It was twenty years ago today that my father died. This is him and my mom:
This is him with my two sisters and me.
That's Kerrin on the right. She died in October 2014. Makes me sad to see everyone looking so happy here. I guess that's a weird thing to say, but one knows what I mean. I didn't leave anything unsaid with my father. There isn't anything I wish I had said that I didn't. In many ways--in every consequential way--my life hadn't really started then. I wasn't dealing with any of things that are all but actually killing me now. He was gone before all of this started. Kerrin is someone I wish I could say more to, though I'm not sure we would have been able to bridge the divide between us. But there are still things you wish you said, just in case. Maybe they're things that people carry into the next world with them? Or maybe they just know when they are somewhere else and you remain where they had been? And that bridges a divide?
I've always felt like my relationship with my father has continued on. Morally, I don't think he'd disagree with my choices. I think of his code of conduct and character. I know he would have reached a breaking point a long time ago if he were living my life, but I also know that if we were to talk about how I conduct myself, he'd think my standards and expectations where were they should be.
I was thinking about him yesterday. I knew someone for a lot of years, who I was always kind to. They were older. A woman. They knew what I was going through. Spoke to it. Not many times, but when they did, I knew they understood. One remark went along the lines of, "I can't begin to process the extent of the mechanized forces you are up against." Someone who knew me for my character, as well as my genius. They had a dog that died, and I provided some small kindness that meant something to them. It wasn't a big deal, just a little time. I'll always give you my time, and as much of it as you need, no matter what I have going on. I'll find a way. And I asked this person to do a very small thing for me. Which would have taken less than five minutes. It was not an onerous thing, a thing that required effort or great thought. I asked them three times. Over a stretch of time. Over email, Instagram messenger, and email again. And they ignored me. They live alone. They're not thirty, with five kids underfoot. They're not eighty, and infirm. But if I put up a photo of me in a Starbucks bathroom on Instagram, they'd hit the old like button for that. They knew, too, that not doing this very simple thing, contributed to the overall hell. The attacks. The hate with which I deal.
Yesterday I said to her that this wasn't a good way to be. That it wasn't just rude, it was cruel. To not even respond? Why do that? How does one justify such behavior? I said this calmly, free of any invective. As much as someone trying to understand, as anything. Inevitably, were the person younger, I'd think, "Who raised you if you think this is the correct way to be?" I get confused. I wonder how people live with themselves, doing what they do. I vet everything I do. Hard. On twenty mile walks. I search and scour my conscience. When I have to write about someone in this journal--even an evil person like a John Freeman--I think about that long and hard. I cannot do something at this point in my life unless I am morally certain it is the right thing. Sometimes, with people and this record, it is the only thing that is left, the thing that has to be done. Or else I feel as if I am complicit in their evil, and my own destruction.
And you know what the person did? Rather than respond to me in any fashion, they took to Instagram and blocked me. I would say I knew this person for seven years. In fact, she was often on the email chains, in that group of people who see my work before anyone else. In the past, when I shared work with her less frequently, didn't let her into that inner circle, as such, she thanked me for how much it meant that I gave her that consideration. And yesterday I also remarked that in fifteen months of sharing my work with her, which is not a small thing, and not a small thing for me, she didn't have a single kind word to say. Not once did she say anything. About a single story.
Here is something I've learned, and I'm sad to say--and very concerned about what it portends for any chance I have--that if you say the truth to someone about them, or present the truth, or write a story or a novel that causes them to confront something they don't like in who they are, they will punish you. They won't reflect. They won't say, "Yeah, that is true, why do I do that, I'm sorry," and then work on fixing whatever is going on. Immediately they will be angry. They will be defensive. They will behave childishly. They will villainize you. I honestly don't know how many exceptions there are to this on earth, but I bet it's less than 500 people. This was such a benign thing. In no rational way could anyone suggest I had done anything to them. Done any wrongdoing. Everything was true, and it was said free of rancor.
I thought about my dad. He wouldn't have behaved that way. He helped me become a person who wouldn't behave that way. And it became something simple and integral to me. A basic tenet of being decent. Culpability. Responsibility. Ownership. Conscience. Self-awareness. Humility. The attempt to understand and process, rather than the projection of anger and lashing back.
I feel like if you can't master that, if you aren't oriented around such basic ideas of decency, what can you master in this life, what idea of consequence, when they are complicated, and harder, can you be oriented around? None, I'd say.
What did I do? I wrote her one last time, pointed out how childish that was, but said that nonetheless, if she ever needed me, I would still be here to help her.
That's who I am in part because of who my father was. The people I respect the most that I do know, are people who have some of those characteristics of my dad. Wickett, Kimball, Pratt, Aaron Cohen, Howard. My uncle Gerard. I've seen more of those characteristics in my sister in recent times.
When we challenge ourselves to grow, no matter how hard that is, and we push through our feelings, and our defensive tendencies, until the latter are replaced entirely by the knowledge that the truth is what matters most, and we learn to handle the former, to rise up off the mat even after they waylay us, gaining in confidence each time that this is possible, until it's a reality of our functioning humanness, we ultimately, I think, raise ourselves. We raise ourselves as parents unto ourselves, free of anyone else's strictures, or prevailing strictures and attitudes, which are typically products of sloth, passivity, cowardice, taking the easy way out. Doing the least. Scraping by. And when everyone else scrapes by doing the least, that becomes the society, the expectation, that which provides the comfort level. And when you are not that way, and you truly do the right things, you can become a demon, a pariah, a threat. I don't know how to solve this yet, in terms of my own journey, and being able to reach whom I want to reach, and have people in enough numbers come to me and partake of what I do, even though they can't say, "he's just like me." I think what I do taps into what makes you most human, and you can see yourself in there, in ways that you can't elsewhere. You can connect there, and those spreading roots of connection will run deeper. Which I hope will also not cause people to try and run away. Which is how it's gone thus far. But though we raise ourselves, in this manner which I am speaking, we can be helped first by others who raise us in the more immediate, "standard" way. That was certainly my father for me.
He was a very practical man. He was not fanciful, he was not a dreamer. He wasn't one of an artistic temperament. He was someone who would make a list--pros on one side, cons on the other, look at the problems of life as if those sides of his piece of paper represented the plates of a scale. Knowing this, I believe that if he and I were to talk right now, about all of the malefic forces I am facing, in their volume, their enormity, their complexity, the single-minded bigotedness of an entire industry, then all of the attendant problems of a world at large that cannot read, and wishes for and insists upon nothing new, and only the mediocre, with what I regard as virtually no chance but to die this way, with my work then dying with me, because I don't believe anyone will do anything on its behalf, I think this practical man would tell me to keep going. Not out of some noble duty, to live a life that is tantamount to decades of falling on a sword, because that is the courageous thing to do. I believe he'd believe in my outcome--an outcome of success beyond what we think of as success. As visual as possible a reconceptualization of how large success can be, and how impactful for the world. I think he'd believe that by now, if he was one of those people on that email chain, and we had been talking all along as this hell has played out, and I have grown stronger, and the body of matchless work has become ever larger.
Twenty years ago today, I stood in a hospital room, held his hand, and watched him die. But he has never stopped living in me, and sometimes I all but hear his voice coming from within my heart, to keep trying, keep creating, keep going, and in what is largely my loveless life, I feel his love all around me.