My father died at age fifty-three, never realizing the dream of who he planned to be. He was a brilliant and articulate man; a gifted writer who had a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University. But as many of us do, he smothered his initiative and creativity because he became too comfortable with that unyielding fear of not being good enough.
Maybe it was safer for him to hide behind his responsibilities and his resentments than to pursue his desire to become a writer. Perhaps the thick file of rejection letters hidden in the bedroom closet was just too much for him to bear. Sadly, he traded his beloved Smith-Corona typewriter for a bottle of gin and gave away his literary dream for a two pack-a-day nicotine habit and the television remote control. He died when he was only three years older than I am right now.
I’m grateful I didn’t inherit my father’s gene for alcoholism, but I did inherit the gene that’s even more intoxicating—the one that programmed both of us to believe: I’m just not good enough, so why bother trying? As I’m sure my dad was, I have been embroiled in my own decades-long internal struggle about whether or not my abilities are good enough for me to realize the dream of who I want to be.
Lately, you may have noticed that I haven’t posted on my blog as regularly as I have in the past. Then again, you may not have noticed at all (See? There it is again–that annoying voice in my head telling me that nobody cares.)
The reason I haven’t posted much recently is because I’ve been working very diligently on writing a novel. This is something I’ve fantasized about doing since forever, but that errant gene passed down from my dad discouraged me from really trying until recently. It doesn’t help that this whole crazy writing process, which includes opening oneself up to judgment and criticism is very scary at times. Wait—I take that back—it’s utterly terrifying! All the time!
But I’ve got a good story to tell, and I’ve been savvy enough to surround myself with a supportive writing group, who along with my wonderful and encouraging family, read my words and tell me what’s not working—and more importantly—what is working. The very best part is that they also say they can’t wait to read more. So, whenever I can steal away a few quiet moments from my busy life, I write, and I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.
When I write, I often think of my dad and how painful it must have been for him to let his dream slowly die away. It may be that I’ve carried his destructive gene around with me since birth, but I now realize I’m not destined to follow his path. I’m the one in charge of making my dream happen, and as much as I want to sometimes, I can no longer blame my lack of confidence on my heredity.
I’m a writer and it’s time to write.
The following is a poem written by my dad and published in 1954
The lighthouse keeper told me once about loneliness;
About how, when he first took the job,
He was afraid the light might go out,
And then wished it would.
He told me about a sailor that explained to him
What it means to a shipload of staring eyes
To see his spinning human message
Punching hope through a wall of distant despair.
The keeper said his life got a little dull at times,
And his wife complained once in a while
About having to live always on the edge
Of extreme ways of life;
But, he said, he was the denial of death.
I read in his diary, after he died,
That he hated the coming of spring, because all night
He heard his steel and concrete index tick off sparrows,
With little thumping sounds,
And that his hired man complained about the mess.
He willed his telescope to his wife, that was all he had,
And she told me that day that reason
He took the job was
He loved the freedom of the sea.
My dad, Joseph Winters in his senior photo in the 1954 Johns Hopkins yearbook