Even though my father has been dead for more than fifty years he remains fixed in time, memory and my psychology. He doesn’t show up in the daylight like my deceased mother, who is at my elbow when I make doubly sure I have locked the door, turned off the gas and taken out the rubbish. He’s not there when I am parroting her prophetic words: wait until you’re my age. And he doesn’t interfere when mother reminds me how to make that perfect cup of tea. These recollections have particularly weight because they are presented in her perfect British tongue, exaggerated for effect. It is as if the Queen is speaking.
In my dream journal I wrote: “Dream of my Father.” Later I would wonder why I didn’t describe him as Dad. Perhaps this usage was because the dream meeting seemed formal, in a hotel or business setting. In response to my search for him, he just shows up. The encounter doesn’t seem emotional; rather, it was more like turning a corner and meeting an old acquaintance. It’s as if I had seen him a couple of days ago rather than a half-century.
Nonetheless we hug. I feel the man through layers of suit, scarf and overcoat. In the dream, it feels like this “layering” is keeping us apart. I ask him, is this all there is? Later I would reflect on how war, distance and money kept my father from his wife and three sons.
There is some movement in the dream. We are crossing an eight-lane highway and I am holding his hand, guiding him. I explain that this is just the way it is in New York or Las Vegas. That was it, I think. It was good to meet the well-dressed, handsome figure who was my father, but not my Dad. I will take the compensation that psychology allows. I am pleased to see this symbolic dream figure in good health rather than the last image of the man losing weight and dignity by the day.
Dreams can represent mere shards of the day, that annoying neighbor or haughty boss. Or dreams can feel as if they come from somewhere deeper in the psyche, the collective unconscious, which carries the images, memories and archetypes that show up out of the blue without apparent rhyme or reason.
Perhaps the dream was prompted by Pope Francis’ romp through the hemisphere and his endless incantations about Father figures and the attendant blessings. Perhaps the dream is reminding me that the world is not so dignified and sweet. Maybe I’m getting my fathers confused. But this is a cold cul-de-sac where I can linger only so long.
The psychologist Carl Jung reminds us that we should see dreams as metaphors and dramas and not as allegories. Dreams are mirrors, he says, endlessly reflecting meanings. The psychologist continues. What are we to do with that physical layering between father and son, the emphasis on exterior form and fashion? What are we to make of the existential cry of the son, asking whether the totality of their relationship is found in this casual embrace? Should we not reflect on that heroic crossing by the son that seems to come from the head and not the heart, guiding the man as if out of obligation?
Jung asks us to dream the dream forward in the interest of psychological health. I can hear him saying:
And what will you do if you survive the crossing? Will you get out of your head and leave your pride at the curb? Is there something else you want to tell this man of your dreams?