It’s my parents fault that I did not not turn out to be a better writer than I am. It pains me to say so, but it’s true. The environment I was raised in during my formative years was the worst of all possible circumstances for an aspiring writer. I have no grist for my mill, so to speak, and I lay the blame for it squarely at their feet. They never gave me a fighting chance.
Why couldn’t they have treated me more like Charles Dickens’s parents treated him, and forced me to work in a dirty factory for ten hours a day when I was twelve years old. What a blessing that was for Mr. Dickens, having that awful experience to draw from while he became the greatest writer of his time.
Or what about Stephen King? His father went out to buy a package of cigarettes one evening and never returned. Mr. King used this trauma as the catalyst to become one of America’s most prolific writers. My father, on the other hand, showed up at home every night, like clockwork.
Raymond Chandler’s father was an abusive alcoholic. My parents buy wine in gallon jugs, yet I have never even seen them tipsy.
Oh, they tried to abuse me, in their own incompetent way, but their efforts always fell woefully short. They toyed with my emotions subtly, clandestinely, so much so that it was not obvious they were doing it at all. As an example, they forced us, my brothers and me, to eat supper at the table every evening, as a family, while all around the neighborhood my friends were dining on TV trays, watching Lassie and Gunsmoke. Then they peppered us with questions about our day at school, probing questions that could not be deflected with one-word answers. It was agony, but there is no residual emotional scarring that I’m aware of, and as a result, no fodder for literary accomplishment.
My mother was cruelly frugal when I was growing up. When I was in junior high school, she took me to Sears to buy my clothes. At the time, I considered this to be emotional abuse on a grand scale, because buying clothes at Sears was extremely uncool. All of my friends shopped at Burt’s on Main Street, and they wore name-brands like Haggar and Levis. Those were dark days indeed, but looking back, I can’t say that there was any lasting negative effect, and therefore, no literary gold for the mining.
My father liked to listen to opera and symphony concerts on the radio on Sunday afternoons. He would turn the volume up quite loud and glare at us if we disturbed him with our noise. Compared to what other fathers did on Sunday, this was not normal behavior, but unfortunately, it did me no lasting harm.
One day, he went out to by a car, and he came home with a Peugeot. It was humiliating to be seen riding in it, but the damage to my psyche was minor, and I overcame it. The same could not be said for my mother, however, for whom the sacrifice of air-conditioning and automatic transmission was never an acceptable trade-off for having the only French station wagon in the neighborhood.
The list of their shortcomings is long and terrible. They were not alcoholics or drug addicts. They were not irresponsible or lazy. They did not raise me in poverty. We were not hounded by bill collectors. They did not cheat on each other. They did not divorce. Neither one of them ever spent so much as a single day in the penitentiary.
They failed me in so many ways, with never a thought about the damage they were causing me; any chance I ever had at literary greatness snuffed out before it could even begin. For years I have wanted to give them a piece of my mind, to let them know how deeply this has affected me. I have searched and searched for the right words to say to them, and I believe I have finally settled on it. There are only two: