My Dad has always been an enigma. We could never understand his tempestuous nature: present at once, absent the next. Emotionally, that is. That giant looming mood … he’d go to dark places. We knew we didn’t understand it … we figured a lot was left over from his childhood, one we knew very little about. Over a lifetime, we all learned how to step out of the way when the funks rolled in. But I still wondered why he was that way. I remember experiencing a major “Aha!” when I first read Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt. It revealed so much to me about my Dad … and about my roots that I actually took pen to paper and wrote Mr. McCourt a letter of thanks (I think it was the only literary fan letter I ever wrote). As it turns out, he died of melanoma too, the same cancer that my dad has. The Irish — we’re so goddamned predictable.
“When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all,” the book’s second paragraph begins in a famous passage. “It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.”