Writing About My Father, Day 27
This morning I watched Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, which is ostensibly a documentary about finding out that the father she grew up with is not her biological father. I say “ostensibly” because it is a film about more than genetics. Her biological father thinks he is the only one who knows the true story. While the multiple people she interviews—her siblings, the man she thought was her father, her later mother’s friends—each have slightly different versions of the story. No one knows Polley’s mother in exactly the same way, so no one can tell the same story of how or why she had an affair and how she was able to keep the secret of her daughter’s parentage for so long. There is a question, too, of what it means to make the story public—is it okay to tell the story outside of the family, what does it mean to make that family story into art, and who decides what is appropriate and what “appropriate” even means.
Even over these 27 days that I have been trying to tell the story of my father and me, I have only told part of the story. I know the story would look differently in his voice, or if I tried to ask him the questions I have asked myself. And I have not asked my siblings for their versions of the story, and I have not asked them to comment on the way I am telling the story. And there are things that would deepen the story I am telling that I cannot say because of who it might hurt, or the conversation it might start that I am not ready to have. I do not expect that when I officially finish this set of blog posts tomorrow that I will have a definitive narrative, or that I will have reached any conclusions. I do not expect that tomorrow will be the last I write about my father.
I expect that I will continue to measure the depth of his absence, to continue to wrestle with the accurate way to describe his place in my life—is he an absent presence or a present absence? I expect too that I will draw more dotted lines from my relationship with my father, to the consequences I struggle with today, at the same time as I continue to differentiate between what was done to me, and what I have done to myself. I will continue to wonder if it makes me disloyal in some way to tell this story, though I have heard from so many people how much my telling has helped them look at their own complicated relationships. I will continue to wonder if this is a type of healing or a type of passive-agressive revenge. I will wonder too why after so many years my father is still carrying around his own baggage from his parents, and if there was anything I ever could have done to help him begin to heal. I will wonder if I should have kept this to myself until after he’d died so I wouldn’t have to worry that one of his cousins might read the blog and tell him what I’m saying about him. I will wonder if there is some obvious part of the story I am missing cause of my own blinders born of selfishness or fear or simply not being old enough yet to recognize that particular blind spot. I will wonder, too, if there’s another way I should tell this story and maybe, sometimes, if I should tell it out loud at all?
Whatever the answers ultimately are—and I expect they will change day to day, year to year—the only thing I know for sure is that I’ve been telling this story for a very long time, in the poems I haven’t written, in the photographs that aren’t displayed, in the phone calls that aren’t placed. My own absence from the story has been a narrative in itself. And so the real question is not whose story is it, or who has the right to tell it, but do I have the courage to be present to it, no matter how difficult or dangerous the telling?