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excerpt > Larry Smith > Patrick Fitzmike and Mike Fitzpatrick

Patrick Fitzmike

Uncertain Beginnings

There is no great sense of loss for those with limited expectations. Vague ache there may have been to contemplate the life of other boys who were also sons; inchoate envy of some sort was what if anything he likely felt to see many of those other boys even actually become, as the years went by, less the sons of and more the friends and fond companions of the men, even of the reprobate men; become less their sons eventually than loving doters on and helpers of the drunken penurious men or the flashing piratical rogues of whom great stories were told in their neighborhoods. Some sons became the veritable lieutenants of yet another breed of fathers who were the world’s pious familial stalwarts building out small fiefdoms or occasional empires from the small towns like the one he was born to or, no differently, from their brick stone or cobblestone South End or Back Bay tenement composts. And all he had really ever envied was not the doting or the embraces or the tacit reciprocities but simply that they had something, whatever it was, he did not and could never.

Patrick Fitzmike expected nothing whatsoever from Brendan Fitzmike; not once that he himself could recall did he await a warm favor or lament one never coming during the ninety-nine years (literally) that his father lived on this earth. If as he saw other fathers embrace their boys in pride or only for the joy of embracing, it could not be said he’d ever taken Brendan’s harshness too personally. His two younger brothers fared no better, after all, while both his two younger sisters came to marry men who in their own ways he could sense were just so cold in their bones if less so in their manner.

“I’m proud,” he said shaking his son’s hand when Patrick became Archbishop.

“Not, ‘I’m very proud of you, son,’ or even ‘I’m very proud of you, Patrick,’” as he once confided without bitterness to Bern Scheidman. “Just a plain old ‘I’m proud.’ When I became Cardinal, all he said then was ‘Congratulations.’”

In his own nearly eight decades, Patrick Fitzmike confided in very few men, and never in women, which is partly explained by the bond he and his mother, a woof and warp of mutual deprivations, shared at such unutterable levels that to talk about it with her or to talk about such with anyone would have been impossible and could have been harmful even to attempt. He felt the desert, the thirst she with no overt demanding or even direct asking yet no less irresistibly besought her children to slake. He did so, his brothers and sisters did so too, but he was the oldest child, and the one who bore the burden of all his father had left undone, which was everything. There were times he felt her yearning so abundantly, the last thing he’d do when confronted with such distress was to speak at all, as to do so might reveal him to her as a desiccated vessel himself, and so by such self-disclosure desolate her yet again and further. The less he said, the better she got through each day.

Sixty years later, he could still smell her in the neat beige drapery that defined his apartment. He went to confession twice a week without fail throughout his early career, once a week without fail through the rest of it. Two Popes were among his confessors, which caused him some misgivings on occasion but he was able to reassure himself because, as far as he could tell, both Ratti and Pacelli did always honor the sanctity of his confessions. Pacelli, of course, was his dear friend and comrade but, considering some of Pacelli’s other dear friends and comrades, you couldn’t always be sure what he might not have to resort to under any given circumstance.


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Larry Smith has published widely as a fiction writer, a poet and an essayist. Learn more about Larry and his work here.

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