Below is text from a post I wrote for our university blog. I had reservations about writing it because 1) I didn’t want to disclose too much personal information, and 2) I didn’t want to make this about me instead of about the book. However, whenever we encounter a narrative, fiction or otherwise, we come to it with your own experiences, and through the process of relating to the story, deal with those issues like therapy. So without delving too far in, I hope I struck a balance:
A few months ago, I started reading Dr. George Jensen’s new book Some of the Words are Theirs. I was intrigued by the premise of it, a sort of re-imagining of an absent, alcoholic father. The book is much more than this, relating stories extending from childhood to the present about his entire family’s response to a man he barely knew.
Upon his mother’s death, George came across old letters and photographs that along with his scholarly research about alcoholic narratives, prompted him to unfold a difficult truth the family had stored, a history still revolving around the father figure, George Sr. He actively sought out people who knew George Sr. before and after his paternal role began. He contacted Navy shipmates, co-workers, and others who had some affiliation with George Sr. just before he died.
But we learn a lot more in this exploration than a composite of George Sr. In fact, as much as George discovers who this man was, apart from shared biology, the character of George Jr. increasingly fleshes out.
Admittedly, it took me awhile to get through it, not because my father is an alcoholic (he’s not), nor was he absent during my youth. Still, I could easily relate to George’s story because the person that I know my father to be is in many ways a completely different person the rest of the world sees. As a pastor of a church, he is loved by many. But our relationship has always been complicated, and I have often reacted bitterly to the disconnect.
As George began to re-imagine his father from the perspective of colleagues, themselves strangers, to see him as a separate individual from their eyes, “outside the role of husband or father or alcoholic,” I tried to re-imagine mine, detaching the simplified labels. And as George says he began to care about his father, I decided to let my dad off the hook for what I deemed parental ineptitude, with a new appreciation that we all have things to forgive.
This summer, George will journey across the U.S., in Steinbeckian fashion. His blog provides us a somewhat day-by-day commentary on what he uncovers or encounters along the way.
If you favor 140 characters or less, you can also follow along on Twitter. (For the uninitiated, it’s the brevity that counts.)