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JANUARY 25, 2012 12:07PM

Where Daughters Fear to Tread

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My daughter calls and tells me about a writing assignment she needs to do for one of her journalism classes. The assignment is to ask someone about a defining moment and write about it as briefly as possible.  Do you think Dad will be okay if I ask about his brother?  She worries that it will be too painful for him to talk about. She is protective of him. She knows I wrote about it last year. It is a topic we almost never bring up. Mainly because we are both afraid to reach that far down into someone's private pain. We are reluctant to open the wound. Even though we both know the wound is always open.

I remember when I was little, Dad always said to be careful crossing the street because that was how his little brother died.  I never knew there was a little brother. He never really told me the story.

She asks if he has ever told me the whole story. I tell her yes. Early in our marriage, before we had you. We are watching a movie and in the movie, the little boy dies. I thought he was making a joke, pretending to cry. It took me a minute to see the tears were real. 

He carries the pain in a hidden place. Once in a while, he will touch on it. But almost never.  I know that is why my daughter is reluctant to ask. She wonders why he's held it in for over forty years. She talks about not understanding how someone can grow up with so much pain as a little boy and turn into such a kind and loving man. 

He had almost nothing, and he lost his little brother too.  My daughter is crying on the other end of the phone. I tell her that no matter what her Dad didn't have growing up, he has her now. She is his best gift. 

Really, I tell her. You are his best gift.   It is hard for her to imagine anyone blaming a little boy for the accident.  It wasn't his fault. He was just a baby.  I listen to her words tumble out between sobs. I think this hurts me as much as it hurts Dad.  It is hard for her to imagine a little boy growing up picking tobacco in the hot Virginia summers instead of going to camp like other kids. He made sure I went to camp every summer. It is hard for her to imagine a little boy with the weight of the world on his shoulders.

 It is hard for her to venture into the painful areas of her father's life. 

But I think she will. I think she needs to. Not just for her journalism assignment, but for the love of her father. For the man who keeps his pain buried deep inside himself.  The man who will answer the phone tonight and tell her the story he needs to tell and the story she needs to hear. 







The post I wrote about this~

This Time of Year


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When I read great writing like this, it feels as though every character I type in a comment is flat and dull, but I will try. I was moved, this will stick with me, powerful, wonderful. Thank you.
Omg what a piece of writing. Touches deep deep places we all have. Some things go unspoken for many years.
Lovely Joan - your hubs sounds like a daddy and daddy's always will do painful for their little girls -and what a sweet sensitive girl yours sounds like - how could she not be?
Wooo... Having trouble seeing screen here...
beautiful and sad all at the same time
Another Kleenex moment.

Your husband's reluctance to talk about it reminds me of the WW II vets who were reluctant to talk about what they saw in combat. Some experiences are painfully difficult to put into words.
Beauty and pain. This is what you do so well time and time again. Baby girl should delve and learn. I don't like untouchable topics among family. Unhealthy, it seems.
Told just right. I bet your daughter's story will be too.
I so hope that he can finally share his story in his own words with her. In his own time, long overdue, perhaps. (r)
an excellent piece of writing, joanie. it tells the story of the relationship between this girl and her father and how her mother fits in that triangle. it tells the story. it doesn't preach or take sides or instruct or make judgments; it tells the story the way a good writer does.
Joanie, you are such an excellent writer. I can't say that as strongly as it needs to be said. But this piece speaks to that excellence. Know that.
I know many of us daughters are familiar with this kind of pain. You do realize you both raised an extraordinary daughter! She, like you will do the pain respectfully.

