On the Death of My Father
My Dad died at around 8.30am on July 31.
His passing was pleasant, I’m told. He was in his own bed, in his own house. His carer came to find him, breezily calling down the corridor, and sailing into his room. Seeing he was still supine, she said his name, he replied, “Oui”, and instantly fell into a coma. The rest went quickly. Neighbours arrived, the nurse arrived and as soon as hospital and ambulances were mentioned, my father expired. Hospitals, he’d already told anyone who would listen, were prison, and he clearly had no intention of ending up in one.
At that moment, the degree on the horizon was the same as my own rising degree in late Leo on my father’s Venus, the Moon and South Node were making a conjunction to my brother’s Sagittarian Moon, and Ceres, the asteroid of parenting, was making a conjunction to my sister’s South Node in Pisces, the place of loss.
I’d seen him just the week before and I can’t say I was entirely surprised when I got the panicked early-morning call. He was old, ill, bored and lonely; also not in the least afraid of dying. In fact, he’d made a sort of peace with his past and said some important goodbyes. He’d reached a place of contentment.
Uranus, the planet of change, upheaval and rebellion, who had played such a huge role in his life, had returned to 10° Taurus, one degree from his natal Uranus, after more than 80 years of adventure through the Zodiac.
Now his body has been burned to dust, and his spirit has been released back into the wild, which is just what he would have liked, for he was not a follower of Jesus or Muhammad or Buddha — at all — but of Pan, the god of the wild places and untamed feelings. Curly-haired Pan, beast below, musician above. Pan: dawn-piper, cloven-hoofed dancer, nymph-lover, smasher, drinker, music-maker.
My father was born with a conjunction of the Moon and Uranus in Taurus, the earthy sign, like Pan associated with nature, spring-time and appetites. And my father was indeed a person driven by unpredictable, insatiable, irrational desires — some the usual ones: wine, women, fast driving, books, maps; others more surprising: the works of Isak Dinesen, Boris Pasternak and Virgil, Islamic architecture, Swiss Army knives, Alexandria. In his later years, he developed obsessions with hand-held vacuum cleaners, insecticide, dried basil and garlic powder, mole traps, French circus TV, caviar, and the little people who came into the house and moved things; not to mention a consuming late-life hatred of one D. Trump that may have kept him going for an extra six months.
My father, like many Leos, experimented with roles throughout his life, some of which lasted decades. His day job was professor of comparative literature at the American University in Cairo (Jupiter in Sagittarius in 3H), a job that he enjoyed a lot and which appealed to his need for continuity (Taurus Moon) and showing off (Sun in Leo). But his playtime roles were many and varied: scholar, boy wonder, poet, screenwriter (Frankenstein Meets the Space Monster is still rated as one of the worst movies of all time, a fact of which he was quite proud), Mediterranean playboy, actor (you can see him in a few movies by Yousef Chahine), publisher (his biggest coup was getting Naguib Mahfouz translated into English for the first time), entrepreneur, historian, American abroad… Quite a few of these roles required special costumes: a perky silk scarf, a dashing Russian hat, an Egyptian galabeyya, an English suit, a photographer’s waistcoat with a million pockets, a beret. Some were more convincing than others; some he had to work at for a long time and never quite came off.
Admittedly, pater familias was never a role he grew into (Mars-Pluto in Cancer anyone?), and husband was a role he played remarkably badly, but consistently (that Taurus Moon again). My parents were married for nearly 60 years, but only a really crazy person would see their union as a model to follow. Unfortunately for them, they had what’s known in astrology as a cosmic marriage — a conjunction of my father’s Sun and my mother’s Moon in Leo, a sign that attracts drama. A cosmic marriage gives relationships a fated quality that can be hard to give up. One thing I’ve learned from this is that fated does not equal happy!
As a Libra Rising, he needed a partner in everything he did. Sometimes it was my mother, sometimes not. You can imagine that with that Taurus-Leo combination he was also a deeply loyal and passionate person.
Last time I saw him, my dad asked me to bring him two things: a copy of this picture of my mother to have beside his bed, and a song by Vera Lynn that reminded him of the clever, sophisticated European he’d met on a bunk bed at the University of Virginia in 1959. Growing up in the heart of the American Midwest, by then he’d already been in love with an idea of Europe (a place he’d yet to visit) for years.
Most of their working lives, though, were spent in Egypt — another place he romanced and romanticised, a place where he could invent himself anew.
So when I started writing this piece, I had never looked at where the asteroid Pan (4450) sits in my father’s chart, but as you know, and I know, astrology works.
The god he worshipped was at 4° Cancer, on his Midheaven at the moment of his birth, and just by the destiny point, the South Node. His eventual self-destruction (a South Node potential) was driven by those Panic urges. When Saturn, the grim reaper finally came for him (exactly opposing his natal Pluto), Pan was stationing, that is standing still, ready to turn backwards in my father’s eighth house, the place of death, the gates of the underworld, ready to call him back to the wild wood and the ancient cloven-footed dance.
My father was a bel homme, a pretty man, with Libra Rising, so his chart was ruled by Venus in Leo — and indeed his life was dominated by women: his terrifying mother, my complex mother, his petites amis, his boss, his best students, several of his closest lifelong friends. And he died surrounded by strong, warm women — the nurse, his carer and the neighbour, just as the horizon reached his Venus in Leo. After that one word, “yes”, left his lips, he’d said it all; yes, he had lived a life on earth, full, complex, rich.
This is from The Iowa Review in 1994. He never quite believed in the astrology — but then he kind of did.