Tuesday, July 18, 2006

7.18.06, Letter from an Anonymous Father

[note from 7.19.06: Franky Scale, a good 7, I'm not going to post today since there was a substantial post put up late yesterday. Thanks to everyone who posted in support during the last day, more later.

Today I was at the cancer center/hospital for the multiple-pass CT scans, to create images for my restaging which happens tomorrow at 10:30 a.m., till who knows when. I've had four-hour meetings with Dr. Whiting before. Cross your fingers for good results tomorrow, more tumor shrinkage, less cancer, leading to more time. Till then I'm going to be reading Adorno's Minima Moralia, subtitle of which is key, Reflections from Damaged Life.]

“Letter from an Anonymous Father”

[N.B., this is another one of those pour-yourself-a-drink and then-sit-down-to-read kind of posts. It’s as serious as anything posted yet and I will warn some of you that it might be troubling as regards family relationships. For those, like the words Dante read above the Gates of Hell . . .]

* * *

Part 1. Epigraph in Parable

One passage I recall from the Bible is in the book of John, chapter 8. Three verses should give convey the gist:

6. This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.

7. So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.

8. And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.

Curious little passage.

* * *

Part 2. A Father’s Letter

Yesterday I received a letter from my dad, here’s the punch line: Because I am a sinner, God has cursed me to die young from pancreatic cancer. How’s that for a nice Howd’ya Do at the end of your day? (Almost makes me want to change my mailbox key.) But the letter was written, I should add, “with great love and anticipation.”

Here is the reasoning. Specifically, my father says that because “not only did I deny the existence of Christ but I also overlooked The Word of Wisdom” (emphasis in original; and the Word of Wisdom is Mormon-speak, as he explains, specifically meaning that I drank alcohol). (My apologies — I guess you should put down that drink now.) Odd choice of words, don’t you think, that I somehow “overlooked” this commandment of the Word of Wisdom; the upshot is that I am guilty of a denial and an overlooking, and either way God has chosen to punish me by giving me pancreatic cancer, the terminal kind. As for the validity of the first claim, who knows but that maybe some of my Christian readers will agree with my father, this is their choice; as for the second and clearly more scientific claim, we all know that most people who drink get pancreatic cancer at my age (38 yrs), right, so how can I blame him? Don’t most of your friends around my age have it? And aren’t most of your friends around my age going to die from it? It is odd that my oncologist a few other doctors think my case is rare. Oh well, for any who wondered at why it's so common with 38-year old men, now you have an explanation and you can stop your wondering. Ask and it shall be given to you.

Of course this letter, in all its embarrassing harshness, is personal, however let me give two reasons I think it’s actually appropriate to share this here. First, some of my closest friends and loved ones, family included, read this regularly. All of you comprise my greatest support in this experience, you’ve fully “been there” for me, in action, and it keeps me going. Second, there might be someone else out there who goes through rough times with a parent while they are suffering from a terminal illness and perhaps this will be of some comfort, make you laugh, or have a good cry. While it’s not a comfortable little story, it’s real, it’s what some people do to other people in their grief. It’s a demonstration of how some people cope with pain and death, or rather, how they fail to cope. Whatever it takes.

I will note, too, that this patriarchal missive also expresses love and concern for me and, to balance out my curse, it even offers me the solution to all my problems. A cure. According to my father, I will be cured if I work at being a good Mormon again. Specifically, if I let the Mormon savior back in my life, immediately, then the “miracle” will come. Here: “It is imperative Scott that you let the SAVIOR back in to your life as soon as possible” so that the miracle can happen (emphasis in original). A comforting thought in my time of grief, it’s already waiting for me. In a nutshell, it’s all spelled out, in the form of a curse and a claim, or perhaps I should say a promise, so that even I couldn't overlook it.

Granted there are small flaws in the letter’s logic. I’ll spare you the examples. It does make you wonder, though. What about all the innocent people in the world who have ever suffered or suffer now? Are they all suffering because they’re sinners (too)? Forget people with terminal illness, what about victims of genocide? Holocaust, East Timor, Rwanda . . .? Another example would be the 9/11 victims — were they all wicked? I know how that hit home for many of us. But, OK, let’s talk about terminal illness, since that’s why we’re here after all: how do I explain the righteous people who get cancer? And what about people who get cancer without ever smoking or drinking? Mm, this gets complicated. (You can all see where the logic leads, the reductio ad absurdum, and in fact every point along the way, is truly absurd.)

The converse is also explicitly spelled out in the letter: in other words, the righteous — don’t know whether you can be righteous if you’re not Mormon, you’d have to ask my father — are blessed accordingly. Just as I am cursed to die of pancreatic cancer at 38 for my sins, the righteous, he offers himself as the example, are blessed with miracles and “[given] a whole new world,” etc. If you are righteous, whatever it is that you dream for, it will be yours, the letter says. A very simple, though not particularly kind, logic.

