Some time after this fight, I realized my father and I had been telling the same overly simple stories for thirty years. In those stories, I was always the injured victim and he the abusive tyrant.
So I asked him, "What stories of yours do I need to hear to understand how you became the man you are?" And I asked myself, "What stories do I want my dad to know about my life?" And we started telling each other our stories.
At the end of the first section of the book, I wrote to him:
It is startling to reread the stories of our early conflicts, to see them rendered in black and white, starkly printed on the page with no room for equivocation... In one way, this handful of stories is as familiar to me as my own face.
But now, when I take them out, dust them off, and render them into writing, the stories seem strange. So often polished with unconscious retelling, they have an overproduced, movie-like quality as if they were made up or had happened to someone else. And in truth, hard as I try, I can barely recognize either you or myself as the actors in these spectral plays. Like a bad habit, or an addiction, these few harsh images stood sentinel at the entryway to memory and experience, restricting my responses to you to a very narrow range.
When we finally got past the simple, mythic stories that had imprisoned us, a remarkable thing happened. Dozens of new stories started pouring out of us, some sad, some humorous, some joyful, and it gave each of us a much more complex, nuanced view of the other.
As we were finishing the first draft of the book, I went backpacking by myself, high in the mountains of the Pecos Wilderness, and when I returned I wrote this to my father:
On this particular trip, as if drawn by some inner loadstone, I found my thoughts returning to you again and again. Different images of you kept popping into my mind, conjured from the distant mists of recollection"
But this time, for the first time, all these memories were imbued with a tremendous upwelling of affection and admiration.
What's odd is that these were not "new" memories. Last year I could have recited the same events. But then they were tainted with regret, contaminated by cynicism. Each memory was interpreted through a lens of distrust, strained through a sieve of hurt.
But now so many of those memories are filled with love and appreciation, and I feel both sorrow and gratitude. Sorrow, because I wish I could have realized all this sooner, and profound gratitude that we have had the opportunity to take this journey together and that I have had the chance to tell you all of this before you die.
I am a son abandoned by his father. This will always be a part of me. Telling the stories does not change that.
But now that pain is only a part of how I view my father. When I see my father's life through his eyes, I can not help but have compassion for his journey and his decisions -- even if I do not agree or even understand.
I can not help but think that Palestinians and Israelis, Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, no less than fathers and sons are trapped by the simplicity of their own narratives, and I wonder what would happen if somehow these opposing groups could take the time and the risk to tell their stories and listen to those of others.
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