Sunday, June 15, 2008

Remembering My Father: Clifford W. Marshall, 1905-1974

In my book Reinventing Myself, I described my father as an enigma. He seemed to live in my mother's shadow. Like me, he was quiet and reserved; like me, he apparently suffered from clinical depression for much of his life, or at least that's my unofficial diagnosis or my explanation for his being the way he was.

As I look back, I realize that Clifford William Marshall was a good man, forced to be a farmer during poor economic times while he dreamed of better things. He never "made his mark on the world" in any way that befitted his intelligence and his college degree (in an age when college degrees were rarer).

My father was easy to overlook or ignore, but I realize now that he was a good man who did his best to meet his responsibilites. If he was sometimes reclusive and unpleasant, he probably had reason to be. He was browbeaten by his mother, and to a lesser extent, by his wife, my mother. I don't blame her; she did what she had to do to cope with life.

My father, pictured on the left (above) in about 1933 with my mother and me, had red hair, which I always coveted. Later, he grew bald, and he put on weight because of his unhealthy eating habits: a daily pint of ice cream at bedtime will do that to you. He also developed heart disease and diabetes toward the end of his life, and suffered a major stroke. He died at age 70 when he suddenly fell from the motor scooter he was riding along a snowmobile trail in northern Wisconsin. I missed his funeral; my husband and I were in London at the time, and couldn't get back in time.

My father was a kind man. He befriended an alcoholic acquaintance and tried to help him in an ultimately futile struggle to remain sober. He never drank himself, but he smoked for many years in an age when the dangers of smoking were not as well known as they are today. He took me for a boat ride on a northern Wisconsin lake once; we didn't talk much, but I remember that he was amused at my adult fear of water, my inability to swim, and my insistence on wearing a life jacket.

What else can I say? Here are the last lines of my chapter about him in Reinventing Myself: "Maybe he was even proud of my brother and me. Maybe under his quiet demeanor and his lack of communication, he knew some secret joy. My brother pities him as a victim of a dominating wife and a domineering mother, but I see him now as a victim of clinical depression that was never diagnosed or treated. I wish I'd had a chance to know him better--but perhaps I wasn't paying enough attention."

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo from the family collection


Lydia said...

This was so beautiful, Marlys. I'm glad you wrote about your father today, as I have yet to read about him (when I read your book, next on my list). What a quiet tribute. And, since he was a redhead, you might get a kick out of this young woman's ongoing photojournal, featured in A Year in Pictures.
I think her photos are stupendous!

seniorwriter said...

You're right. Those are great pictures. And I've never seen so many redheads. My father and his father (who died when I was very young) were the only redheads in my family, as far as I know.

Linda Austin said...

"I wish I had a chance to know him better - but maybe I wasn't paying attention." I felt exactly that way recently when my dad gave me an old CD recording of my grandmother talking about her life. Unfortunately even though I saw her every weekend I never really knew her, or thought to know her, and NOW I wish...

Dorothy said...

Most of us wish we could go back and say or do one more thing for our parents. During our time, parents rarely spoke what they were really thinking or how they ever felt. It wasn't considered important.

You did a great job explaining your feelings about your dad.

My best,
Dorothy from grammology
remember to call gram

MMH said...

So many times we don't take the time to really know someone. And then they are not there and we wonder what might have been. My parents are 90 and 91, frail and failing. I consider myself lucky to be able to call them on the phone and tell them when I have a good day and ask about theirs.