Family Curses: When Writers Beget Writers
I am the luckiest of fathers and have been since the beginning. If any newborn can be said to be calm, it would have been our daughter. Even factoring in a big honkin' dollop of paternal bias, she was pretty much perfect. She didn’t even cry much, and the crying she did seemed almost perfunctory, as if she only wanted to assure us she had a superior set of lungs. Her personality hasn’t changed much since those first moments of life. She has grown up to be a remarkably poised and intelligent young woman. It seems like all my wife and I had to do was remind her of the basics: 1). Treat everyone with respect and kindness, and if, for whatever reason that proves impossible, then at least be polite, 2). Don’t cheat or lie, 3). Boredom is for losers, 4). Be open to new experiences, and 5). Don’t put things up your nose. That’s about it.
It seems to me that most of the thinking parents I know have long since given up on the idea that they can build a perfect human being out of the seemingly malleable lump of cuteness they brought home from the hospital. We have come to see our job primarily as damage control. We just try to prepare our kids for what is often a despairingly ugly world without scaring them so badly that they refuse to come out from under their beds. We have learned to think twice before dressing our children in Little Lord Fauntleroy frills and force feeding them Brussels sprouts the way our parents did to us. That’s not to say that we don’t make the same mistakes as they did. We just make them knowing they are providing our kids with Molotov cocktails of resentment that will be lobbed at us out of a clear blue sky later on.
Which brings me to the ostensible purpose of this blog: the vexed question of writers spawning writers. I'm not necessarily saying the men listed below were lousy fathers. What I'm saying is that I know a lot of writers and when I have asked them why they became writers, their answers boil down to a combination of these: I want attention, I have serious axes to grind, and I am trying to exorcize a herd of demons. I would posit that if you dig deep enough into any of those motivations, sooner or later, you're going to find Daddy.
The point is that the nature--perhaps the very purpose--of parenting is to bestow a bag full of grievances on one's offspring. Think about it: all of us have facets of our personality that are about as perfect as anything human can be. We're always on time, say, or have a beautiful smile, or always tip more than fifteen percent, but we all know it's the scars that really make us who we are.
Kingsley Amis begat Martin
William F. Buckley begat Christopher
William S. Burroughs begat William, jr.
John Cheever begat Benjamin & Susan
Charles Dickens begat Charles, jr.
Andre Dubus II begat Andre III
Alexandre Dumas pere begat Alexandre fils
William Godwin begat Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Ted Hughes begat Frieda
Leonard Huxley begat Sir Julian & Aldous
James Jones begat Kaylie
Jonathan Kellerman begat Jesse
Jack Kerouac begat Jan
Stephen King begat Joe Hill
Elmore Leonard begat Peter
Thomas Mann begat Klaus
Michael Palmer begat Daniel
Mordecai Richler begat Daniel & Emma & Jacob & Noah & Martha
Sidney Sheldon begat Mary
John Steinbeck begat Thomas
John Updike begat David
Irving Wallace begat David (Wallechinsky)
Arthur Waugh begat Alec & Evelyn who begat Auberon who begat Alexander
H.G. Wells begat Anthony (West)
James Wright begat Franz
As always, comments, complaints, corrections and cookie recipes are welcome and encouraged (especially the cookie recipes). Here's wishing all you dad's out there a wonderful Father's Day. If, when your children go out to make their place in the world, you can say they know how to do their own laundry without everything coming out of the drier with the dreaded pink-tinge, can make a big pot of edible spaghetti sauce or vegetable soup, and can change a tire, then you've done a great job. Give yourself a pat on the back.
Thanks to all for reading.