To My Friend, Who Happens To Be My Son

Letter to my dad, but not my father figure.
To my friend, who happens to be my son.
Dear Son, Dear Dad,
There’s a moment in your childhood that I still have both the photograph and the photographic memory of.  You were standing beside a chain link fence near Tehachapi looking at me, humoring me and my photography, with your curly blond hair and beautiful brown eyes.  How old were you?  Maybe seven.  Maybe eight.  We were on a rare camping trip alone.  Rare, not because I didn’t want to spend every minute with you, but because… well, because… really, this is where story breaks down.
I am awake and heading into town. You were right about writing early. Beautiful thoughts are filling my head this morning, giving me sway to write (now I am not so sure they are beautiful, but it feels good to have them in my head). It would be nice to see you, even if just for a moment. The coffee will be extra strong if you agree to come see me.
(he agreed) (he agreed)
In retrospect, we fold under the raw parts and comb up the nap on the handsome memorable parts. We mellow with age and our stories get dull and dishonest.  We establish detente with those we fought tooth and nail.
A drip of water drops next to me this morning. I am outside, and there are no lampposts, overhangs, or trees near me, so I can’t understand where it came from. Maybe just a lone raindrop? That seems unlikely. I am completely stumped over this single drip, so I look up.
A true life of insurgency – of constant social conflict – is hard to maintain.  And the youth, with their bitter urgency, know this all too well.  Someday, they too will find themselves on the other end of a phone call with an old hated enemy sharing the worried fate of someone they both love.
Powerlines
Of course. Of course. There are powerlines constantly over my head- so often in fact, that their presence has ceased to register on my mental radar screen. This morning a drip of water drops from some powerlines, wet after a heavy rain the previous night, whizzes right past my face, and for the life of me I can’t figure it out. If I was focusing on the powerlines, hanging dangerous and flaccid above me, all the time, would I start to go insane?
I never felt the role of a parent is to keep you out of danger, to constantly parcel and to measure and to weigh and to judge and to allow and to disallow and to set on the straight and narrow. It exhausted me then and exhausts me to even think of that now. Watsonville and Santa Cruz do not exist on a map. They are not related to each other by any miles or compass directions. They only exist as two ends of a lonely busline that I take every day. An hour there, and an hour back.
Do not say that I am not a morning person. I hate that. You say “geez, you’re not much of a morning person, are you?”
You’re not much of a morning person, are you?
And I will say, “Just because I don’t enjoy blithely socializing with everyone I know the moment I wake up doesn’t mean I’m not a morning person. I love the morning, but I prefer to spend it differently than you do.”
I felt that, especially in your sometimes surly, sometimes contentious, sometimes inexplicably angry adolescence that one of the best things I could do for you is to stay the fuck out of your way. But it starts well before this.
I came up with that before anyone had said anything so that when someone did I would seem quick-witted, opinionated, and ready and maybe for that moment I would transform into a comic book character.
Of course, there were times when I sensed you just wanted me to be with you, to be present, to listen.  I could have, and I didn’t.
Dad,
It starts earlier, the time of climbing trees, camping in the desert, walks in the woods.  An opening up, our lives interwoven like fingers holding hands.  It was around then, that you were taken away.  And even when things got better, when things got more then better, when they turned around completely, there was something in me that was never quite fixed.
you told me that when you were a kid you spent a lot of your time coming up with good comebacks. Comebacks that would penetrate your bully’s deepest insecurities- something that would cut to the quick (a phrase I’ve always enjoyed).
The sharp edges of words, of the tossed barb, the cutting comment that can lodge and fester.
Something so devastatingly true that it would cut the conversation clean off. The jack of trump of all 5th grade squabbles.  Is that really what you wanted, dad?
I lived with a woman once who could kick my virtues, one by one, out from under me, leaving me contemplating the rope or the car?  The poison or the sea?
Is that really what I want? To be the best undiscovered retort writer in school, brooding in secret corners, spilling over with brilliant quips to which their conversational counterparts will remain only imaginary?