Congrats on the EP
This knocked me right over. It's so so good this is getting talked over between your husband and his daughter...we just don't know our parents without their pain, nor can we ever know everything, but the defining moments? So crucial.
In this case, so much pain, so so tough a story to share with one's own. I am shedding tears too, way over here.
Do you mind silently offering an extra hug to husband this evening? From the strangers tearing up out here?
This is a beautiful piece of writing Joanie. Beautiful. I am so sorry for your husband's pain.
Seems as though I see posts about personal pain everywhere today Joan.
This one is a frog strangler of tears, both inside and out.
Choking up now.
Joan, I hope that she will share that conversation with you, and that you can share it with us. I know that sounds awfully nosey, and if you can't do it, it's certainly understandable. But if you can, I would love to read your writing about it.
This is so poignant, Joan. Both the description of your husband's loss and how hard his childhood was. My father's sister died when she was in her early 20s. She was like a mother to him because their own mother was gone so much. He rarely talked about it because it was so painful.
Brilliant! We men are programmed to keep secrets like these. I will be curious at how it goes. How come my eyes are moist?
Maybe it will bring him some closure.. Sad but terrific story.
It appears your Julia is blessed/cursed with a large capacity for empathy. Sharing a parent's pain helps to humanize them in their children's eyes. I hope your husband does take the opportunity to share his story with her.

Stellar writing.

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you."--
Maya Angelou
I appreciate these comments so much~ I will try to get back to answer them individually ~thank you again for reading and commenting.
Joanie: A powerfully intimate piece and so well told. I felt you were sharing this, ever so quietly, over a cup of tea. The phone call will be healing for all concerned.
This touched me on a very personal level, bringing back a conversation this daughter had with her father. I should not have bothered with makeup this morning - you wrote painfully, poignantly, directly on my heart.
The depths of human love and understanding, are perhaps best understood within the family, strengthening bonds that are already firmly held. The ritual of telling, all the hard things, the soft things, the beauty and ugly things, are the impressions of our love on our children. I can tell you many stories from my parents that I remember that they shared with me, things that hurt, that taught, that filled our their real existence to me that pop up now and give me a sense of their humanity, who they were, now that they are long dead. Thanks for sharing with us, and affirming the process to us of sharing. Your daughter is a gift.(so are you!)
I hope she does ask him about it; I have the feeling he'll be willing to tell her, too. Maybe he's been waiting all these years for someone to allow him to unburden himself. I loved how you told this story, just like your daughter's journalism assignment; brief and defining.
he will tell, for finally he has the perfect one to tell.
not only because she is beloved
but it is her assignment!!

"She talks about not understanding how someone can grow up with so much pain as a little boy and turn into such a kind and loving man. "

that will usually guarantee the lovingkindness in a person...
Poignant and deep. Lovely, in a sad way.
So very nice to read. What a lucky daughter.
w o w w o w Joan! This is exquisite. t.
Oh, it tears my heart. He is such a good man in every way. Hugs to you all.
There is such a beautiful intimacy in your telling your daughter "You are his best gift." I missed your earlier post, but the neverending cruelty of your husband's burden is so undeserved. I want to hug him and stroke his head and say "It's not your fault. It's not your fault." I'm glad that he has you to respond the way he needs a response. I know there will be great healing and growth because of this assignment. Bless you all.
You are his best gift. I was already crying, but that took me over the top. Joan, you are their best gift. And ours. Just when I think your talent has reached its zenith, you show us so much more. Thank you for showing wives and mothers (and writers) how it's done.
Got me back Joan H..
The tears I mean..
I wanna see what she writes
Aren't we blessed by our best gifts this evening, Joan? Thanks for the lovely compliment on the post about my daughter. This anecdote that you recounted was poignant and sweet. Touching and tender.
...and they will grow closer than they already are
...and the hidden place will be less hidden
...and the light of your daughter's love, interest and compassion may serve as a healing balm.
What an important process for them both, Joanie. Another opportunity for growth, trust, understanding and love to expand between them. ...and "You are his best gift.' Breathtakingly poignant...Sounds as though there are two "defining moments" in this post. Just such excellent writing! r and thank you! (again)
This story is poignant. My father had a hard time sharing stories of his family tragedies of the Holocaust but it meant the world to me when he did. I wrote a scathing, cathartic but ultimately forgiving story/play about my eccentric mom, and it did me good. I hope this story not only touched the readers but the writer as well.
It always felt important to know my parents' and grandparents' stories. They are part of us, consequently so are their stories. If we don't know those, then we don't know something about ourselves. This sounds like a very big story, one that needs telling. Good luck.
There are no words for your words.......except, thank you.
How do people hold it in like that? I just don't understand how.
Thanks Joan. Although now you have me wondering what kind of questions my daughter will be asking in another 7 years.

