Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
My plight, my son, is that I need urgently to talk with you now; but you’re not old enough to have this talk now, you’re not old enough to hear what needs be said.
Listen. There is a man whose face has been everywhere for the past week, a father like I am, a man whose hair is divided in half upon his head, black atop his scalp and white across his face. This man has lost a child, a son like you are, and the word lost is a euphemism. His son was stolen from him in a senseless burst of violence along with the lives of several others, and so now there is only his words and his anguish, and his face frozen in tragedy mask.
He is not wearing a tragedy mask. He is tragedy. He is a man living in the lifelong horror separated by a thin fence from my lifelong terror; he passed through the unlocked gate between the two and I have stared at his image and read his statements but I have not been able yet to bring myself to hear his voice. I would offer comfort but the toll to go to him is too great…and besides, he’s not alone over there. There are others over there already. There are far too many over there and more are arriving all the time.
I’m writing this to you now because this is where our family lives, in this strange nation that looks upon the bodies of children and the devastation of their parents and tries to convince itself that nothing can be done about it, that this is but the way of things and must be deemed acceptable. A nation that says we may gain some small measure of relief knowing that the choices you make, the money you make, the power you covet and the influence you peddle, these give you some control over your fate, give you the chance to escape to safer neighborhoods.
Except that this is a lie. There are no longer any safer neighborhoods. It’s all just America now.
I’m writing down these words you can’t understand because I never know how many inches away I might be from never having the chance to say them aloud, because the hazy fear settling over us all is exactly the way that certain cadres of cackling corporate sociopaths and their doughy, wheezing mouthpieces make the most profit, and the sulfurous aftermath of their machinery at work only makes that haze more blinding, a thick black exhaust into which more of us are lost, and I say again that lost is a euphemism.
It might seem I’m writing this to talk to you about the guns. I’m not writing this to talk to you about the guns. I’m writing this because I need to talk to you about the other thing that killed that man’s son.
There’s another man, another father like I am, whose face I haven’t seen, whose words I haven’t read, whose voice I haven’t been too afraid to hear. His son was the one holding the weapons, and for him I feel the opposite side of the first father’s nightmare. There is a sweating pile of dynamite that lives in my heart attached to the trigger of something happening to you, but it lives next to the other pile of dynamite that would go off if I learned you had intentionally harmed others.
That second man’s son claimed, in the furious last months of his life, that the carnage he was aiming to perpetrate was born of loneliness and rejection, of envy and of injustice visited upon him by the opposite sex. He considered himself a gentleman, and he was a child of great wealth and privilege, and as such he found himself unable to comprehend why he had not attained the affection and intimacy from women that he felt he deserved. These feelings boiled and burned inside him to an awful, extreme degree, twisting lust into bloodlust and then bloodlust into rampage.
What I need you to understand is that he didn’t do this alone. He was led to this point not only by his own weaknesses but by the weaknesses of all men and social systems that men created for their own benefit, systems that over time poisoned the very idea of what it means to be men. There are signals and messages and entire narratives woven into the fabric of the world that will try to tell you that the urges you feel give you the privilege, and possibly even the right, to act upon them.
Listen. If you are anything like me — and of course you are anything like me — but if you are like me in one specific way, you may find that a majority of your most important relationships throughout your life are going to be with women. It’s hard to articulate why that has been, is, will be. It remains true despite that difficulty. Some of these women you will call your acquaintances, some your colleagues, some your friends, some of them you will love and some of them you will be in love with. Some of them will hurt you. Some will do so on purpose. Most will not. But some will.
Listen. There’s a thing about people. As a solid, teeming mass they tend to be very predictable but as individuals they surprise you, over and over again, even after you think you have them figured out. There is an unknowable chaos to the directions we travel in relation to each other, the collisions and bonds that occur, and the event of two people whose chemistry and personality mesh can be imperfect when it’s not impossible. Timing is a factor, location, the history that shadowed you both there. There is no conscious way to make yourself into the person that somebody loves. You try to make yourself into the person you want to be, and then one day you end up surprised when somebody wants to be with the person you became.
Your mother surprised me. After the decade or so that I fumbled awkwardly with my own ideas of what love and romance were supposed to be — ideas, remember, that I had haphazardly grown from scraps, collected from various sources — past women who I thought I matched perfectly who felt nothing of the same in return, through yes I’m sorry but yes my own feelings of rejection and loneliness and envy and the edges of my own darknesses, after all of that suddenly there was something there between your mother and I and suddenly there went 14 years and suddenly there was you.
Listen. I was not owed your mother. I decided that intelligence was important to me, I decided that my sensitivity was an asset instead of a liability, I decided that making people laugh was a lot more enjoyable than making them feel like hell. I decided to be a nice person because I liked being a nice person. And there were times, I admit, that I thought this entitled me to something from other people, and there were times I wondered if I would be happier if I were not a nice person. The answer was always no, I wouldn’t be. If I’m capable enough as your father then this answer will always be the same for you, as well. I was fortunate to find your mother. Whatever positive human qualities I chose to cultivate did not earn me the right to her.
There’s a talk I’m not including in this talk, which is often referred to as The Talk, granted the definite article and the initial caps because it is deemed a trial for both parent and child on the day it occurs; a trial for how the parent communicates the information and for how well the child learns it.
I’m not naming the subject now. The Talk comes later.
I needed to have This Talk first. Then we’ll have That Talk. Then the Other Talk. There will be many, many Talks before The Talk, because the reason The Talk is The Talk is because it should only be had after you’ve had enough other Talks.
This isn’t a Talk, though. You’re too young to have it. This is me trying to explain it to myself so that when the time comes I’m ready to explain it to you.
Love, for as long as we both live, Dad.