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An Open Letter to Joe

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Open Letter to Joe

Today my friend Joe said to me: “I’d like to see you use your blog as a conversation with your son Holden, like, if you were to die when he was nine, what would you want to say to him, y’know, in terms of the man you’d like to see him be, and knowing what a monstrous bastard your father was to you, all the macho bullshit, how do you explain that to your son, that you want something better for him, for him to see you in a better light.  That I’d want to read.”  I’m paraphrasing, of course.  Good fucking question, Joe.

This is from an earlier conversation Joe and I had had.  I’d expressed how my father wouldn’t be sitting around crying over not getting published; he’d go out and punch someone in the head.  And I’m guessing Joe found this a little disturbing since he knows about the kind of man my father was, and now that I have a son, it sounded as if I was validating my father’s propensity toward violence, caving in to that “locker room, prison tier” mentality.  And I was.  To a point.

I think about this a lot.  I’ve started a second memoir.  If the heart of the first one was my mother, certainly the stone cold soul this time will be my father, a man whom I both despise and aspire to be.  Figure that shit out.

I am forty years old.  And having a kid is overwhelming at times, stifling, confusing, fucking hard.  My father was twenty-two when I was born.  I can only imagine…

He’s your answer, Joe, best I can, after one of the worst days of my fucking life.

One of the truest things I’ve learned having survived forty long winters, my friend, is that kindness is mistaken for weakness in this world.  Maybe I don’t know much.  But I know this: my father wouldn’t have left his wife in Houston so she could fuck one of his friends.  My father would’ve thrown her ass on the plane, probably punched the guy in the head on mere suspicion; and no that is not something I want to instill in my child, don’t plan on teaching him that punching people in the head is OK, don’t want him to be abusive, and especially not toward women.  I am merely using the example, exaggerated, to make a point.  Because, conversely, by leaving my wife there, I became a victim; I was the one standing on the seventh floor of my apartment complex, alone, helpless, looking at the long way down, waiting for the phone to ring; and there is more than a good chance that the last part of me that could really love with abandon died that night.

I wrote in my noir novel, the Lone Palm, “If you want it, take it.  If you’re big enough and strong enough who’s to say it didn’t belong to you anyway?”  The Lone Palm is a comic book, a graphic novel, characters stretched out grotesque.  But I’d be lying if I said just a little of my dad didn’t go into that line.  And, yeah, I admire that.  Mostly because you need a bit of that if you are going to survive this place, and I’ve always been short of that, for a long time I didn’t stand up for myself, and I used my wanting to be nothing like my father to my detriment.  I’d like to spare my son that.

I plan on teaching Holden to be kind, generous, compassionate and humble, but that is going to be tempered with the reality that the world can be a cold and mean place, that like it or not, there are certain scenarios where it’s hammer vs. nail, and people are always looking to take advantage when they can, that the “locker room/prison tier” mentality is fucking real and reigns in a lot of corners, no matter how much we wish it wouldn’t.  I don’t want my boy to be the angry monster my father was, and I don’t want him to be the pushover I was in Houston.  I suppose I could play him “Coward of the County,” but I think that sends the wrong message, that it’s OK to be a pussy until your girlfriend is getting gang raped.  There is a level of proactive I’d like him to learn.  Not bullying.  But not getting his milk money stolen either.

I guess, Joe, what I’d like to leave Holden with, should that big ol’ bus come barreling down the boulevard to take his daddy away, is this: try to acquiesce and do his best to accommodate others, exercise restraint whenever possible, with the internal comfort of knowing that he doesn’t have to if someone is threatening his well being, that if push comes to shove, he should stand up for himself, erring ever-so-slightly against caution; draw lines, establish boundaries that adhere to his own personal belief system, etch these in the concrete of his soul, and don’t let anybody cross that.

Not sure if that is the answer you wanted, Joe, but Holden is only five months old, and I’m new at this dad thing, and I’m still pissed about the publisher rejection my book today, so now might not be the time to answer that.  Or maybe it is.


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