I’m writing you this letter to tell you I won’t be answering phone calls from you or agreeing to see you in person for the foreseeable future. I’m still willing to correspond with you via email or letters, and I want to keep in contact with P. and K. without limitations, but I have some deep seated issues with you and our relationship, and, frankly, I feel us talking on the phone or seeing each other will only be a waste of time unless we address these issues.
I’ve decided on written communication because interruptions, distractions, and misunderstandings are one of the issues we need to work out. I recently had some problems communicating with someone else and I found that slowing the dialog down to the speed of the written word helped keep the conversation cleaner and clearer. It also meant we had a tangible record of our conversations, to which we both could refer. The page was our impartial observer. It’s a court of last resort, but that’s the point I’ve reached.
As you read through this, I’m pretty sure you’ll ask yourself, “Where is all this coming from?” Time and again we’ve had discussions where I’ve tried to talk to you, tell you about feelings and thoughts that mattered to me, and instead of listening you’ve assigned a cause to what I was saying which allowed you discount or ignore it. In general, the cause you’ve assigned has had nothing to do with matter at hand, but I suppose that’s what makes it so effective: one can’t argue with the absurd.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve made excuses for you. “Well, you know how B. is.” I learned long ago that getting you to understand me was difficult, but any sort of vehemence (let alone actual anger or frustration) made it completely impossible. The more abstract and circuitous, the more likely you were to actually comprehend what I wanted to communicate.
One problem: People aren’t abstractions. I am not an abstraction, I am your son. Frustration and anger aren’t nebulous concepts, they are tangible and immediate feelings. They are my feelings and you refuse to deal with them, and thus refuse to deal with me for who I am, which leaves me to choose between your denying me or my denying myself.
Up until now I chose the later, because self-sacrifice goes over better with one’s self-image and no son wants to be denied by his father. Notice how even now I’m generalizing – talk about a bad habit. I extended that self-denial and generalization into the rest of my life and it cost me heavily. For a long time I wore myself out trying to make myself, especially my feelings, into abstracts. Eventually, I even learned to edit out what I didn’t want to see about myself: “IsoGolem (Abridged)”. Neither actually worked, except to make me unable to see the sources of my problems, making my own actions increasingly confusing to me and everyone around me. The more I tried to make sense of myself, while still avoiding those truths, the more confusing life got. If A. hadn’t suggested I get counseling, she and I would probably still be married, still miserable, and still unable to understand the reasons for any of it.
I’m not saying any part of the previous paragraph is your fault or responsibility, it’s mine. I made my choices, I own them. My point is, beyond just my relationship with you, I’ve driven this road until long after the wheels had come off the cart. In the last few years, with continuing therapy, I’ve done my best to leave that road behind, but my relationship to you has remained exactly the same as it’s always been. I’ve avoided trying anything new out fear and apathy: I know I can’t change it, so why should I even try. However, I’m tired of this vicious circle, of feeling this way, of having to carry your baggage along with my own. I’m tired of all of it and I just can’t do it anymore.
I can’t change what you do, but I can change what I do. It’s time I took the chance on the other option: for my own sake, I’m going to start being honest with you, and leave the choice of what you do about it up to you. If you choose to blow me off, then so be it, but I’m done excusing you from that choice.
The problem I’m running into, now that I’ve decided to start being honest, is where to start. When it comes right down to it, you don’t know me. You know plenty of facts about events in my life, but those facts are to me what a script is to an actual production of a play. Maybe not even that. So, the volume of information I have to choose from is rather overwhelming.
You don’t know me. That’s a good enough place to start. Can you imagine my frustration, my sense of abandonment, my anger around that simple fact? You’re my father and you’ve never listened or paid attention to me long enough to get a sense for who I am. You’ve done things for me (but not what I needed), given me things (but not what I asked for), given me money (but made me pay emotionally for it). It’s always seemed like you were interacting with “The Office of Your Son”, not with me personally. What I really wanted you to do was see me, notice that I was paying attention to you and have you pay attention back. But nothing ever worked.
