I'm not easily bored, and I quite like working from home, and Lord knows there's no shortage of things to read, no shortage even of things worth reading, yet I found myself wondering what people I knew were up to, creativity-wise, and it struck me that there is a paucity of platforms accessible for displaying fresh new artistic work.
I came to New York because I liked a literary magazine (The Quarterly) and wanted to know more about it, and study with its editor (Gordon Lish), and I did so, and my life took off after twenty years of preparation. I witnessed how The Quarterly energized Gordon, kept him in the game, alert to the next fresh text that he'd proudly publish after going a couple of rounds with its author. Gordon was a bold and visionary editor who delighted in slashing whole pages from a short story and scribbling in an entirely different ending, sometimes giving the story a meaning very close to the opposite of what its author had ended up with in the first instance. He is an anti-sentimentalist, a minimalist, who loved nothing more than the heart-jabbing expression that brought tears to his eyes. Working with him was an education the likes of which I never could have got from college. He wasn't perfect--who is? But he was decisive and smart and he thrived on risk of a certain literary kind--writing, as he liked to say, without a net, and editing without one, too.
I dedicate this project to him and I hope what he taught me about editing will be realized herein. Now in something like his 86th year, I salute him and thank him.
Gordon had a wicked sense of humor which he passed down extra-strength to his son Atticus, himself now an acclaimed novelist. In his youth, Atticus made dozens if not hundreds of funny, bizarre, disturbing drawings that delighted Gordon even when they worried him. I present one here, from his 2012 collection of them, Life Is With People (Tyrant Books) to get things off on just the right foot.
Fathers and Sons
Homage to David Markson
This boy will come to nothing, said Freud’s father.
Fighting with his wife, drunk, Paul Verlaine threw their three-month-old son against a wall.
W.G. Sebald’s father joined the Reichswehr in 1929 and remained in the Wehrmacht under the Nazis. He
was captured by the French and remained a prisoner of war until 1947, when his four-year-old son met him
for the first time.
A disgraced Nazi, Sebald’s father.
There’s a 50 – 50 chance my father is not Rodney “Butch” Whitaker, but Richard Spencer, not from
southern Ohio, but from near Indianapolis, Indiana. My mother last saw Spencer in 1968 about a month
before I was born. Whitaker married her when he returned from Air Force duty in Korea.
Having discovered in 1590 that his wife had a lover, Carlo Gesualdo had the man murdered; then Gesualdo killed his wife himself, stabbing her repeatedly while shouting “She’s not dead yet!”
He dressed the slaughtered man’s corpse in the dead woman’s bloody nightgown.
And then killed his own youngest son, an infant, on the chance that the boy was not his biological progeny.
Whitaker had his doubts about me from the beginning: he’d caught wind of Spencer, the man my mother was in love with but couldn’t have. (Richard Spencer was happily married. He told my mother, when told she was pregnant, that he would do what he could for her but he couldn’t marry her.)
John Berryman’s name was originally John Smith. He adopted his stepfather’s name when his mother remarried. Within weeks of his father’s suicide, when the future poet was twelve.
Karl Ove Knausgaard: My Struggle, Volume I, part 2, his father dead from drink.
You’re only ever as happy as your least happy child.
When I was 18, Butch Whitaker stopped speaking to me, and when I was 35 he told me I was not his son.
That last time I saw him, I drove to his house with my boyfriend and there was a severe thunderstorm as we arrived, an almost lurid rainbow above us as we departed.
Thomas Hardy may have had an illegitimate son by a cousin named Tryphena Sparks.
Jean Genet’s mother was a single young maid who arranged to have him adopted when he was seven months old.
He died on April 15, 1986: the day I turned 18 (the year my father abandoned me).
Dostoevsky’s father was the resident physician at a hospital for the poor. But he treated his own serfs so abusively that a group of them ultimately murdered him.
