verses about sex and sadomasochism and vampires. For many years, he was trapped in a cycle of overindulgence, collapse, and recovery. Finally, his literary agent, Theodore Watts-Dunton, forcibly removed him from his unhealthful lifestyle and weaned him from alcohol and dissolute friends. Swinburne lived with Watts-Dunton for 30 years, until he died at the age of 72.