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You Don’t What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone

 

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I’ve spent the last year having mother daughter conversations at libraries, bookstores, Jewish Centers and bridge clubs. Last week, I was on a panel with three other writers talking about mommy memoirs. I could have hit myself in the face with a hanger. This post is dedicated to my dad. I credit him with everything I know about business and my love of movies, Broadway, stars and salty food. He would have preferred me to get an MBA instead of an MBA, but when I started acquiring books he was always thrilled to see my name in the acknowledgments of books I had worked on. He would literally show the acknowledgments to anyone who visited our house.

Was your dad proud of your writing, you?

29 Responses

  1. My dad didn’t read much, but he read my book and told the whole world about it. Except for the time I was 19 and passed out drunk and naked in the bathroom, I think he was proud of me for nearly 50 years. And I him.

    • Ha! I had a very similar experience when I was only a freshman in high school. I believe my mother said that was the exact moment my father turned to her and said he was finished with his three teenaged daughters and that we were all hers to continue raising.

      He claimed us all again once we each graduated from college. He was proud when I got my first job as a newspaper reporter and even more thrilled when I gave birth to his first grandchild.

      I only wish he was here to see me finally publish my first book.

  2. My dad was the toughest roughest bastard ever to pull a motorcycle boot onto a many-times-broken leg.
    He never encouraged me to race bikes, never told me he was proud of what I did there, although I did hear of things he said to other people — “That’s my boy there, the quick one.”
    No encouragement for me though, as he didn’t want me to get hurt — or killed like his brother.

    When I turned twenty, he bought me a beautiful pen and pencil. Then when I turned twenty-one, the best dictionary money could buy. I still have it, of course. It may be the best thing I own.

    When I was nearing fifty, the promise of my writing career having disappeared down a drug-fucked hole of my own over-purposeful digging, I printed out and gave him the first fifty pages of the novel I was writing. He laughed until he cried as he read them, and every time he brought it up later, he shook his head and wondered how I could do it. I heard too, after he died, that he shared those pages with many of his friends, would sit there and read them aloud all over again, howling with laughter, never tiring of that same fifty pages.

    Then he was dead, just like that. The novel was unfinished. Still is if you don’t count the first two drafts. It’s getting there, that one. Anyhow, I couldn’t write once he died, for awhile. Then I wrote one, supposed to be meaningless, just to get myself writing again. Took a month, and turned out to be for him, more or less. That’s Midlife. He’d have laughed ’til he pissed himself. I dedicated it to him. “For my dad, who knew how to love, and to laugh.” And the other books I write, and have published, each one of them has him all through it. His decency, his heroism, his laughter, his sadness, his goodness and weakness and strength. His burning desire to do right by every person he met. And sometimes, if you read between lines, even his pride in his son.

    Yes, he was proud of me, still is somehow. Pride mixed with love never leaves, but creates a bigness that goes on and on, not just in the people it was gifted to, but in their work, I think, and their treatment of others. With love and pride — and without ever saying too much — he’s made me better than I was ever going to be. He was proud of me, and I’m mightily fucking proud of the bits of me that are like him. And I’ll continue to write for him, between the lines of the story and occasionally in them, always. It’s the best I can do to pay him back.

    (And you’re right, Betsy. You Don’t Know What You’ve Got ‘Til It’s Gone — but if you’re lucky you find out later that some part of it never left, and never will. That’s the best part, and you obviously carry that part of your dad with you too. Love and pride, Betsy — it’s what you’ve given us here all along, and now we know where it came from.)

    • Thank you so much.

    • Harry, this is beautiful. Your father sounds like he was a righteous, self made man. And you sound proud of him, too.

    • Beautiful.

    • Thank you for writing this, harry.

    • Harry, here’s to you, and here’s to your dad.

    • “Pride mixed with love never leaves, but creates a bigness that goes on and on…” love that!

      This is a quite a tribute. I wish my own son felt this kind of love and respect for his own dad, a good man. There are silly clashes. I often tell my son, as the song goes, you don’t know…til it’s gone.

      • Don’t worry Diane. Your son will get there, as I have. My dad and me, we had our silly clashes too, big ones — and I may not have seemed very loving and respectful for a long time. We get there.

        When you think about how wonderful women are, emotionally I mean, compared to us men — then you read Betsy’s Beautiful Bridge Book, and begin to understand some of the difficulty — you might wonder if men will ever get there. But at some point, somehow, we do. Fathers and sons need to butt heads sometimes. It’s what we do. Your son will get there, whether he yet knows it or not.

    • My heart.

      XO

    • That was downright fucking beautiful, Harry iPants.

  3. I think he was – but my dad wasn’t one to talk about things like that. He didn’t ask questions about my writing, or how my path to publishing was going (not good when he was alive), but would listen quietly if I mentioned anything. He died March 3 2015 and my debut sold April 1, 2015, so there’s the sense of disappointment I didn’t get to say directly to him, “Dad, my book’s being published.”

    What’s great about it is, like harryipants says above, there are bits and pieces of him in my work – all the goodness of any male character represents him – or my brother. That’s how I honor his memory.

  4. Yes. Although he wanted me to be an engineer.

  5. My dad was proud of me. He died before the books came.

  6. My father holds a very idealized version of me in his mind. He split when I was young and wasn’t around much to see who I really am, the day to day struggles, insecurities and anger, but he admires the results. Mostly, I think, he likes the fact that I’ve refused to ask him for money, no matter how few cans of beans I’ve been down to.

