It is 3:30 a.m. and I am sitting in my apartment overlooking an empty Pacific Avenue. The St. George is quiet tonight and so is the city of Santa Cruz. I have just finished The Fathers We Find and want to make a few comments about this 118-page novel.
First, it was given to me by poet Nancy Gauquier who had read it and liked it. Second, I met Charles not long ago here in town when he was the featured reader at The Wired Wash Cafe which is an important part of Santa Cruz’s (and California’s) poetry life. It is a noisy laundromat with espresso machines and a dangerous restroom. “What,” I asked myself, “is Charles P. Ries doing here?” At a party later, I learned he had been imported by Christopher Robin (Zen Baby) and Brian Morrisey (Poesy). I barely got to talk with Charles, but I was very interested in his poetry and his thought. Now having read this novel, I understand why he seemed so interesting. He is.
While I was reading I had an awareness occur twice that surprised me: I forgot I was reading. The writing was so clear that it just seemed to be going into my consciousness with no effort on my part. I decided that either Charles Ries is an excellent writer or he had found a hole in my head just the right size to insert a nozzle to pour the information into my brain. I guess it must be that he is an excellent writer.
The novel deals with the difficult subject of fathers. Since I was both born and adopted, I had two fathers, and I am a father now, so I know how confusing and profound both having fathers and being a father can be. (Is!) But here in this memoir we see an iconic father…a successful mink farming pillar of the Catholic Church…a quiet and disturbingly bound up man with very high standards…Charles’s father.
That this highly intelligent, sensitive, and aware poet I met, and this almost scary (yet strangely beautiful) father of his, had at one time almost come to blows did not surprise me. And it really makes me wonder at how we are shaped by strong forces in our childhoods, and at how hard it can be to discover that there is a much different entity coming into being which somehow has to break free of the shapers and shape itself.
This is an age-old story but it is told with such clarity that it is one of the best tellings. I laughed, I cried. I am grateful. Another thing that happened to me (that I also liked) as I read, was that I saw or felt or somehow knew and understood that the word “mink” and the term “blackberry brandy” could be used in one sentence to recreate an exquisite juxtaposition…one I can feel, smell, taste, see and…almost…hear. (There is mud in this story too.)
This is a very, very good novel. A memoir. A difficult love story with many layers. Read it, then give it to a friend. Learn about mink and blackberry brandy… and love.