I Didn’t Mean to Write About My Father

by Erwin Olaf

Yesterday I sat down to write a blog post about Black History Month. A few sentences in, I realized I was writing something entirely different: a personal essay about my father. I haven’t seen my father in ten years and though I have finally gotten to the point where I can talk about his absence with a relative (if forced) calm in my voice, writing about him is still very difficult.

The memory of his face is just as clear as the memory of his absence. If I sit down with the intention to write a poem or essay about him, I write in the abstract. I condemn him to allegory. I describe him with a fable about two blackbirds and a burning sun. I write about someone else’s father. Anyone but him. Any words but words I heard him say.

As such, I didn’t mean for this to happen. I didn’t want to spend several hours re-living what I’ve lost: the way he held the acoustic guitar, the shafts of sunlight cutting through the room, the venom in my voice when I said, “I hate when you do that. I hate when you play that guitar.” Writing about that afternoon upset the sediment I thought had long since settled. Before I wrote that essay yesterday, I couldn’t quite remember the tone of his voice. Now I can. I can hear notes in the song he was playing that I probably didn’t even notice at the time.

All of this is to say: I only have so much control over my words. When I sit down to write, I think I have a plan, a subject matter, a strategy and I usually do. Other times, the sentences take me somewhere I didn’t plan on going. But who am I to doubt what I have written? Who am I to say that’s not what I meant to write?

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2 responses to “I Didn’t Mean to Write About My Father

  1. I haven’t spoken with my father in nearly a decade. I know that when ever I create a character with a bad/good relationship with their father, it is probably a reflection of my relationship with him…
    I guess you don’t always decide what you are going to write.

  2. i’ve been writing poems about my father lately and i don’t want to but it is happening. it has been almost 3 years since i spoke to him. guess my poetry mind just finally wanted to deal with it!

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