    And I still admire, respect and love him. My mother remarried when I was 12 and our family became what my sister, mother and I always hoped it would be, at least on the surface. The problem was, the man at the end of the table wasn’t my father, just someone else filling in. And that person was a decent man, although very flawed, and he became the worst kind of ogre when drunk.

    As for the writing, yes. It’s almost like my father expects it and shows no surprise or overabundance of joy when something I write is published.

  7. Absolutely not. Despite numerous school awards for writing, and starting college at 15 (majoring in English), he advised me to pursue a “real” career. I craved his good opinion so much, I followed that advice. Then, once I had established my own firm, he declared I was “his biggest failure”. Three months after his funeral, I restarted writing: short stories, poems, 4 novels and an opera – to date. No publishing deals, yet, but I won’t be deterred a second time.

  8. Once upon a time, when Donald Maass rejected a novel of mine, Maass wrote, “Don’t worry — you’ll do fine.” When I read that aloud to my crippled father, lying in bed (awful complications from post-polio syndrome), my father’s eyes filled with tears.

    That’s when I knew he worried about me and this choice I’d made to become a writer.

    He was right to worry.

    Other moral of the story, dear Betsy: the great boost and magnificent joy an agent can give with a single rejection. Thank you, Donald Maass.

  9. “Was your dad proud of your writing, you?”

    I think so, both. He was disappointed early on about my not going to West Point, and about a matter of an illegitimate child, and about the living in sin and dissolution I did for a few years when I was a young man. But I passed through and beyond all that. It wasn’t until later that I learned how disappointed he was in himself, feeling himself not to have been the father he thought he should have been.

    But like I said, I moved on. He was proud that I went back to school and got a college degree. I was the first person in my family — and it was a big family, my dad had eight sisters and three brothers, and my mom had two sisters and a brother — to get a college degree. He put on a suit and came to my graduation. Then I got married and stayed that way long enough to give him a grandson. He was proud of having a grandson, and proud that I stuck around after my divorce to help raise that boy. I can’t say that he was proud I got married as much as he was relieved I turned out heterosexual. Apparently there had been some debate in the family as to how that was going to go.

    He was proud that I wrote things that got published. I don’t know that he was proud of every published piece, in itself, but I know some of it, he was. He hadn’t really wanted me to be a writer. In so far as he wanted me to be anything, he wanted me to be employed and honest and stay out of jail. Turns out that’s a higher bar than it may appear to be at first glance.

  10. The old man, born during the great economic depression, veteran of WWII and 22 years in the military, was my critic eternal. He was well read, smart, hard working, and was employed for 65 of his 90 years. After that, he did his own yard work and home improvements until about 5 months before he died.

    He was proud of me, and feared for me, while I was in the military, and while I was a cop. He was proud when officialdom said good things about me, and proud when my views were like his.

    When I thought for myself, or valued something he didn’t, he wasn’t proud or accepting. Praise and support were the rarest coin in his realm.

    He was proud that I have a column, though I don’t recall sharing them with him. Yeah, I think he was proud of me, at least now and then, but it was hard to be sure, and that uncertainty devalued the importance of his pride.

    Part of his legacy to me is that I am not the same father that he was. I do not assume the right to criticize adult children, and am quick to support them when called for. I am not a younger version of him, and don’t expect my sons be be Frank 2,0 and 3.0. They can be better.

  11. Ah, my dad. A jocund, rotund fellow, a bit of a gambler, a bit of a drinker, very very smart, maybe a tad lazy. He’d make a “big killing” on a case – he was a torts lawyer (having worked himself through law school), and then not work for months at a time. So he hung around the house a lot, and I was dismissive, teenager that I was. I lost him a long time ago, in my late twenties, but he was deeply proud – and protective – of his four daughters. We were the twinkle in his eye. And he would have been oh so proud of me, whether I published or not, no matter what.

  12. Oh dad I miss you so. I’ m still at it, still trying, still running the race.
    My dad was a good, good man, funny, generous and stood upright in a tilted world.
    His much used line, “that’s what it’s all about.”
    You were right dad, regarding just about everything, “that’s what it’s all about.”

  13. I met my father at my mother’s funeral, so there’s that.

  14. Thank you to everyone for your beautiful posts. I am already a bit weepy this morning (falling barometer?) but now have an acceptable reason to be.

    My father has been very positive about my writing, the little I have managed to do. He is biased, I know that, but also a big reader and lover of short stories — in fact he ‘introduced’ me to Carver and Dubus, one of them anyway. The relationship is pretty complex, maybe father-child stuff always is. Maybe the most fertile topics to explore are the ones I never will.

  15. I never had a good relationship with my father. After a while, I didn’t even want to. He became a footnote in my life. I don’t know that he ever read a word I wrote, but I know that he was dismissive of my writing career, always urging me to go back and get an engineering degree.

    In a way, though, I am a writer because of my father. It seems that my great theme is sons searching for their fathers’ love, whether that father is the biological one or a replacement.

  16. My dad’s favorite saying, which became our family mantra, was, “When it’s too rough for everyone else, it’s just about right for us.”

    He’d be pleased to know that philosophy is what has carried me through the whole writing journey.

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