The father saw him coming back, he looked, he ran, he smiled;
He throws his arms around the neck of his rebellious child.
Father, I’ve sinned, but O forgive; enough, the father said.
Rejoice, my house, my son’s alive for whom I mourn’d as dead.
When Dickens, at twelve, worked from 8 a.m. until 8 p.m., six days a week, at the blacking factory, he also walked an hour each way to and from his family’s Camden Town slum.
And spent Sundays visiting his father in debtor’s prison.
Sir Thomas Browne wished that men could reproduce without intercourse. Like trees, he suggested.
Fathering twelve children nonetheless.
My mother told me of the possibility that Richard Spencer was my father only when, in my early 30s, I asked her why Butch hated me. Is it because I’m gay?
No, she said. It’s not just that.
Ezra Pound put his son Omar into other people’s care as an infant. He saw him once, for a few hours, when the boy was twelve. And not again until he was twenty.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s mistress, Thérèse Levasseur, was an illiterate hotel maid. She and Rousseau had five children, all of whom he left anonymously at orphanages.
When Hemingway committed suicide, it was by leaning to press his forehead against the barrels of a shotgun braced at the floor.
Thirty-odd years earlier his father had used a revolver.
Shakespeare’s only son, Hamnet, died of unknown causes at 11.
In 1919 Kafka, in his mid-30s, wrote a hundred-page letter to his father in which he grappled accusingly with their difficult, unsatisfying relationship. He entrusted the letter to his mother, asking her to deliver it. But after reading it herself, she returned it to her son. Kafka’s father never saw it, nor even heard of it.
Beethoven’s father died a sodden drunk, aged 51.
Byron Keith Perkins convinced a judge he was going to donate a kidney to save the life of his critically ill son. He was in jail awaiting his sentence on a gun and drug conviction for which the minimum prison term is twenty-five years. But once out of jail, Perkins and his girlfriend drove to Puerto Vallarta in her Ford Crown Victoria, Kentucky plates.
When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas. Being one among Kafka’s father’s habitual admonitions.
Mozart’s father, a composer, was Wolfgang’s only childhood teacher. But by the time he was ten, the prodigy had long surpassed his father.
In 326, Constantine the Great had his eldest son put to death by “cold poison.” He forbade the people of the Holy Roman Empire to remember him.
Once I whimpered long in the night for water: not from thirst, but probably in part to anger you, and in part to entertain myself. After threats had failed to help, you took me out of my bed, carried me to the courtyard balcony and left me there alone in my shirt outside the closed door. I won’t say that you were wrong; perhaps that was the only way to get some peace in the night; but I will say that it characterized your education methods and their effects on me. I was from then on obedient, but I had an inner scar. Due to my nature it was impossible to link these things in the right way: the senseless asking for water—which to me seemed normal—and being carried outside—which filled me with terror. And for years I was tormented by the thought that this giant man, my father, could almost without reason come to me in the night, and lift me out of bed, and leave me on the balcony: he was my final court of appeal, and for him I was such a nothing. (Kafka)
Two of Thomas Mann’s three sons committed suicide.
T.E. Lawrence was the first of five sons, all born out of wedlock; their mother was herself illegitimate, the young governess of Lawrence’s older sisters.
My father—Butch—was inducted into the Greater Cincinnati Softball Hall of Fame on January 27, 2013. “I can’t think of anything that would be greater,” he is reported to have said at the ceremony, “than being selected for the Greater Cincinnati Softball Hall of Fame.”
Hart Crane’s father, an Ohio businessman, invented and patented Life Savers. And then sold the patent for $2,900. He was deep in debt when he died many years later, less than a year before his son, 32 and penniless, and arguably the best American poet then alive, either jumped or was thrown from the S.S. Orizaba, off the coast of Florida, where he drowned (and was probably eaten by sharks—his body was never found).
Thomas Bernhard’s father, a carpenter, died of gas poisoning, his illegitimate son never having met him.
