It is no secret, if you have read any of my books, that fatherhood plays a distinct role. Sometimes it is quite obvious, other times the theme is in the shadows. But the relationship between father and son is not only infinitely fascinating to me, but highly personal. I am the father of two sons. They have appeared in my memoirs. Their father has exposed their lives to the world.
Each time their names come up in a work, I send off a file. “Read, please,” I say. Sometimes I remind them several times over to take a look at what I have written. It seems they have become so used to it that it no longer matters. Although, I am sure it does. Still, the material is personal and intimate, sometimes emotionally difficult for me and them, but each time they have given me their permission with little or no reservations or restrictions.. “Go ahead, Dad,” they say. “I’m okay with that.”
This takes an incredible amount of courage and, need I say, self-worth to permit their father to open up their souls on paper. They must believe in themselves, in their lives, in what they have experienced. So much of my father and what I have been as a father, in some shape or form, is in my books. The good, bad, and ugly. Every day in the writing shed, my boys surround me. Their artwork is here. Remarkable photos. Artful sculpting. And on the shelves, my books with their stories stamped forever on the pages.
Writing about family, loved-ones, lovers, friends, or colleagues is tricky stuff. So much has been written about writers who have lost people in their lives because of what they wrote about them. Most famously, Hemingway and most recently Karl Ove Knausgaard, who may or may not have been sued by family members appalled by what he has written about them. One would wonder, why we do it? Why do writers—fathers—feel they need to expose their children? It’s selfish. It’s narcissistic.
Maybe, however, it’s more about authenticity.
I praise authenticity. It comes in many forms, but at its core it simply means honesty, being true to what you are and have been. When I write about fatherhood, I am trying as hard as I can to write authentically. I am the truth. The relationship I have with my boys—loving complicated, layered, wonderful, heartbreaking, magnificent—is everything life and story are about, and between the lines of the words I have written is the greatest of authenticity, the real thing. Yes, love, but something deeper. Authenticity is not about style, or what you believe you should project to the word, or accepting the difficult times but hiding them inside. It’s not about what you want to be; it’s about what you are now and what you were. If I can offer a little of this in my writing, then I am satisfied. And I am blessed to have the sons I have.
If I can, even in the toughest moments, show authenticity in my life, and particularly my life with my sons, then I am golden.
Here in the shed, I am working on something new. Where it will go? I do not know just yet. But I do know there is a father and there is a son, and there is beauty and heartbreak and love. Authenticity is waiting. I pray it will come one word at a time.
(Two of the photos here are from a father-sons trip to Cuba in 2017. And yes, I’ve written about it. The third is a generational photo—a very young me, my young father, his father, and my great grandfather.)