I used to perform on my high school forensics team, mostly in the Original Comedy category. I once competed against Anthony Rapp, of “Rent” fame. I’ll just leave his IMDB profile here. I’m not sure how he was allowed to participate in an amateur high school speech meet after appearing in “Adventures in Babysitting” the previous year. He got first place in that competition. I got third. Obviously, I asked him to autograph the back of my third place ribbon.
Speaking of “A Beautiful Mind”. (see Anthony Rapp’s IMDB profile above) Last Christmas, my mom and my husband and I, were going through a box of my dad’s things. I know it’s been 20 years but there are still some things that need sorting. We found a notebook with what seemed like some kind of list in it. Each item contained the following: the name of a celebrity, a year and the name of a country.
Papua New Guinea
I know that my dad loved information and statistics but the whole notebook was filled with entries just like this and none of it seemed to make any sense.
After a few minutes of trying to figure out what it meant I turned to my mom and said, “What if this is the moment we find out that dad was like that guy in ‘A Beautiful Mind’?” And then I found the corresponding stamp collection album. They were stamps! A stamp with Humphrey Bogart’s face, the year it was issued and the country it was issued in! Ahhhh! So, he wasn’t crazy, just a little bit nerdy.
My dad was a pretty good writer. Good enough to write a few short stories. Good enough to have an article published in a stamp collecting magazine. Good enough to write for the sports page of The Courier when it was still being published in Champaign-Urbana. He also wrote all of the newspaper articles about all of the sports teams that he coached, although I wouldn’t exactly call this creative writing. And then, in a manila envelope inside the box that contained the stamp notebook, I found something else that he had written.
I loved my dad dearly. I know it may seem like I have a lot of resentment toward him but I so loved him. Even though he drove me crazy. Even though I don’t think he spent enough time with his family. I loved him. I idolized him while being aware of his imperfections. I know that he was raised by a mother who spent all of her time as a social worker, helping out everyone and anyone in need but probably didn’t have the skills to nurture her own children properly. I know that when she was a child, her mother died and her father separated the children and sent them away to live with other people because he was a tobacco farmer and couldn’t afford to raise them. I know this history. I know I am cut from the same cloth. It is why I didn't want to have children.
Once when I was home from college my dad took me to the campus of his alma mater and we had pizza at his favorite pizza place, Papa Dels. If you’ve ever eaten Chicago style pizza, you know how long it takes to cook. About 10 minutes into waiting we had run out of conversation and things became a bit awkward. I looked at him and he looked away, painfully aware that we didn’t have anything else to talk about. I felt really sad. It was the first time I had ever gotten a sense that he was aware of the divide between us. Most of the time I just assumed that his time away from us was how he preferred things.
And then last year I found the manila envelope with the yellow lined legal paper folded up inside. I don’t know that my dad ever had one of his short stories published. I know he submitted them but I think that outside of his journalistic efforts, nothing ever made it out into the world. So, as much as he would hate it, I’m going to publish something of his now. It is as if he was answering what I wrote in 2011 even though he wrote this and put it away years earlier. It is sad and it is powerful and it is enough.
He wrote this 36 years ago when I was 10 years old and my sister was 12.
What will you leave?
What hollow moments will your daughter glean from the half-started conversations?
Will she cower at the sight of your body-- fat neck constricted by striped tie-- straining to complete the unsaid thought?
Or will she accept the gift of being too much like her father and in tongue-tied silence let the moment serve as legacy?
A small boy taps the wood.
“Quiet, James,” she whispers. “Come away,” she commands the questioning eyes.
Written by my dad, James Frederick “Fred” Guyot