According to legend, Dante’s ghost appeared to his son Pietro in a dream and told him where to find the last thirteen cantos of the Paradiso, under a tapestry hanging in a house where Dante had formerly lived. When Pietro went to the location described by his father’s ghost, he found the manuscript, and the Divine Comedy was completed.
At the age of seven or eight, Sigmund Freud once deliberately urinated on the floor of his parents’ bedroom.
Ivan Surgeyevich Turgenev, author of Fathers and Sons, never married and had no son.
Leonardo da Vinci’s father had four wives, none of whom was Leonardo’s mother, a peasant.
There was no English translation of Oedipus Rex until a full century after the death of Shakespeare.
A fatherly type, Knut Hamsun called Hitler.
Days of Obligation: Richard Rodriguez’s “argument with his Mexican father.”
Xenophanes, who lived to be 100. And buried all of his sons. As did Anaxagoras.
Bach had twenty children, of whom nine survived him. Mozart had six, of whom only two lived beyond infancy.
Rudyard Kipling’s only son was killed fighting with the Irish Guards in World War I.
D.H. Lawrence’s father was illiterate. As was Giuseppe Verdi’s. And Abraham Lincoln’s.
Tolstoy, Marx, and Ibsen had illegitimate sons they never acknowledged.
There is too much fathering going on just now and there is no doubt about it fathers are depressing. (Gertrude Stein)
The first time I attempted to adopt, my boyfriend and I spent a total of ten full days getting to know an 8 year old boy who lived in a bleak orphanage hundreds of miles from New York City, where we were living. After introducing us to the boy and giving us their blessing to visit him, take him for weekend trips, and allow him to expect that we would be adopting him, the county social workers responsible for the boy finally Googled me and discovered that ten years before, I had published a book called Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling. They cancelled the adoption, not even allowing us a final trip to explain to the boy what had happened. We fought the decision as hard as we could, eventually receiving a letter from the governor himself, who said the decision of the social workers was final. Even the President of the United States cannot force them to reverse themselves. No one could: they were deliberately entitled to make such judgments based on intuition, a hunch, or for no reason at all.
Melville’s older son committed suicide at 18 following an argument with his father.
Kierkegaard’s father was 57 when Kierkegaard was born.
Anthony Michael Hedger, 24, was arrested by the Greenville County Sheriff’s Office and charged with unlawful neglect of a child after cops saw him walking naked with his baby boy—also nude—along the highway. When deputies attempted to take the naked child into custody, Hedger bit into him, holding onto his child with his teeth.
The infant Oedipus was abandoned on a mountainside, a common practice for ridding oneself of unwanted children in ancient Greece.
In 1581 Ivan the Terrible beat his pregnant daughter-in-law for wearing immodest clothing, causing a miscarriage. His son protested, whereupon Ivan killed him using a pointed staff.
“Well, hain’t he got a father?” says Tom Sawyer.
“Yes, he’s got a father, but you can’t never find him, these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain’t been seen in these parts for a year or more.”
They talked it over, and they was going to rule me out, because they said every boy must have a family or somebody to kill, or else it wouldn’t be fair and square for the others. Well, nobody could think of anything to do—everybody was stumped, and set still. I was most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I offered them Miss Watson—they could kill her.
Here is a lion-hearted hero, who comes from two nobodies. — His father was an Ethiop; and his mother was a cow,– (Emerson on Hafiz)
Salinger’s father was a kosher cheese salesman.
My adopted son’s birth certificate now testifies to one parent giving birth to him at the Las Vegas Women’s Hospital in 1993: and it’s not his mother. On which May 21, I was nearing the end of my penultimate year as a philosophy student at Hunter College. Legally speaking, I was there at the hospital in Vegas, and his mother was not.
Orlando Shaw, in Tennessee, has twenty-two children by fourteen women. And is being sued for child support by all fourteen.
