When my father started sending me the draft chapters of his book, I was not receptive.
It was January of 1988. I had a 2½-year-old, a 6-month-old and a lot of frustration about giving up my professional identify as a journalist and MBA to be a stay-at-home mom. I loved my sons to distraction but felt trapped, unable to bear the thought of leaving them to someone else’s care so I could go back to work but overwhelmed by the monotony of diapers and daytime soaps.
I was also angry at my dad, who had fled Arizona shortly before my parents’ divorce was official, leaving me to accompany my mom to court for the final decree. He drove across the country to establish a new life in Florida and when my son David was born, in 1987, he couldn’t be bothered to come back to Arizona to visit his new grandson. That was my take, anyway. And it hurt. So when the thick manilla envelopes began to arrive in the mail, I was disdainful.
“If you will hunt in the closet for a dog-eared three-ring binder and file these dog-eared pages as I send them to you, I will be grateful,” my dad wrote in his distinctive cursive on the lined pages of steno pad. “And of course, you are the one I want to keep them.”
Why me? Because I was the one who wasn’t “working”? Or because he thought that I would appreciate (as a former journalist) the honor he’d bestowed upon me as keeper of the pages?
Was he expecting me to read them? What did he want from me? Affirmation? Support? An editor’s critique? Whatever it was, I didn’t have it in me to ask or cooperate.
I saved his drafts and revisions. But I didn’t read them and I never commented on them. It was my silent protest, the only way I knew to hurt him as much as he’d hurt me with his self-centered pursuits and seeming indifference to the important events and challenges of my life.
He never asked me what I thought, never made any demands. He just kept sending revisions. And I kept ignoring them. Right up until a few days before Father’s Day of 1991, when my guilt finally got the better of me.
I remember sitting in the kitchen at my sons’ school, scribbling a letter to my dad as I waited for the boys to end their day. I apologized for being so selfish, explaining how consumed I was with motherhood and the demands of running Raising Arizona Kids magazine, which I’d launched a year earlier. I felt hopeful, excited, confident that my dad would forgive me and we’d find a way to reconnect.
I never got around to sending the letter. And before Father’s Day arrived, my father was dead.
More than 22 years later, I see all of this so differently. I know for myself how easy it is to disappoint adult children, how excruciating it is to undergo the scrutiny of their judgmental clarity.
And as I now struggle to write a book of my own, I also have a greater understanding of how complex and overpowering that process is; how much thought and how many revisions it takes. I understand what my dad wrote in one letter, when he said it was “like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” I see how it consumes you, fights for space in your head, screams for attention when other priorities get in the way.
“It will acquaint all of you with a part of me you’ve never known,” my father wrote hopefully in that Jan. 10, 1988 letter. Tucked with it in the manilla envelope were 40-some pages of the novel that was his lifelong dream.
Its title: Redemption.