Despite having felt “past this” and “past him” for years now, I was somewhat surprised when I sat down and read the letter. And I think there might be some healing power in the mysterious blog, or rather in a community of real support, so this is my post for the day.

Surely there are other lessons to learn from this, in time, but I think I have learned the Big Lesson. Be very, very careful what you name your blog: Remember that line from the last stanza of Dylan Thomas’s poem, where the speaker addresses his father and says, “Curse, bless me now. . .”?! What strikes me most now is — since God has already struck me with pancreatic cancer, that is — the power of literary allusion!

When fictions stranger than truth become the truth, how strange.

P.S., Franky Scale: 7. Despite or because.


in good conscience said...

i didn't want to be the first to comment on this post...sensitive material.
-sorry. i'm sure he means well and is a VERY faithful mormon...sorry anyways. i couldn't cope with such words, but clearly you have a much better/more experienced approach.
amazed to read your insightful responses, but then again, wouldn't expect less-
here's to all the sinners with or without terminal cancer...don't put the drinks down!!! ;)

Slarry said...

My immediate and initial response to your most recent post, dear and lovely Mr. Jones, is that only a calloused, self absorbed, narcissistic person could write something like that to you. A weak person, who has caused a lot of pain for so many. Always in the the name of righteousness and LOVE. This is not to say he hasn’t done good things in his life--- but this is about you-- your blog, your feelings, your life.

When you were little, I tried so hard to shield you from the hurt, pain and utter befuddlement he was capable of. I never wanted you to ever feel the way he made me feel. Do to you, what he had done to me.

I’m so sorry I failed you in that area--- but I know that you know, that I tried. His timing is so inappropriate, as usual, but even for him, this is a topper.

Thank you for having the courage to share your feelings about the anonymous father--- the one with the not so anonymous temper and painful words.

I love and care for you so much and am just sickened by the fact that anyone would cause you any additional pain, confusion or hurt during this time and episode of your beautiful life. This hard and difficult time, when all you really want and need is unconditional support.

He will not be excused, his words and behavior will not go unnoticed. What a pathetic man, what a pity. And just as John says in the Bible, the scriptures that our father says he treasures and holds so dear: He that is without sin, let him cast the first stone ....”

Apparently he forgot that part. Selective memory loss perhaps-- or more specifically, selective scripture interpretation. The writing on the ground, I have always interpreted as someone pausing, pondering, seeking clarity before they chose to speak something profound.

Christian, Mormon, Buddhist or whatever, judging others is never a good thing. Really, especially when they have and are coping with the fact that they have a terminal illness. Dealing with limited time. Especially when they are your son.

I love you my brother and respect you more than you will ever know. I am, as always, so grateful to be your sister and be as close to you as we are.
No worries, I will fight the good fight. And you will always and forever be my hero.

And to our father, if you are ever brave enough to read this, hear Mr. Jones, really listen to his heart and mind-- you will know that all you have done is caused more hurt and heartache for this brave man, my brother, who neither deserves or ever needed to hear your why to his dying young and havng terminal cancer.

No one is attacking your beliefs-- no one belittled you but yourself. You are your own worst enemy. Why? Why did you have to say that to him??? Can’t you ever think about another before you speak? And yet I know that he has already forgiven you.
No matter how you couched your words, stating that they were OUT OF LOVE---
I am not sure that too many people are going to see it that way.
Your words and accusations didn't sound very loving, kind or very Christlike, very charitable.

Maybe you could read about that, charity. Because I don't believe that it was your intention to hurt your son-- but you did disrespect him and probably hurt him as well. Maybe you should try and fix that????

So, like Mr. Jones said-- it is probably a good idea to think about what you name your blog. Who knew ???

Mr. J-- love you babe. You are in my heart.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,

Today's blog was a doozy. As a non-religious person I've always thought it would be nice to have the comfort that faith seems to offer, especially in dark times, but the rigidity of mind that leads to response's like your father's is just too much. I'm sorry you had this to deal with on top of all else.


Ms. T. said...

I have never posted a comment here (fear of intruding, ESL related insecurity, etc). But for reasons we have talked about many times before, I cannot control the burst of feelings overwhelming me...

It's odd how similar all forms of religiosity (and men of religions) are. Muslim or Mormon, they are all in a shield of metaphysical invulnerability... Their emotions locked out and out of reach and their souls assimilated to a larger and super-human center of power (and hence oppression).

Today, though, I noticed a new commonality: an urgent reliance on "science" to prove the righteous stance on "sin." Is this all science good for?

I am always happy to have lost ANY chance of being in a(n eternal) heaven crowded with cruel convictions and sacredness… I much rather a somewhat short thursday evening at the company of Mr. Jones drinking mint gimlet at Chapel. Much better material for a life of great memories and longing, believe me.


