By Tony McMillen
My first novel Nefarious Twit is about a man who grows up without a father and then decides to try and find him so that he can murder him.
My father will never read my book.
My father died while I was halfway through writing the first draft of the book almost 7 years ago.
Even if he would have lived I don’t know if he would have read my book. We weren’t speaking to each other, hadn’t for about six years and before that it had been almost three years and before that, I didn’t talk to him for maybe seven or eight years. I didn’t really know my father. He didn’t raise me. My parents got divorced when I was 2 years old so I also didn’t really know anything besides not knowing him. I think that made it a lot better for me but also kind of weird sometimes too. I was given an idea of him, something that wasn’t really him, and that’s what I missed, if anything. Something that was never really there.
The 2nd to last time we spoke I had taken a Greyhound bus from Arizona to Ohio without anyone knowing and sort of broken into his house and ambushed him after not speaking to him for nearly a decade. I was 17 or 18 years old.
I’m usually a fairly relaxed person but apparently every once and a while I can pull some really dramatic shit.
Speaking of which, if I’m being completely honest here, (and why not at least pretend I am) I would have really liked my father to have read my book.
But I would have never sent him a copy.
Nefarious Twit is far from a perfect book but I’m proud of it. It’s the start of what I always wanted to do: tell stories. It was published last year and a lot of people have read it. A lot of them are people I know and even more of them are people that I don’t know at all. I’ve read reviews that came from very far away. One of my favorites was written by a man from Mongolia. All of this is important to me and makes me very happy.
For some of the most important things that I want to say, stories are the best, maybe the only way, for me to attempt to say them. Some of these are things I want to communicate in a general sense, to anybody in the world who cares to listen. And some are things I want to say specifically to the people close to me. And even some more are the things that I want or need to say to myself. Especially when I don’t want to hear them.
Because communication is essential and clearly impossible.
This is something the universe has managed to convey to me repeatedly throughout my short life. Maybe it’s not coming through crystal fucking clear but that kind of just proves its point, right?
When my father died while I was in the middle of writing a novel that was really one long love letter, fuck you and sad but sort of beautiful from a distance type of message that he might be the only person who could get what I was trying to say but since I was saying it about him then that meant that he and I could never really share it; when my father died in the middle of that, I learned the lesson all over again. It had gotten just a little bit clearer.
I learned that it’s not going to work the way you want it to but you still have to try. Because if you don’t, it’s not going to work at all.
I’m one of the luckiest people I know.
And I’m not just talking about the inherent privileges I enjoy being straight, white, American, and male (don't get me wrong, that stuff helps too but that's not what I'm talking about here). I’m talking about the fact that a lot of people don’t grow up with fathers. Most of the people I grew up with actually, my friends, they didn’t have fathers either. In fact when I was a kid, whenever I’d go to a friend’s house who actually lived with both parents it always stood out to me. Not bad but also not good. Not better either. That is, I don’t remember feeling jealous or envious, I just noticed it was different. That it was rare within the people I knew.
Most of the rest of us alternated living with just our moms and then our moms and their current boyfriends or our new stepdads. The extra money these men would bring in would be nice, though my mom still always worked a lot (she never got a dime of child support from my father) but none of the men my mother ever brought home had any business raising children. Same goes for most of the men in my friends’ lives.
It occurred to me a few months ago at age 32 that I actually have no memory of my mother and my father being in the same room together. I think this is probably for the best. Just like I think it’s for the best that my mother left my father and that I had minimal contact with him. My father was a drug addict, a drunk, he was violent and abusive, I don’t see how his presence could have benefited me or my sister. So this is what I told my father when I was 17 or just turned 18 and I quit my job, took a Greyhound bus from Arizona to Ohio and sort of broke into his house (I say I sort of broke in to his house because I didn’t smash a window or anything. The place he was living in had a top porch that I climbed up a drain pipe to get to and the sliding door that was up there, while locked, was pretty cheap and opened up once I pulled [I moved this anecdote up here. What do you think?]it back and forth a few times) and waited for him to come home. I wanted to tell him that I was proud of who I was. Proud to help my mother pay her bills. Proud to not have a father. Glad that he wasn’t around because the truth is I would have been a very different person if he had stuck around. A worse person I think. And I did tell him that. I told him all of that to his face. And I told him a few other things too.
The universe gave me one shot to tell my father what I thought of him and what I thought of myself. And I took it. I tried to take it. Communication is essential and clarity impossible. For a long time I had wished I had said my say and then punched him square in his mustache and then just walked away. But after saying what I had to say my father asked me, practically begged me, to just shake his hand and to come inside and talk to him for a little bit.
That moment is something I think about a lot.
He held his hand out after I just finished screaming at him and he kept saying, “Please shake my hand, it doesn’t mean anything.” It doesn’t mean anything. And eventually I did. And sometimes I think he was right and other times I think he could not have been more fucking wrong and that it might have been the single biggest mistake I ever made.
But I might have made it for the right reason. At least, that’s what I tell myself some days when I want to be nice. I tell myself that I shook my father’s hand that day and went inside and talked with him because when I looked into his eyes I saw a lonely old man who needed something only I could him. And it wasn’t forgiveness either. It was part of himself that he had let fall away. But I didn’t give it back to him… Because I couldn’t give it back even if I wanted to. I just think for a moment he and I got to share something between us that only he and I could really understand. Some weird connection between two people who had never been close but nevertheless were a hell of a lot alike. What I gave him was just a reflection, a reflection of that part of himself that he let die a long time ago. And I’m not talking about myself as his son, not really. I’m talking about who my father could have been if he hadn’t wasted his talents and strengths. I reflected that to him, I believe.
On the days I don’t feel like being nice to myself I tell myself that the real reason why I agreed to shake his hand and come inside was simply because I chickened out at the last minute. Either way, my father was a man who fucked up every one and every thing he ever loved. He was a broken person who passed on his poison to others, including abusing my mother. I never forgave him. But I did talk to him that day, we did have a few laughs, and we did tell each other some truths. And I finally accepted what I had always suspected: My father was a damaged person who shouldn’t have tried to raise a child and our estrangement was the best thing that could have happened to me.
Nine years after that meeting he died of liver failure.
I was half way through writing the first draft of Nefarious Twit when I got the news. Not that he died but that he was going to die. That he was in a coma, there was no way he was coming out of it, and that he’d be dead in a couple of days. Just like that everything changed, I’d never get the chance to tell him a single word ever again. Before I could decide whether or not I should go down there and see him one more time he was gone. I didn’t go back for the funeral.
At the time I already knew how my book was going to end, the ultimate fate of the father character and of the son. I don’t think anything was changed but I do think I remember something changing in me, maybe a little, as I went back to work on that draft. Because I realized that if it had all been about him, then that meant that I could just stop now. I didn’t have to finish it. Because now there was no way he’d ever read a word of it.
Six years later I finished my book.
With a little help from my friends it was published.
Like I said, I’m one of the luckiest people I know.
Tony McMillen is the author of the novel Nefarious Twit. He is also the artist behind that book’s artwork and has created the cover artwork for a few other novels he hasn’t written. Besides all that he finds time to write the humor column “Touch The Wonder” where he performs droll vivisections on pop culture with equal parts vitriol and whimsy. The column is published by DigBoston. If you wanna party with Tony find him on at his website http://tonymcmillen.wordpress.com. If you are David Lee Roth time displaced from 1984, don’t worry, he’ll find you. You can follow him on Twitter at @TonyMcMillen.