The Canadian Writers' Collective

Writing, and writerly tangents

Monday, August 18, 2008

My Father, My Guide

I’ve started writing so-called stories where I use my memories of my father as guide. By the time they find their way onto the page, they’re distorted somewhat, of course, but still, there’s a bit of the man I knew at every turn, in every word choice I hope will impart some meaning. I’m using my father here. Just as what I remember, reminisce about, tells me where to look for story, I’m hoping this combination of father and son will lead to eye opening moments for the reader, some good, even if the story tells of something bad.

Stop. Yet once again, as I mention my father in connection with my writing, I find myself being distracted by a need to state my love for the man, how fortunate I think I was having him, and not someone else, as father. There’s enormous guilt here for me as a writer, especially considering my writing almost always turns dark somewhere down the first paragraph. As I find it easier and easier to use my father in my works, I have to learn to live with the fact that I’ll always be walking a fine line between what I’ve been raised to believe is like blasphemy, shitting on your father’s memory, and doing what I feel I have to do as a writer – lead by example. Just know: when I’m writing about a man whose flaws make life difficult for others, I’m not just writing about my father, but myself as well. I’m hoping my writing will seem courageous, gutsy and honest to the reader. I am my father’s son, and I need to pay homage to him by being the best writer I can be. Am I making sense?

For years, I used women as central characters in my stories, and though the stories were mine, they were written as by an observer. I wasn’t yet ready to tackle the male figure in any meaningful way. In that sense, I used my female characters as victims of men so I could get closer to what I really needed to understand and write about. Not at all the same thing as when you rip some part of the story from deep within your chest. It sounds painful, but not because what you know is so horrible there has to be blood and guts involved, but because the story has roots in the person you are, the person you have become. Maybe not all writers feel this deep need to understand themselves. Maybe I’m whacko, and this writing thing will simply evaporate into nothing once I’ve finally discovered how I was made into the man I’ve become. But I can’t see any other way to being a writer and writing with some kind of authority. Besides, I sense my chains loosening as I travel down this long and winding road, my father as guide. Like any good parent, he’s constantly two steps ahead of me, and he doesn’t differentiate between the writer and the man. He sees me as I want to be, even more steady and even than he was.

And hey, if this turns out to be a simple case of me actually trying to go back and fix things… what’s wrong with that? I think he’d be pleased.


Blogger Tricia Dower said...

Hey, Tony, I enjoyed this. Not all writers work out personal issues through their writing, that's true, but I bet many do. With some of the stories in Silent Girl I know I was trying to put some things behind me. I find it fascinating that you haven't tackled male figures before now. Doing so now (and how appropriate to reflect on your father) may usher in a rich and illuminating phase in your writing.

Mon Aug 18, 07:57:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

I hope so, Tricia. You popped into my head while I was writing this, btw.

Mon Aug 18, 09:49:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger Andrew Tibbetts said...

I'm having father issues with my writing too, so I enjoyed hearing about yours. My dad loved Greece- we all lived there for six months, and he another six months on top of that. As I read your article I pictured our dad having an ouzo together!

Tue Aug 19, 11:05:00 am GMT-4  
Blogger Antonios Maltezos said...

My dad was a good guy, as long as the festivities didn't last too, too, long. Then he'd start remembering people who'd done him wrong. God rest his soul. He had a hard life.

Tue Aug 19, 05:03:00 pm GMT-4  
Blogger T. Lee said...

I think all writers feel a deep need to understand, if not themselves, the world around them. Not all are as honest as you about it, which puts you ahead of them, I think, Tony.

Wed Aug 20, 11:15:00 pm GMT-4  

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