“All things in moderation.” My father would get his favorite harassment in just as I was telling everyone about the most fabulous idea I had for changing the world, changing my school, or changing my room around.
Being a pre-teener in the mid-fifties was an exciting time for me. My girlfriends and I sped from Howdy Doody to the Mouseketeers to Spin and Marty before glomming on to Bob & Justine on American Bandstand. We lived in the moment of dancing heroes and civil rights integration.
“You’ve got to come see this!” I would squeal to my father, dragging him from the kitchen to the den to see Ed Sullivan’s latest rock and roll heartthrob guest. My father was unimpressed. He would probably rather watch Steve Allen. Too bad my show conflicted with the dreaded Sunday night geometry homework. I ruefully skulked back to the kitchen table to work on axioms and proofs.
Dad wanted me to go into advertising. I was on the school newspaper. I had personally interviewed Al Capp. I was editor of the yearbook. I wrote for fun. I declared I’d be a foreign correspondent and go to Russia. I’d travel the world in a trench coat and share my enthusiasm for people everywhere.
“All things in moderation,” Dad would say as I waxed on, not hearing.
I’d become a beat poet in the ‘60’s, sunglasses, self-restrained humor, Gauloise smoke in my hair. I’d move to San Francisco where the poets lived and become one with the fog, the ocean, the existential milieu.
And if he didn’t say it, his look conveyed it. “All things in moderation.” It became a nagging curse rather than an admonishment.
So I moved to ‘Baghdad-by-the-Bay,’ found the bookshops, wrote the bad poetry, and delighted in the swirling fog . . . with concealed glee.
After several years of Japan, then the world of parenthood, I began to look for the peace of Zen Buddhism, The Middle Path. Alan Watts whispered in my ear of what I thought was detachment from material. I was convinced and listed Buddhism as “Religion” whenever the chance occurred. Still, Zen is a man’s religion. Amida Buddhism didn’t have the same ring.
Dad had been gone for years. The chance to change direction came slowly. In a philosophy class in my doctoral years, I discovered Aristotle. Most remembered ethic? “All things in moderation.” Meaning? It would take years of soul-searching to determine that for myself. My definition? Don’t seek the boring path. Seek the path of steady courage.
The unexamined life is not worth living.
Thanks, Dad. I do not tremble at the immense universe but reach out to touch it. Where it needs my hand, I lend my help. A mitzvah on us both.
Marianne Halpin is a writer and goat farmer in Hadlyme, Connecticut