I caved in my heart to conform.  It left a solid little dented thing.  I haven’t looked people in the eyes quite the same since. Or is the goal really just the private satisfaction gained from playing these idyllic scenarios out, over and over in our heads, being convinced that for them to actually take place would be contrived and unnecessary so that we can do our best to refrain from steering every casual conversation to that impossible desired setup?
The cutting word. The cutting word.
I always wanted, you point out, to be master of these weapons.  But
Honestly Honestly
I didn’t have the heart or the inclination.  I never wanted to hurt anyone enough to use the clever, stored-up, devastating truth that cuts to the bone.
Even if I had it. Even if I had it.
Dani and I talked about teams the other day. You know the kind. Your special, secret, private team of people you know, for the hard times, for the good times, for when the shit finally and climactically goes down.
I feel that rage in you sometimes and it scares the hell out of me.  Not in the usual way that parents are scared for their kids.  But for me. Everybody has a list in their head or on paper of at least the first few people, if they don’t already have the whole list pegged.
If you didn’t think about this before, you’re going to now.
When we break a window in a fight, or bust a door, I want to get into my bed and pull the covers over my head and come out in approximately 4 to 5 years when it’s all over.
We talked fondly of our teams, naming names. I admitted that my team’s first slot was private, but that I had a terrible feeling that even though the person was at the top of the list, they would evasively never be on my team.
I want to turn in my fancy bronze parenting star and trade it in for a little modest friend patch that I can sew on to my favorite shirt,
the one I wear only when I’m feeling strong and worthy enough. Dani told me that she had the first three people (at least!) solidly down, and
I was under the impression that they had even all talked about and agreed on this.
We camped in a gully and cooked and ate pasta and slept in the car. It was one of my best memories from your childhood.  It was one of your best memories.  It was perfect, or retrospect paints it so. And that’s the way we tell those stories. Maybe we can do that again sometime.  Or we said that, or we always wanted to. It’s chilly today, but not a deep chill. Chilly like it’s supposed be chilly- chilly breezes, but everything’s dry and the sun’s warming me a little. I had a smell in my nose a couple of minutes ago like chicago or a smell like waiting in a trainyard. It didn’t smell like chigaco or the trainyard, but like the experience of it. It smelled good. Really good. I think I am smart enough in my life now to understand what that means.
Of course everyone has a dad story, and a mom story, and we tell these stories and everyone understands. Some are heartwarming and some help explain where we came from.
Dad, this is not a nostalgic letter- don’t get confused now.
Nostalgia, I guess.  But the stories we tell about our children have to fit a certain mold. We, the grown-ups, are forbidden to tell stories about suffering, and the stories that we are left with are all so boring we forget them as soon as they are told.
But when you hug me, you pull on the hair on the back of my head, just above my neck, so hard that it hurts and I know that you love me.
And after a while, they’re no longer heard, and we no longer tell them anyway because our hearts were never in it to begin with.
This is not a love letter either, but when you write to me you say “I love you so much, I can’t even tell you,”  you of course, keep to your word on that.
If truth be told, you were homesick and mad at me on that trip.  I fought your mom for weeks to take you and she almost made me cancel.
Sometimes we only tell the whole truth, when we cry alone.  But I need you to know, that in spite of everything, when I secretly devise my team, you’re on it. Dad, this letter is for you, but for fuck’s sake, don’t read it, because neither of us wants you to know that when I secretly devise my team, you’re my number one.
I have your back, come hell or high water, come whatever.  Your anger and frustration, the way you spit “You kept your word,” notwithstanding, I hope you know that.
You were always on my secret team, and yes, I’d thought of that before,
even when you didn’t think so, even when I was stupidly hopeful, even when you were an eight-year old kid believing the lies of a jealous parent. But you kept your word, and since you love me, you damn sure ain’t tellin’.  And if you love me, I sure as hell will be the last to know,
so when you come in for your coffee, you better expect it to be cold because you took too long to get here and I got tired of waiting and went back on home.
I hope it’s not too late to tell you that I love you.  My number one slot is open for you when you want it,
This time, my busline is some other number.
but not until then.
An hour there, and an hour, and an hour, and-
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