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A Letter to My Father

In Honor of Chauncey

Copyright © 1995 by R.W. Klamm

This article appeared in the Summer 1995 issue of Mentor logoMentor Magazine


To: Clarence W. Klamm

Address Unknown

c/o God, Somewhere in the Universe

I write you this letter in fear that you will not read it. You were always so angry with me and so displeased. You hugged and kissed my sister, and I yearned for the same. But when she was four I was eight, and men do not kiss men. I felt left out, unacceptable and misunderstood. It took me these sixty years to understand that you were the one who was most misunderstood. You were caught between your own father's anger and my rejection.

Do you remember the story about your father's hoe? You told it laughingly, but it must have cut much deeper. I know because I have heard that story so many times - not only from you, but from two of your sisters and from your mother as well.

You wanted to help your father in the field, so you cut off the handle of his best hoe - to make it short enough for you to us. Instead of being touched by your innocence and love, he punished you severely.

You showed me that hoe many times. In fact, I still have it to this day.

In our time together, as I am sure in your time with him, we have dealt with a good many sawed-off hoes; but the one I remember most was when I was about five. You hauled me onto the porch to "beat the daylights" out of me. Your term? Or was it your father's? I asked what I had done, and you said to sit there and think about it. I am still sitting there in that little chair of mine.

Oh, you came back to let me up, but when you asked if I'd figured things out, I was afraid of your rage. So I lied.

What I did figure out was that if you didn't love me, I was not going to love you any more. It was a deliberate, conscious decision. I told myself that I would never cry at your funeral. (Many years later I was surprised when I did). I was never going to be like you in any way.

That promise has made my life an emotional prison.

I work compulsively, always trying to please you, and I always fail. I see you in me, and I hate what I see. This makes me look for a handsomeness in other men; and I desire it and them. In the process I push everyone away so I won't hurt any more, and so they won't see the ugliness inside.

I don't blame you. At least I don't any more. And recently I have come to learn that I cannot blame myself. We only played the roles we were taught.

So we really never got to know each other. You are still a great mystery to me.

I remember how you buried the new-born kittens, still squirming as you pressed the earth around them. I hated you for it as you stood on the mound with your full weight. Yet you brought those motherless piglets home and we fed them with an eyedropper together - until they died.

I always feared you. I never knew when you were going to explode. Yet you nearly set yourself on fire, for my sake, when you leaped on stage in that feathered Indian outfit. You did it to put out the fire that I had accidentally set - without one word of reproof.

I never wanted to be like you. But I still hold one shoulder high whenever I need your support and acceptance, like you stood as a result of your football injury.

And of late, I have come to realize that if I am a man of integrity; if I am loving, caring, open, and sensitive to others, I got it from you. If I am able to feel deeply and weep openly, despite the box that says "men don't cry," I owe that also to you.

By the depth of my own hurt, I know how much more deeply I have hurt you, yet you never stopped giving.

Even when you were dying and were told not to lift your arms above your head, you came downstairs to help me hammer in the ceiling nails I could not see to do.

At the time, my only thought was, "I hope the bastard holds out until the job is done." You had to know. I never even said "Thanks."

I should have thrown my arms around your bare and sweating chest, but there were too many boxes and hoes between us. Men do not love men.

So all I can do is write this letter. Hope you don't mind, but I plan to keep a copy. I'd like to show it around from time to time. At least it's not too late to share you with others.

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