If your creative nonfiction family memoir is in 878,546th place on Amazon, your tendency is a reality/ego check. Then you view it from 100-thousand feet, and learn you’re 878,546 out of more than 8-million, which means you’re in the top 11 percent and your book is more popular than those of more than 7-million other creative geniuses.
What’d I say about an ego check?
It’s the notion of getting up high and looking down to get the big picture. Deep Throat to Bob Woodward in the bowels of a Washington D.C. parking garage: “You’re missing the overall.”
The family photo was taken in 1964. I was in the Second Grade at Plainville Rural Grade School, rockin’ the plaid sport coat like few others in post-JFK, Beatles Coming to America, early Vietnam era.
Baby's good to me, you know
She's happy as can be, you know
She said so.
Look closely at the photo. Idyllic family portrait. Except none of us appear to be what I would call naturally happy, just photographer-prompted, hard to hide, forced smiles. For good reason. Our lives back then were not idyllic. My father was not a drinker but was a textbook Adult Child of Alcoholics.
The first 17 years of my life, I operated from a position of pure and unadorned fear. (Unsure what adorned fear looks like..?) As I would come of age and begin charting my own alcohol-fueled existence, the question lingered: Why was my father such an asshole?
I would come to learn his own upbringing caused severe, long-term emotional damage. He survived through independence and relying on his own judgment. It worked for him. It caused heartache, woe and severe emotional damage in his family. Ours is by no means alone. After reading Spifflicated, many friends have shared similar stories.
We all deal with it as best we can. Some wallow in their shit and never get better. A few of us are fortunate to encounter other caring souls, recognize the dysfunction, crawl our way into awareness and, if we’re fortunate, the solution.
Some people trace it upstream and write a book.
During the Feast of the Epiphany Mass last weekend at St. Mary’s Basilica, while I was in Phoenix, the priest encouraged the faithful to let our souls shine.
For his first 80 years, my father never saw the need to let his shine. During his final three, when he knew the end was near, his soul was shining. Just enough to download his troubled upbringing with his eldest son, the kid in the plaid sport coat, who would grow up to suffer, like his fathers’ parents.
That kid would also grow up to share his insight. About his family. About alcoholism and dysfunction and recovery. About forgiveness and hope.
With the benefit of time and vision from 100-thousand feet, the kid rockin’ the plaid sport coat has learned something valuable his father never did.
We are not in this alone.