After Bazarov leaves his parents, his father says, “I’m a lonely man now, lonely as this finger,” repeating it again and again, thrusting out his hand with his forefinger pointing away.
Twenty-odd years later, Turgenev himself, never having married, dying of cancer in France, was known to have said he was “lonely as a finger” (in Old Church Slavonic—yako pyerst).
John Ashbery’s father was a farmer. Georges Braque’s was a housepainter. John Cheever’s was a shoe salesman, like Arnold Schoenberg’s. Thoreau’s father was a pencil maker. Mahler’s was a tavernkeeper. Rembrandt’s was a corn miller. Hardy’s was a stonemason. Willem de Kooning’s a beer distributor.
Roland Barthes’s father was killed in a World War I battle before his son was a year old.
Edward St Aubyn: Never Mind. Young Patrick Melrose, raped by his loathsome father.
Barry Farrell: Does the extent of deep personal confession in your poems bring you any anxiety?
Allen Ginsberg: No.
BF: Did it once?
AG: Occasionally, on some particular point. Like when I wrote “Howl,” I didn’t expect to publish it. I was concerned about my father seeing all that about cocksucking. That was the source of pressure—my father’s disapproval. It took me a while to get over that before I realized that it didn’t make any difference.
A son of Robert Frost committed suicide.
Was his father in the audience for the opening night of The Makropoulos Case when tenor Richard Versalle, alone onstage in the first minutes of the opera, climbed the ladder affixed straight up the side of a huge wall made to resemble a filing cabinet, sang his first line, which happened to be “It’s a pity one can only live so long,” and then, having been seized by a severe heart attack, fell onto the floor of the Metropolitan Opera stage, causing the dust to rise up and making a thud like a sack of potatoes hitting the ground?
(I myself was watching from third row center.)
I have a brother and sister; my mother does not care for thought, and father, too busy with his briefs to notice what we do. He buys me many books, but begs me not to read them, because he fears they joggle the mind. They are religious, except me, and address an eclipse, every morning, whom they call their “Father.” (Emily Dickinson)
The little Marcel, at fourteen, asked to name life’s greatest unhappiness:
To be separated from maman.
Robert Burns had nine illegitimate children.
Goya had nineteen legitimate children, by one wife. And several others otherwise.
Augustus John’s habit of patting every passing London youngster on the head:
In case it is one of mine.
Paul Kellogg’s father went to Los Angeles to teach Shirley Temple how to sing. She sent the family a Christmas card every year for the rest of her life.
I remember as a small child being in the backseat, Butch driving, my mother beside him. We drove past a large red brick house with a sign. “The children’s home,” my father said to me. “Where you’ll end up if you’re not careful.”
Ever since, I have always known I would adopt.
I was stolen by the gypsies. My parents stole me right back. Then the gypsies stole me again. This went on for some time. One minute I was in the caravan suckling the dark teat of my new mother, the next I sat at the long dining room table eating my breakfast with a silver spoon.
It was the first day of spring. One of my fathers was singing in the bathtub; the other was painting a live sparrow the colors of a tropical bird. (Charles Simic)
In 1943, Eugene O’Neill disowned his daughter Oona for marrying Charlie Chaplin when she was 18 and Chaplin was 54. He never saw her again.
Eugene O’Neill, Jr., a Yale classicist, suffered from alcoholism and committed suicide in 1950 at the age of 40 by cutting his left wrist and ankle. The playwright’s other son, Shane, became a heroin addict and moved into the family home, “Spithead,” in Bermuda with his new wife, where he supported himself by selling off the furniture. He was disowned by his father before also committing suicide (by jumping out a window) a number of years later.
When my son moved in, March 2008, he had two “maybe dads”: myself and my boyfriend. We’d been a couple for nearly eight years and had been trying to adopt together for a long time. Six months later, though, my boyfriend met a guy who would become his new boyfriend, and by the end of October he had moved out.
