I started this post a week back, intending to get back to draft two of my account of my father’s life. I rarely let a post sit unfinished this way, but the shit has been flying off the fan so continuously with this not-non-Nazi president that I haven’t had a moment to reflect. The distractions with this fellow are wall-to-wall but it’s my own fault that I’m so distracted. Sekhnet tells me I lack executive function, the power to focus on and complete a task.
My mind keeps flipping back to the witnesses who said Trump frequently used the forbidden word “nigger” while posing as America’s greatest businessman on a top-rated “reality TV” show. Every American knows that Trump paid off women he allegedly had sex with, forced them to sign binding nondisclosure agreements. The incriminating tapes of him from The Apprentice were also purchased, along with silence. Does anyone doubt this thoroughly racist German-American ever used the word “nigger” to describe “a low IQ, stupid, ugly” person from a “shit hole country”? Get the fuck out of here. I wonder what, if anything, would happen if those tapes of the racist Trump honestly being Trump ever came to light. Speaking the “n-word” (and fuck that f-ing n-word shit– how about having a real public discussion about American racism instead of banning an f-ing word, you c-words) out loud seems to be the one taboo this norm busting winner has not broken.
OK, dad, now that I’ve filled the spittoon, let’s continue with you.
When I sat down to make a serious attempt at untangling the contradictory lessons of my poor father’s life– a life lived partly as a monster– I thought I was looking at a unique situation. Irv Widaen was a bright, funny, sensitive, curious, affable, quick witted, well-read, sardonic, fairly hip, justice-oriented man who was at the same time the brutal zero-sum Dreaded Unit in the cozy confines of his immediate family. I imagined that solving this great riddle would be the journey of the book. It turned out not to be.
1,200 pages and more than a year of pondering later, it dawns on me that my father’s story is not unusual at all, In fact, it’s all too familiar, a fairly universal story. The details of what makes somebody a tyrant in the confines of his family home are always somewhat different, but this Jekyll and Hyde personality is on view everywhere if you get a true peek behind the fragile facade of civility we all wear in public. We are, each one of us, capable of monstrous things, when we are upset and “justified”, if we feel safe acting out.
How do I explain the life-altering brutality of a man who rarely hit his children? It’s elusive, as, for many years the reasons this otherwise good man, sympathetic to the underdog and committed to justice, ruthlessly oppressed those he loved the most were carefully hidden. To understand how a father can be hard-hearted toward his children you must look at the role models he had, the humiliations he underwent, the painful conflicts he never resolved.
If you met Irv Widaen you’d have been struck by his intelligence, his quick-wittedness and how engaged he always was in a conversation. He was funny. He was honest. He was committed to bending the moral arch of history toward justice. Well-read and interested in the world around him, he could comment intelligently on any subject that came up. He connected easily with people. Though he had firm political views, he could argue both sides of virtually any issue, a skill not many people bother to develop. He was irreverent. Out of the blue he could hit you with some darkly funny observation that would crack up his friends. I recognize now that he did the best he could, and I know this for sure from the regrets his expressed the last night of his life.
My sister never recovered from the damage our father did to her. She feels I had it worse than she did, because, while she usually tried to keep her head down, I always fought back. I had it bad enough, and my path through life has been strewn with violent obstacles and sometimes vicious confrontations, though who can really say who suffers more from what?
In the first draft of the Book of Irv (and I know I probably need a better title, for starters), I wrote everything I could recall about our father’s implacable anger, the black and white world he set out– a world where my sister and I might win individual battles but would “lose the war.” What was the war, dad? I mean, can one really comprehend the desperate insanity of a father teaching his children that formulation of life? “You might win this battle, but you’re going to lose the war.” The war? What the fuck, dad?
In turning over this material, I came to see things from my father’s distorted point of view. Odd to say, my imagined conversations with the opinionated, voluble skeleton of my father, who spoke from his grave outside of Peekskill, the benighted little anti-Semitic town he grew up in, revealed my father’s point of view in ways I never could have imagined. I know that I imagined all the responses the skeleton provided, day after day, but some still struck me as surprising revelations. I actually came to see things through his eyes.
So one major thing I need to convey in the book, I see now, is how a damaged person, desperate to feel whole, and intact, fashions a persona to conceal the shame that tortures him in his private moments.
(more to follow, I have to get back to the protectors of our Klansman-in-Chief…)