This I Believe

Jonathan - Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Entered on January 9, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, legacy

I believe that all memories are true, even if they are memories of dreams.

Most of what I remember about my father is that he has always been dead. He died in a plane crash before I turned three, but growing up, I lived with one memory of him – I think. That is, I may have a memory of him, or perhaps it was only a dream that I had when I was very young, maybe four or five, and I am only remembering that dream. But what’s the difference?

In the dream I was in a swing in the yard behind my grandparent’s house – the house I grew up in – under the shade of a giant oak, sleeping. The day was beautiful: clear blue sky, warm but not hot, spring. It was definitely spring. My father came in a big, long car, beige maybe, and took me to another house, where we spent some time together on a nice, spring day. We played, and my father was happy, and I was happy. That’s all I remember.

I would learn many things about my father later, mostly much later, when I was an adult. That when he died at thirty-seven, he was already separated from my mother, his fifth wife. That he was a hard partier, an angry drinker, a womanizer. That he lied and manipulated. That he once convincingly threatened to kill my mother and me. That he missed my birth in favor of a good night club.

When I first discovered these truths about my father, I was angry and hurt, betrayed by the artificially constructed memory I felt I’d made of him. I had lived for so long, not with the memory of a deeply flawed father on the verge of abandoning me, but with the ideal of a heroic adventurer, plucked out of the sky by the swift and merciless cruelty of fate.

But I have grown to realize that for each person there are multiple truths about who they are or were. I can’t deny the Mr. Hyde part of my father, and a part of me is angry for – and protective of – my mother, who has never spoken ill of him in my presence, even though she surely bore the full, reckless brunt of his notorious anger. But I also know that there was something about him that many people loved, that my mother must have fallen in love with.

And so the one memory I have of my father is also the truth, even if it is a memory of a dream. It is the one true thing I have of him that is my own, that is not hearsay: I know that, at least once, he made me happy, and I made him happy. At least once, we were happy together.