Fighting doubt and personal demons

I have this amazing story in my head. I think it’s interesting enough, layered enough, moving enough, to become a book. Will it get written? Self-doubt, fueled by family history, rules my thoughts.

My father always said he wanted to write a book. Conditions were never right. We were always living in the wrong place or his job was too stressful or the burden of supporting a family was too great. I grew up thinking my brothers and I were the reason he couldn’t write. If he hadn’t married, hadn’t had children, maybe he would have realized his dream.

My father sought solitude to escape the pressures of life. He had “important business” in Arizona when he left my mother, my brothers and I alone in Indiana for Christmas one year. He missed my brother’s high school graduation for similar, made-up reasons. A few weeks before my wedding, he told me with exaggerated regret that he couldn’t make it — he had to be in Florida for God-knows-what. That’s when I put my foot down. This time, he was not going to let me down.

And yet he managed to do just that. Showing up at the church in the wrong tux. Nervous and awkward. Unable, or unwilling, to whisper expressions of love or pride in my ear before we headed down the aisle. Even then, he was a ghost, always on the fringes. Never fully vested in anything that wasn’t his alone. Always seeking greener pastures in a new job or new home state. More comfortable in conversations with strangers than he was with my mother, my brothers or me.

I chose a different path — to the extreme. A martyr’s devotion to responsibility, family and career. Excessive self-accountabilty and crushing perfectionism. Self-neglect from a perception that others’ needs were more deserving.

I always thought I was being different from my dad, better at being in a family and community than he was. As I get older, I realize I’m just like him. Afraid to do what I really want to do. Subconsciously blaming circumstances beyond my control, or other people, for my own failures. If only that…. If only they…

I keep trying to set aside time to go “off the grid” and focus attention on my own book project. One thing after another keeps interrupting. Each weekend, when I realize how little progress I’ve made, I am completely distraught. How will I ever do this within the unpredictable context of running a small business? I come dangerously close to giving up and admitting defeat.

But I keep thinking about four beautiful children who are happy and thriving because of a series of miracles. A family that is doing important and timely work in the country of their children’s birth. An experience that was, to me, a precious gift. A story that needs to be told.

And then there’s this: My father did finally write his book. He finished it in the spring of 1991, in a small room he rented in a boarding house in Florida, during reclusive weeks he spent alone before he died from a cancer that spread from his colon to his liver. A cancer I didn’t know about until my younger brother called me from Florida as I was still sleeping one summer morning and told me our father was dead.

His book was never published; my brothers and I found rejection letters from publishers lying among the few belongings our dad left behind.  To my knowledge, only four photocopies of the manuscript exist. I have two of them in my house.

Over the years, I have tried to read his story. I have never made it past the first 40 pages. My dad once told me that everything he ever wanted to say to my brothers and me — but couldn’t — would be there in his book. I’ve never had the courage to find out. And yet something tells me I won’t write my own book until I confront the specter of his.

Binders of my father's notes and drafts, and two copies (at right) of his completed manuscript.

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7 responses to “Fighting doubt and personal demons

  1. I really felt this from the heart, thank you for sharing it with u.

    I have had such a wonderful response from my first blog, since posting here, that I have just today (literally) as I write this set up a blog on reuqest called how2writenow.com. It is aimed at beginners, but it is not a ‘I know -you don’t’ type of approach. It’s tips I use that work for me (and others 2) how they write successfully. I’m sure you yourself may have things to share about writing a magazine.

    Reading your story, some of the things I’ve experienced may inspire you. As you have inspired me. I can really relate to you identifying that you need to confront your issue with your dad first before moving forward with your own book. I had a similar circumstance. And I warn, the cost of not doing, maybe greater, than not getting it over with.

    this is not said with any judgement. I’m not even spelling stuff right write now lol. Who am I to judge. I just hope in whatever way, one person can be of inspiration to another to assist us in our dreams. :-)

  2. With your ability to use words, I’d say go for it, and if reading your father’s book is the release you need, let go of your fears and share his words. Maybe it will open your door. Good luck!

    • Thank you for reading my post, Linda! I appreciate your support and also wish you luck with the “postaday2001″ challenge. Really scary–but exciting, too!

  3. It would appear you’ve just written your prologue. Baby steps or big steps–we get there either way. Lovely writing, truly. You have a gift.

  4. Wow..that’s a hell of a story and well told. You should read the book. Then again, I understand your hesitancy. My parents deserted us ..so all I want to read about them is an obit. That’s a bit harsh, and selfish.

    Anyway, you didn’t comment on your father’s prose style in those 40 pages.

    Nice post and now …bubble gum your butt to a chair and write your book.

    Good luck.

    Doug

    • Thanks for your support, Doug. And I love the phrase “bubble gum your butt to a chair…” You can bet I’ll be thinking about that every time I sit down to write!

      One of the problems with my dad’s book is the prose. He tried too hard to adapt language (and grammar) from the late 1880s time period and the result is stilted and unnatural. I have to work really hard to push through it…and I keep a dictionary nearby. Determined to get to the end, though!

      I’m sad for your situation with your parents. Though I have a lot of turbulent feelings about my dad, my mom has always been (and remains) a rock.

  5. Jackie Paulson 1966

    I read this one after your father passed. You are so inspirational and real. Thanks for posting this. I have not seen another wordpress blogger be this “real.” Thanks. Jackie

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