Jenna Black's Blog Experiment

Wherein romance author Jenna Black plunges into the terrifying new territory of blogging . . .


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Thoughts on Father's Day

Next month, it will be three years since I lost my father. Every father's day is a little poignant for me, and the release of Secrets in the Shadows, which is dedicated to him, was another bittersweet moment in my life.

My dad and I didn't have an easy relationship. He and my mom divorced when I was three, and I lived with my mom thereafter. My mom and I both had artistic temperaments, but my dad was very, very different. He lived the American dream.

The son of poor Russian immigrants, he was the first in his family to go to college. He went on to get a PhD in psychology, and then got a job with a small management consultant business. Over the thirty or more years (I don't remember the exact number) he worked for them, that business grew and grew, becoming a large multi-national firm. And my father was a dedicated partner in the business.

He was a total workaholic, his entire life devoted to his job and his success--and he loved his job. For many, many years, he and I had terrible trouble relating to one another. His dream-child would have been as career-minded as he was, a suit-clad, aggressive, live-for-the-job businessperson. Not an artistic writer-type who couldn't care less if she got the big promotion at work.

Now, don't get me wrong--he was very supportive of my writing. He just didn't "get" it. Didn't understand my drive or my dedication. (Just as I didn't get how he could love corporate America as much as he did.) Conversations between us were often awkward and uncomfortable--we just didn't share enough common ground.

Then about seven years ago, he was diagnosed with Leukemia. And we both knew our time together was limited. For years, we'd tried--and failed--to find some common ground between us, a way to communicate with each other. But we were both deaf and blind to each other. Conversations tended to devolve into old arguments, old resentments stirred, and it was often easier just not to talk.

In a desperate bid to find that elusive common ground, I decided to try something different. I brainstormed a list of questions, all based on "what if " scenarios--based, in a way, on the science fiction and fantasy I was writing at the time. I proposed to my dad that each week, we could take turns picking one of those questions, and we could each write an email essay answering the question. After we'd both sent the emails, we could talk to each other on the phone about what we'd written.

It was a way for us to communicate with each other without devolving into the old arguments, and without talking about real life--in which we had so many disagreements.

Of all the things I've done in my life of which I'm proud, that idea takes top prize. It worked better than I could ever have hoped. We wrote to each other, and for the first time in our lives, we actually listened (figuratively speaking) to what the other had to say. Through that exercise, my dad finally understood my creative drive, finally understood why I didn't want to be a cog in the corporate wheel. And I finally understood the emotional human being behind the rational, logical facade he always presented to the world.

I still have the letters we wrote to one another. I can't read them without crying, but they're the good kind of tears. Words can't describe how grateful I am that my father and I finally came to knew each other in the last years of his life.


At 6:53 PM, Blogger Teresa D'Amario said...

A perfectly WONDERFUL story that brought tears to my eyes. If people haven't lost their father they might not understand what you refer to. My Dad died the same year yours did, but left us a few years before, into the world of dreams and imagination brought on by damage from multiple strokes. When he left, in some ways, it was a relief. But there was so much we still never go to say or do.

But, before the damage became too potent my father managed to come to my Military Retirement. As retired Army he always felt a little "out of place" and "out of time," not only because he missed the Army, but he never had a retirement ceremony. He simply faded into the background.

While I personally would have LIKED to fade into the background by that time, I went with the ceremony so my Dad could be there. For me, it was my way of reaching out.

The best gift I ever gave him, other than my time (which we all know cannot be over exaggerated) was a composite photograph. One with him, holding his rifle in 1960's fatigues, while on the soil of Viet Nam (Back of course when we refuse to admit we were at war). That was the background. The foreground was a picture of myself, in my military uniform.

For the first time I can remember, he actually opened up about his time in Viet Nam, and for that I am truly grateful. It showed he missed his old buddies, missed the comraderie, and missed their friendship.

Unlike many others, I understood. Your military friends never took the place of family. They only added to it.

So here's to Dads, the greatest of the great.


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