And that part about his best gift? It's such a beautiful thing - all she did was to grow up. He (and you) got to watch it happen. What could be better than that?
The flow of your words are sad and beautiful...and I am glad to have read them. My brother-in-law died in December...grieving takes time, doesn't it??
Thank you all for such thoughtful, insightful comments. I appreciate each one.

@James, "he will tell, for finally he has the perfect one to tell.
not only because she is beloved
but it is her assignment!!" Yes. Perfect.
Fathers expect to be rocks. But we daughters and wives know where the soft spots are. Spots that must be guarded and held sacred...This was beautiful, Joan.
Man oh man Joan, another one out of the park!
Again I thank you for sharing this and for the exquisite way you wrote it.
Congrats on the well deserved EP!
I have great pain and regret that I was too young to insist my father shared with me his pain and stories. She should know so she can feel she comforted him and understood him as much as possible. I actually had a dream about you and your husband last night, Joan. Trippy.
You are a master at evoking a whole lot of emotion with very few words.
Beautiful and sad. It sounds like Julia has learned well from both of you. I'll bet that she'll do an amazing job with the story.
I understand compartmentalizing painful or very sad memories. Putting them to rest. My g'mother said on a few occasions "I'm not going to talk about that so don't ask". I've learned to say the same. There's no entitlement to stories that aren't our own and being related, even closely, doesn't change that. I hope she's not hurt if he kindly lets himself off the fishing hook.
Powerful & beautiful!
@abby, I know some people like that too. But I think her Dad will want to share his story with her...
*sigh* you really get to the essence...
It's so hard, but I agree, I think sometimes we have to go deep to truly understand - and maybe help - those we love. I hope the conversation went well.
I can relate to this so much. My dad had a life much like this - he still keeps all his pain deep inside. Thank you for sharing this.
Your daughter is more than fortunate to have such loving and caring parents as you and your husband. This story compels us to want to know more but truly your words have said it all. The writing is beautiful.
There is power in release. I hope it comes for both of them through discussion. Beautiful, Joan...
I think we all have our own hidden stories...but agree writing about them, and exploring them can lead to great healing.
Beautifully told, Joan. A gift.
It shows the strength of the man who can know such pain as a child and grow into a kind and loving man. His strength of course is not about holding his pain inside ... and for your daughter to want to approach him and help share that pain ... well, I applaud her strength, Joan.

Yes, a gift.
He probably held this sadness deep inside him all these years and it formed his life. I remember hearing all the sad stories about my dad from my mom. He never talked about them.
It is important for her to hear the story, and probably just as important for him to tell it.
What great empathy you share within your family for the places that are open and those that are closed away. It's clear there is a safety in your close knit group. Thank you for allowing the rest of us to share a small piece. R
I like the way you know to expose your ideas...beautiful
So beautifully stated, I am lucky to have found a man with whom I share that bond, and my children both have good marriages with mutual love and respect. My parents were and are my models, They will celebrate their 72nd anniversary this September. God bless them.

Winnie The Pooh Quotes - "Promise me you'll never forget me because if I thought you would I'd never leave."
This article is one of the most beautiful it show deepest love between mother and daughter! very beautiful
That is extremely difficult. I remember having the same type of situation arise with my son. Fortunately, it became a situation that opened up new emotions and allowed for an ultimately closer family bond because of feelings that were hidden away finally allowed to come out.