The adoption was finalized a year later: I became a single “forever dad,” and have been mostly single since.
Gauguin fathered at least four illegitimate children in Tahiti.
In addition to the legitimate clan he had deserted at home.
Truman Capote’s mother committed suicide. His stepfather, who had adopted him and whose name he took, went to prison for grand larceny.
Butch’s abuse was so regular and routine that I feared his return home from work at 5:30 each weekday. He’d come angrily into the house, dirty, sweaty, tired, sober, proceed to get drunk while watching Walter Cronkite and Hawaii Five-O, one fat, pale leg flung up over the back of the sofa, and eventually he would focus on me. I don’t recall the pretexts, but he always found some petty reason to punish me. He’d take me to his room and spank me with a belt until I cried.
He spanked me outside in the yard if I couldn’t catch his baseball pitches.
Tintoretto: little dyer, or dyer’s boy, the painter’s nickname on account of his father’s occupation.
My father!—methinks I see my father.
Where, my lord?
In my mind’s eye, Horatio.
So he dozed off, pretty soon. By-and-by I got the old split-bottom chair and clumb up, as easy as I could, not to make any noise, and got down the gun. I slipped the ramrod down it to make sure it was loaded, and then I laid it across the turnip barrel, pointing towards pap, and set down behind it to wait for him to stir. And how slow and still the time did drag along.
Daddy, daddy, you bastard, I’m through.
George Orwell’s father worked in the Opium Department of the Indian Civil Service.
Nikola Tesla’s father was a Serbian Orthodox priest.
Turgenev, at nineteen, during a shipboard fire:
Save me! I am my widowed mother’s only son!
And what about the pianist I saw who came onstage at Lincoln Center to perform a Mozart concerto and forgot the music twelve bars in. Not once, but twice. Was his father in the audience? Was his son?
Haydn’s father was a wheelwright.
Is there inside of me a longing to be taken by my father again into his dim Ohio room with the belts and be worked over, made to cry and whimper, to submit to him again?
Schopenhauer’s father committed suicide by jumping out of a window.
Irving Berlin’s father and Al Jolson’s were cantors. Though Berlin’s had to resort to working in a kosher meat market and giving Hebrew lessons in New York City, struggling to earn a living and support his family of ten; he died when his son, later both famous and rich, was thirteen.
Dōgen Zenji was illegitimate.
Richard Howard was adopted. He never met his birth parents, nor his sister, nor did he ever know their names. Nor does he want to.
“And Father, how can I love you,
Or any of my brothers more?
I love you like the little bird
That picks up crumbs around the door.”
Cocteau’s father killed himself when Cocteau was nine.
Kālidāsa was the adopted son of an oxcart driver.
Conrad Aiken’s father shot his wife and then himself. Leaving it to Aiken, at eleven, to climb a flight of stairs after hearing the shots and walk in to find the bloody bodies.
D.H. Lawrence’s father, like Henry Moore’s, was a coal miner.
Shakespeare’s father was illiterate.
Once an angry man dragged his father along the ground through his own orchard. “Stop!” cried the groaning old man at last, “Stop! I did not drag my father beyond this tree.”
It is hard living down the tempers we are born with.
I am thy father’s spirit,
Doom’d for a certain term to walk the night,
And for the day confined to fast in fires,
Till the foul crimes done in my days of nature
Are burnt and purged away. (Hamlet)
Benjamin Franklin’s father was an English soap- and candle-maker with 17 children.
Peter the Great had fourteen children, only three of whom survived to adulthood. His eldest child and heir, Alexei, was suspected of being involved in a plot to overthrow the Emperor. He was tried and confessed under torture. He was convicted and sentenced to be executed. Peter hesitated to sign the authorization for the execution, and Alexei died in prison as a result of the torture.
Bing Crosby’s will stipulated that his four sons would receive no inheritance until they were 65 years old. Two of them committed suicide; one died of lung cancer at 62; and one died (very rich) of a heart attack at 69.
