The author of the moving (yet chilling) mother-son novel The Kept comes clean about a complicated relationship.
By James Scott
1. As my father, you'll always be as big as one.
My father's hands were huge. I remember watching him shift his car and thinking to myself, "Wow. Someday my hands will be that big." Alas, I never cracked 6 feet (barring that infamous late 30s growth spurt), and my hands look like those of someone who spends his days typing, painting or doing light crochet. I don't know how common this thought is, but I assumed, for so long, that one day things would flip, and I'd be the dad, and my dad would be...I don't know...old? As time has gone on, however, I have realized my dad is my dad, and will always be my dad. Even if we only now speak on holidays, birthdays or if something especially noteworthy has happened.
2. I remember the envelopes you left outside my door at night.
When I was a kid, my father and I would watch sports -- one of the things we really agreed upon -- and I would invariably have to go to bed before the end of the game, and he would leave a note on an envelope (usually from a bill or a bank) outside my door and he'd write, "Larry Bird hits game winner! Celtics 100-98" or other pertinent updates in his slanted, cramped writing. In the morning (or if I heard him leave the note), I'd know who won. It's something to pass onto my own son someday, should I have one; and if he's a different kind of kid, then I will happily scribble, “Great flamenco! Angela Lansbury moves on to the finals of Dancing with the Stars!” Anything will be interesting to me so long as we can sit together for an hour or two.
3. It's hard to re-subscribe to Sports Illustrated.
To impress my father during games, I read countless biographies (some of them requiring many trips to the dictionary, and lots of the words were not in there, for reasons that became clear later in life) and Dad's old, fat copy of The Baseball Encyclopedia so I would have facts to recite to him. Inspired by this, I'm sure, my father bought me my first subscription to Sports Illustrated in 1984. I was 7. He gave it to me every year. Until about five years ago. Which is fine, but there were moments -- certainly not every time one showed up in the mail, but times I would pick one up and think, "My dad got this for me." Of course I could get my own subscription, but there's something strange about it, as if I'm shutting a door somehow.
4. Some movies make me think of you.
It was a very rare occurrence, but occasionally movies would come on TV, and regardless of the age-appropriateness, he would get giddy with excitement and let me watch with him. Among them: Blazing Saddles, The Blues Brothers, The Bridge on the River Kwai, Stripes, It's a Wonderful Life (one of the only times I saw him cry as a kid), The African Queen, the Leone/Eastwood Dollars trilogy...
5. Hey, that reminds me: Why didn't you take my mom to the movies?
My parents -- like many others' -- were separated, though not until I was in college. It wasn't a huge surprise, in retrospect, and it was definitely best for both parties. But I do wish that he'd taken the time to just go to the movies with my mom. It's one of her favorite things; she and I have seen probably a thousand movies together. However, I don't remember my father and mother ever going by themselves. My mother didn't need to go to Paris (though she may have liked that, too, if we're putting on our wishing hats) and she didn't need a diamond necklace (how many wishes do I get?), but a trip to the movies every once in a while would have been nice. (This is not a Parent Trap-type situation; I don't think it would have changed anything in the long run.)
6. Did you ever want to be a teacher?
My father, like his father, was an accountant. According to my mother, he liked this job very much. He didn't seem to have had much fun by the time he came home, though. I know how much he loved his clients that were colleges. I also know he loved that time in his life. His two best friends from his fraternity have found great pleasure in teaching. (See where I'm going here?) There's more. Late in his career, he started to spend more time training young people at his firm, and at his retirement party, all of the young people, much to my astonishment, told me how cool and fun my dad was. My father and I have never talked about such big life decisions, but I wonder if he'd ever thought about teaching young people all the time. I wonder if he'd have been happier when he walked through the door every evening.
7. Being in your car was the coolest.
My father drove faster than my mother and he always had nice cars with numbers in their names, not station wagons or minivans named after slow or stationary objects. He had a radar detector so he could go as fast as he wanted. We listened to his music (Motown, the Animal House soundtrack), and sometimes he'd stop and get a candy bar. My wife's dad would sometimes do the same thing, she says, and this dad conn—on between us -- My dad's eating candy! -- still makes me laugh. I lived in fear of having to stop to use the bathroom, but I could tough it out. Most of the time.
8. You should get to know my wife.
She's really amazing. And interesting.
9. Ask yourself how important things are.
Because I'm your son and because we share some traits, I will share with you something I've learned to do: When something upsets me, I take a minute, and ask myself, Is this important? And then I wait another minute, and I ask myself, Seriously, is this important? It has saved me a lot of energy and heartache.
10. I wish we hadn't frozen the way we acted toward one another in the early 90s.
Intellectually, we all know how much we've changed since I was 14, but the instant we get together, I'm back to hearing "Smells Like Teen Spirit" on the radio for the first time, or playing ActRaiser on Super Nintendo in the basement. At that age, I was especially awful and depressed and rude. (And maybe smelly -- I'm not sure what my deodorant game was like, but boys that age are, by and large, very smelly.) I didn't know how to deal with much of anything, and I felt both very lonely and very much like I should be left alone. It was a strange, mostly awful time, so I don't know why we can't leave it behind forever and ever.
11. I hope there will be a Fifth.
I am named after my father, who was named after his father, who was named after his father. This makes me a fourth. Growing up, if you'd asked me whether I'd name my son The Fifth, I would have said, No way -- it was a lot to carry around. I softened my stance, or grew stronger, and then talking to my wife's family, in which everyone is named for someone else, as a succession of history, I realized that the line of James Scotts is pretty incredible.
12. I know you're proud of me.
This is a very recent development. I don't think I could have said this with any certainty even a couple of years ago. But much has changed in my life since then -- and in my fathers's life, too. Further, word has trickled down to me from reliable sources about my father bragging about me, which I'm not sure was true when I was memorizing Jim Rice statistics in 1986, and probably wasn't true when I was memorizing Pearl Jam lyrics in 1991, but I'm glad it is now and going forward, which is all that matters.