On an overcast afternoon, may years ago in the loft, at the old dinning room table, apropos of nothing, you spent an hour or so explaining to me the meaning of a circle with a triangle inside. I couldn’t follow most of it, but you took the time out of both our days to tell me about it, so I believed it mattered to you, it meant something to you. Several years later, perusing the “Twelve Step Shop” near my house in Seattle, I saw a brass belt buckle with that same symbol on it. I don’t remember if I saved for it or asked J. for the money to get it, but I knew I wanted to get it for you because it meant something to you, and you knowing that I had paid attention meant something to me. I very painfully remember the look of somewhat pleased confusion on your face when you opened the box and saw the belt buckle, that look of “Well, thanks, but why?” The symbol didn’t mean anything to you; you didn’t even remember the symbol, let alone telling me about it. It hadn't really meant anything to you, it was just something that crossed your path around that time, and your verbal diarrhea made you dump it me. Silly me for paying attention.
So, I don’t really know you very well either. You talk a lot and almost never say anything. Every so often you’ll make a statement that matters, a kernel of truth, but it’s buried in the middle of a sea of chaff. Worse still, you make no distinction between which items are important and which aren’t. From the weather to depression over your mother's death to a random conversation you had three years ago to car crashes to some vague implications that you might be proud of me to what you think you might eventually do with the cuckoo clock to the story of something you did ten years ago, they all come flowing out at the same monotonous rate and tone, with hardly a breath inbetween. I’m certain some of those are more important to you than others, but how am I to know?
I must say, aside from the other benefits of written communication, I’m looking forward to not talking on the phone with you. I spend those calls in an odd mix of feeling bored out of my mind, running myself ragged trying to find the signal in all the noise, and being generally frustrated at how little signal I can find. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve just made up an excuse so I could get off the phone. Worst of all, after I hang up, I’m left exhausted by the effort and saying to myself, “Well, there’s another block of time wasted, another number of minutes I’ll never get back.”
I also need to talk a bit about things, stuff, possessions. I don’t have to deal with this on a day-to-day basis anymore, but it plays a big part in the history of our relationship and in my life. I don’t think I need to go into much detail on the history on this one, it’s legendary, another one of those “Oh, that’s just how B. is” facts of life. The irony of you loosing “Clutter’s Last Stand” inside the house and having to buy another one doesn’t even begin to cover it.
In our last conversation you said something about your not being possessive, but you are. You care about having those things sitting around gathering dust more than you care about people around you. The things win. They always have with you. You have a two car garage full of junk you never use. You had to go rent a storage unit for $200 per month to hold even more junk. That junk gets $200 every month, and what do I get? What does K. get? What does P. get? Don’t you have anything better to do with that money?
I remember the discussion we had on getting rid of things when C. and I visited a year ago. We were trying to explain how to get rid of things and you weren’t listening. It was one excuse after another, and the lamest excuse of them all was that P. had a closet full of clothes and why should you have to get rid of things if she didn’t. I could hardly believe my ears. In what fucked up reality does a closet of clothing that she wears on a continuing basis compare in any way to a garage and a storage unit and more full of junk you never use?
I’m reminded also of the movie of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”, that whole set of scenes in the basement between Paul Newman and Burl Ives. “…a million dollars worth of junk! Look it, does it love you?!?” I asked you to send one of those things to someone else who I can guarantee will fix it and use it. It’s no secret P. would be happy to have it leave the house, and J. would be overjoyed to have it in hers. Again you offer excuses like it might get lost in shipping. Never mind it could have already been stolen out of the storage unit and you wouldn’t even know it. What it really comes down to is that your attachment to the thing is stronger than your attachment to the feelings of the other people involved. And don’t go sending the clock thinking it will solve anything – the clock is just the most recent example. This not about you deciding not to send the clock to J.; it’s about what that decision says about your priorities.
You turn seventy in June of this year. With some good luck you you’ve got another twenty years ahead of you, but on the other hand you might not wake up tomorrow. What are you going to do with the time you have left? What kind of example are you going to set for those around you? Are you just going to coast along until you die, leaving P. and K. with years of back taxes and hundreds of square feet of junk you’ll never get around to doing anything with?
I’ve chosen to make a change, to go a different direction. Now the question is what you going to do? Do I think this letter will spur you to make changes where J. and P. have failed to? Probably not, but I’ve done my best to say what I needed to say in the most succinct and palatable way I can. Like I said before, whatever you decide, I won’t be taking phone calls from you for a while, but you’re welcome to send me email or a letter. I’ll also be happy to talk to P. or K. if they call, just not about the contents of this letter. Again, none of these restrictions are out of spite or malice, this is just the only way I feel we can communicate reliably for now.
I haven't sent this yet.... And I won't. Here's why.