Marvin Gaye, on the day before his 45th birthday, was shot to death by his father, who used the gun his son had given him for Christmas.
Johnny Eric Marlowe, a 32 year old North Carolina man, circumcised his two infant sons with a utility knife in 2009. He delivered both babies himself, at home, having established a family rule that no one go to a hospital.
Michelangelo’s magistrate father considered his son’s chosen career demeaning, a sculptor’s status being little different in the early 16th century from that of a common stonecutter.
Edmund White’s father slept with his daughter, Edmund’s sister. Who, according to Edmund, was perfectly agreeable.
What if King Lear had had a son?
John Cage’s father invented a diesel-fueled submarine. He raised a million dollars by selling stocks in it, but because his invention released air bubbles, thus revealing its location underwater, it was useless to the Navy, and he went bankrupt for lack of a single customer.
When Sartre was two, his father died of a fever.
When one has not had a good father, one must create one. (Nietzsche)
Bryn Terfel cancelled his appearance as Wotan in the Royal Opera’s production of the Ring cycle, which had sold out a year in advance, in order to be home with his six-year-old son, who had an injured finger.
When Plato was a child, his father died. His mother married her uncle, who had a son famous for his beauty, Demus: Plato’s ravishing cousin, then his stepbrother.
Pavarotti’s father was a baker. For a year during the War the Pavarotti family lived in a single room rented from a farmer in the country.
Emerson lost his father to stomach cancer before his eighth birthday.
Thomas Edison’s grandfather was exiled to Canada from Holland. His father was exiled from Canada to America, settling in Milan, Ohio, where Edison was born.
Caruso’s father was a mechanic who arranged for his young son to work with him in a Naples factory.
Chateaubriand’s father was a slave trader.
Nero’s father, charged with treason, adultery, and incest, died when Nero was two.
When he was 11, Mark Twain’s father died of pneumonia.
How much money does it take to be a decent father?
President Obama’s father died poor, drunk, and already legless in a car crash in Africa when his son was a student at Columbia University.
The fathers of both Balanchine and Stravinsky were opera singers.
James Joyce’s father married into money, but drank his family into poverty. His ten-year-old son, the future author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, had to quit school and study at home.
Ditto for Henrik Ibsen, who had to leave school at 15. Three years later Ibsen himself fathered a son he was forced to support but never once met.
Wittgenstein’s father commissioned works by Rodin and Klimt; Brahms and Mahler gave concerts in the family living room. Three of his five sons nevertheless committed suicide.
Another son, Ludwig, the most important philosopher of the twentieth century, gave away his entire huge fortune and worked as a monastery gardener and schoolteacher before reluctantly becoming a professor at Cambridge.
Fred Astaire’s father was an Austrian Jew named Fritz Austerlitz.
It was a Great Marvel that they were in the Father without knowing Him.
(Gnostic Gospel of Truth 22:27)
After my parents separated, when I was eight, my mother moved with her three kids into a trailer park. We lived in a used trailer she bought with a mortgage. It was uninsured when, a year later, the furnace caught fire late one night and the trailer burned down while we stood outside and watched. My mother paid off the mortgage for the next fifteen years while she worked in factories making first ice buckets then bicycles. Raising her family on about $18,000 a year including Butch’s minimal child support.
Abraham Lincoln’s father, then a child, watched as his father, also named Abraham, was ambushed and killed by Indians in Kentucky in 1786.
Twenty years later the future 16th President of the United States was born and grew up in a one-room log cabin in the same state, on Sinking Spring Farm.
When Walter White (Breaking Bad) was six, he tells his son, his father died of Huntington’s Disease. His only memory of his father was from a visit at the hospital, near the end: he remembers his father’s “rattling” breath, “like shaking an empty spray paint can, like there was nothing in him.”
Harold Bloom’s father was an Orthodox Jew who spoke Yiddish. In the Bronx.
