What is fatherlyFIRE? It is the true story of one son of an alcoholic’s search for stolen manhood. It’s a “series of dramatic remembrances” that represent my quest to answer a long left-dangling question for me, “What is a man?” It’s a summary of what my father taught me, mostly things I did not want to know. It is my story–the hole from which I crawled (and occasionally skid, trip, dive, fall, or slide back into). A very real hole, deep and dangerous, confirmed by academic research.
“Friendly fire” is a common military euphemism used to describe the horrible tragedy that occurs when through the chaos of war a soldier kills his or her own fellow soldiers by mistake, in the “fog of war.” When we hear about that, we’re sad, but we understand on some level that that can happen in the craziness of a war zone.
“fatherlyFIRE” is my own euphemism for an even greater tragedy, one that occurs not in a violence-expected war zone but in what is supposed to be the safest of places, a child’s home. In this scenario, a father inflicts crippling emotional, physical, and spiritual damage on his children as sure as if he were dropping smart bombs on their spirits, hopes and dreams. He may inflict this fire by accident or it may well be intentional. I experienced fatherly fire.
So I’m having a “now” day. Lurking in my pesky subconscious has been the increasingly intense urge to finish this. Finish what? My story. fatherlyFIRE. Here I go again. With a new, quite overly ambitious goal now set — to complete my book, fatherlyFIRE, by December 31st, 2018.
I was inspired (as is the case regularly) by my son Jonathan, who called awhile ago to discuss his upcoming weekend given to setting his five-year goals. He kindly asked my advice and I gave it, realizing I had not set any personal goals at all for 2018 let alone for the next five years. Two wise quotes sprang to mind. “He who aims at nothing hits it” and “a noble man devises noble plans, and by noble plans he stands.”
Still, dogged determination and SuperGluish stick-to-it-tive-ness are not among my many weaknesses. I will finish my book. Oh, it’s more than just started; I have at least 100 pages written. Today, I’m putting the thing back in gear. Fasten your seat belts.
The refreshed preface below and first chapter were first published on my fatherlyFIRE blog, but I think it all belongs here. I hope to publish a chapter here each month (interspersed with my normal goofy musings about bologna sandwiches, zebras, cricket-eating contests, and Fess Parker). We’ll see. Here begins fatherlyFIRE, Take 467.
Preface: Of Seahorses and Elephants.
I have fathered four wonderful children and had the privilege of being in the delivery room when three of them were born. Of course I know that with the exception of male seahorses, we men do not get to actually experience the miracle of pregnancy and birth. Still, at the risk of offending any female readers, I believe to some extent I became a seahorse in the gestation and delivery of this work fatherlyFIRE. And true to form, I gave birth to what first looked to me like a lizard, or at least something yucky. Yet today, some ten years later, I see my baby a little more clearly. Like most parents, I am very proud of my offspring; my actual children, of course, and this, the tale of my life.
fatherlyFIRE is my life story. No little eight-month gestation for this baby. They say the African elephant has the longest gestation period of any mammal…660 to 760 days. I beat that with fatherlyFIRE. It was “in the oven” for more than three years as a concept, with elements of it under construction for much longer. I guess for almost 50 years. They also say the elephant’s long pregnancy is “due to its enormous size and slow development.” I can certainly relate to that as fatherlyFIRE’s pregnant mutant seahorse/elephant poppa. It was not just something I wanted to do, it became something I had to do.
Today, I think of it in terms of Ron Pelias’ words, “what we decide to remember says who we are now” and “what we commemorate each day by the telling of our tales is our necessary history and our moral mandate.” These ideas are highly motivational and point directly to the heart of what I hope to accomplish by writing fatherlyFIRE.
fatherlyFIRE is or tries to be all that. In the end, though, it is intensely personal, an autoethnography, my “primary narrative” as Dr. Theresa Carilli might say, a series of stories of my experience identifying and dealing with the dominating impact of my alcoholic, abusive, and absent father throughout my life. A mission, perhaps. A mission that has not ended for me, a mission that continues today and will continue until I am gone. fatherlyFIRE is about my own personal legacy…what I will leave to my children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. It is the story of how I have fought falling into the same patterns of my father and how sometimes I succeeded.
Yes, I bear permanent scars caused by the alcoholism of and subsequent abandonment by my father, and my own bad choices, but today see those scars as proof I’m a survivor. I can touch those scars and nod with recognition; I remember their source, but the pain is gone. I’ve made peace with my past but I have more work to do, though, more stories to tell, more information to uncover, process and present.
So today, as I think back over this my “pregnancy,” I have good thoughts. Oh, I do remember some times of pain in the labor process, as any pregnant male seahorse or long-gestating African elephant might. But I am very proud of what I’ve recorded here. Perfect? No, of course not. Actually, rather lizard-like. But that’s exactly the beauty of the story I tried to tell. It is about imperfection and pressing on anyway.
In the not particularly immortal words spoken by that eminent philosopher Rocky Balboa, “But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward.” If you prefer something slightly more cerebral, that feller Henry Ward Beecher said, “We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they traveled to get there.” I say, “Amen!” to both.
My hope is the openness I offer here will prompt openness from others in response. Especially those who know similar pain and feel the same sense of being alone.
According to Sparkes, “On the whole, autoethnographers don’t want you to sit back as spectators; they want readers to feel, care, and desire. Autoethnographies can encourage acts of witnessing, empathy, and connection that extend beyond the self of the author and thereby contribute to sociological understanding in ways that, among others, are self-knowing, self-respectful, self-sacrificing, and self-luminous.”
As you read my words, I don’t want you to be a spectator on the sidelines watching some sad tale. No. As you encounter these words, I want you to “feel, care, and desire.” On with it.
Wonderful! I cannot wait to read the finished product!
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Bill, it’s so resonant. I was discussing your work with a student recently. If ever you want to speak to my class, please let me know. This work was s a masterpiece. I encourage you to send it to festivals.
So great to hear from you, Theresa! I would love to come catch up with you. Do you ever get up Schaumburg way? And I’m so honored by your kind words! Thank you! Speak to your class some time? Of course. I’m dying to talk to you about your advice on the ending of my play. You were so right!
I very much look forward to following your story. So inspirational to reflect on ones life; past, present and future. Honesty and self reflection are powerful tools. Thank you for sharing.
Thank you, JoAn. I’m going to keep trying to make time to tell the story. It’s my story, my father’s story, your father’s story, and your story, too. My hope is that by telling it, it releases us all.
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