|The Everett McCord Claytons, I-IV|
Toibin suggests that I torture my father for the sake of truth. Is that why, when I can speak so precisely about the gap in his teeth or the way he laughed as if he were sneezing, I swerve from reality and have him do something horrible he would never (I hope, but am not entirely sure) do? Toibin says such twists of actual truth are in service of the more universally understandable truths we are trying to tell with our stories. Not moral truths, but truths about how we are, how we behave. Each of us takes what we will from the behavior of others. One man’s truth is another’s blasphemy.
If you had known my father, you would say the man in the novel I’ve just finished is him. And you would say: Damn, I never knew he did all that awful stuff. The poor bastard. I’ve twisted him and tweaked him and made him party to outrageous behavior. A lot of what I say about the character that starts with him is total fiction. “And if I am lucky,” as Toibin says, “what comes into shape will seem more real and more true, more affecting and enduring, than the facts of the case.”
There is truth to that high-toned rationalization, to the hope that my story will resonate and endure, but it does not fully explain why I write about my father. There are obvious reasons, of course. I write about him because it amuses me, because I like to think back on our times together, good and bad, because I’m still trying to understand him and myself. But those tepid explanations do not go to the heart of the matter. They do not account for my continuing fascination, both loving and morbid, with a man who died forty years ago.
No, the real reason I write about him, I think, the reason I hold him up before me and by the light of the window examine him from all angles, like a butterfly specimen on a pin, is that it keeps him alive in me. It’s almost as good as actually having him around. Better perhaps, because I always get the last word.