August, 2013: An 82-year-old man and his 41-year-old son were found living in a central Vietnam forest after they went missing during the War with America. The last time anybody saw Ho Van Thanh, forty years ago, he was running into the forest with his then-infant son Ho Van Lang, after a bomb exploded in his home and killed his wife and two other children.
Thanh and Lang survived by growing forest vegetables and hunting. Until now, they’ve had no contact with the outside world. Although Thanh can communicate in the Cor ethnic minority language, his adult son (pictured in local media wearing a loincloth made from tree bark) knows only a few words.
Vladimir Putin’s grandfather was Joseph Stalin’s cook.
In an 1890 letter, Walt Whitman wrote, “I have had six children—two are dead.” (He had none.)
After Beethoven won a four-year lawsuit against his sister for custody of her son, Karl, the boy would often sneak off to see his mother, breaking Beethoven’s rule. On one occasion Beethoven had the police forcibly remove the boy from his mother and bring him to the composer’s home.
Karl attempted suicide at 20, and died of liver disease at 52. His only son, Ludwig, emigrated to America and worked for the Michigan Central Railroad Company of Detroit. He in turn had one son, Karl, who died childless.
Before Abraham fathered Isaac with his wife, Sarah, he fathered Ishmael with Sarah’s Egyptian servant, Hagar. At Sarah’s insistence, Abraham cast Hagar and their son into the desert.
God rescued Ishmael, and from Ishmael’s line—and thus from Abraham’s—come the Arab tribes, and Muhammad.
The first time I remember my father he was lying dead drunk on the dining-room floor. (Beverley Nichols, Father Figure)
My mother told me on the phone that Richard Spencer, like Butch, worked on the railroad. His job required him to travel from Indianapolis to Bellefontaine, Ohio, spend the night, then travel back.
But she thinks I’m Butch’s son: I resemble Butch’s (notably plain) mother, she says.
I asked her if Richard Spencer was handsome. Oh, yeah, he was real good lookin’, she said.
I asked if she had been in love with him. No, she said. Um-mm. Nope.
I asked after my stepdad. He was in bed. Gets up at 4:30 for work.
Her sixth husband is, I believe, a good, hard-working man.
“My father was a man of little words.”
And Lot went up out of Zoar, and dwelt in the mountain, and his two daughters with him; for he feared to dwell in Zoar: and he dwelt in a cave, he and his two daughters.
And the firstborn said unto the younger, Our father is old, and there is not a man in the earth to come in unto us after the manner of all the earth:
Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
And they made their father drink wine that night: and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
And it came to pass on the morrow, that the firstborn said unto the younger, Behold, I lay yesternight with my father: let us make him drink wine this night also; and go thou in, and lie with him, that we may preserve seed of our father.
And they made their father drink wine that night also: and the younger arose, and lay with him; and he perceived not when she lay down, nor when she arose.
Thus were both the daughters of Lot with child by their father. (Genesis 19:30 – 36)
The daughters each conceived a son. And their sons were also fathers. And so on.
A runaway son
will never come
into his own
–Musō Soseki (1275-1351)
“Fathers and Sons” is my homage to the great late novelist David Markson. Much of the story is appropriated from his last four novels (*Reader’s Block, This Is Not a Novel, Vanishing Point, and The Last Novel*). Though I did not know Markson personally, I think of him as a literary father, so I trust that my theft from his work will be seen in an appropriately Oedipal—bloodthirsty—light.
Fathers and Sons was first published by Berfrois.com
Rick Whitaker is editor of Exquisite Pandemic and author of Assuming the Position: A Memoir of Hustling, The First Time I Met Frank O’Hara: Reading Gay American Writers, and An Honest Ghost, a novel. He was editorial assistant to Gordon Lish at The Quarterly and Alfred A . Knopf in the early 1990s. He currently works part-time producing events at Columbia University's Italian Academy.