Anderson Imes said...

I'm sorry, Mr. Jones.

What else to say? You need only love at this time in your life. Perhaps your father's intention was to show you love, but his method proved he didn't know a damn thing about his son.

As insults go, not knowing your own son is probably enough.

spacely said...

Remember who loves you spot. Even though parents sometimes say stupid things, we hope that we mean well. I know I'm certainly not perfect and I try so hard to BE the perfect parent and DO the perfect thing for my kids, so they HAVE a perfect life and that they ARE perfectly happy....but someone forgot to give me the stinking manual to BE the perfect parent!
I know when I see something not quite right I suggest things to my kids a way to make it better, it may not be right or the right thing for them but I'm just trying to open their mind to see that their is another way. Because aren't we all here to do something great with ourselves or be something great and make a difference. I know that I am part of something great... my family, my kids, my goals,... but it may not be perfect! Always love you forever, ME

Anonymous said...

It just amazes me that no matter what, an abusive parent, be he verbal or physical, will always find a way to hurt his child no matter the age. And who is he to judge, he is the typical hypocritical, sunday only mormon. It's hot here in the land of zion. the air is bad, due to the smoke that we are getting from California, but it does make for some beautiful sunsets. I wish for you a good day.

dzd said...

ok. seriously. I have to breath before I post. and Mr
J, if you choose to censor this one, I understand, as
I am sure it could offend and get too personal.

my apologies in advance to the sisters of Mr. J, I do not mean disrespect to your family. but if the intention of this letter is parental love, it is lost on me.

it is just unconscionable to me that a father (blood
or no) should impose upon a son such FUCKED UP
emotional crap, should be so unsupportive in a dire
time as to state that it is the son's fault that he is
ill, and in fact may die. this is a completely
unacceptable burden to place on a person to whom you
are supposed to be an elder, a friend, an
unconditional source of love. that is the definition
of a father, in my opinion, and in biblical terms,
that unconditional love is supposed to be what God
feels for/shows to his children regardless of their actions. is
it not? so therefore a (Christian/Mormon) father only conditionally loving his son
for his (the son's, the father's) entire life, is
hypocritical and unchristian.

by the logic of this letter, my mother -- suffering as
we speak from late-stage ovarian cancer, desperately
weak, completely overwhelmed and depressed, and mind
you a deeply devoted Christian for lo these many years
(26 to be precise) -- she too is struck down for
righteous reasons. if she'd just chosen the RIGHT
faith, maybe this wouldn't be happening to her. maybe
I should write her a letter and let her know.

I am incensed on your behalf, as I often have been in
events and actions related to this so-called father.

Frarella said...

I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection." - Sigmund Freud

These words come from a guy who said I grew up wanting to fuck my mother but I I think he got this right. With respect to DZD's previous comments I mean no harm to Mr. Jone's family but if anonymous father really believes this then ignorance really is bliss. If all of us non - mormons are going to hell it ought to be a great time. Love you man - FC

Frarella said...

"I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father's protection." - Sigmund Freud

NIce job Mr' Jone's Senior!

34DD said...

Mr. J,

While reading your latest blog I found myself giggling quietly. Frarella asked me why I was laughing "Aren't you disgusted?" No, the absurdity the entire thought process of the father is humorous to me and can’t possibly be taken seriously, at least not by me. The only sadness I have while reading this is the pain you must feel because of the hurtful words. Otherwise I laugh at the ignorant thought that people only die because they deserve to, babies, teenagers, 38 year-old men. Crazy. Much love - Can't wait to see you again.

tossing salads said...

well this has been quite the blog brother. my loving, thoughtful and kind partner just said to me, 'your dad had one chance to be there for you and instead he kicked you in the balls.' i must agree with her. having had the words and deeds directed my way also, it still stunned me. it never ceases to amaze me what comes out of peoples mouths. the thoughts people have. the actions people exhibit. you know my heart breaks at this. why??? why was this said. he knows you, he knows how you feel about the trinity (santa claus, easter bunny and cheebus) so even if he felt this, it should never have been said in respect to your beliefs. i just keep shaking my head in disbelief. and people in glass houses shouldnt cast stones. i love you and continue to direct the best energy i have to you.

Slarry said...

Mr. Jones the older:
A father who doesn't know his son--- what a pity, what a shame.
Can you see ?? Can you tell yet that your son is beloved by so many??
And you don't even know why ....

Love you my brother and I love your friends---

Anonymous said...

By reading some posts here, I also noticed Mr. Jones is who I wanted to get in touch with. It's me Kang Sok, Do you remember me and the other 'outcasts'? I sent you an e-mail a few days ago and it was written in korean as before. Well, I'm not sure you read it. I heard from professor Jeong that you have some trouble. Hope you get over it and we could meet again to discuss and , of course, to drink.