Q. Do you think your father’s illness brought you and your mother closer together, or did it actually allow you to separate yourself from your family?
My mother and I were always close. I think that my father’s illness made us even closer because we had a shared problem that we had to solve together. I took it over initially and at the end of his life, but she filled in for years in between. We both had to make sacrifices together. We often used black humor to get us through the rough parts. When one of us was at a low, the other would crack a macabre joke so we could go on. I had to deal with my father’s anger, which she found too hard to bear. She, however, sold her beloved collection of Niagara Falls lithographs in order to make the money for me to get away to college and then England. We both did what we could to help the other.
In answer to your question, which I noticed I haven’t answered, I don’t think my father’s illness per se helped me separate from my family, but his illness put me on the fast track to adulthood. There is no room for adolescent rebellion when the family is in the midst of trauma.
Q. You vividly describe how shame “becomes part of you” (p. 26). You say that “for the rest of your life . . . the forked tongue of shame is there.” Do you still feel the residual shame or after effects of the “Donny Donnybrook” to this day?
I had misbehaved in my childhood on many occasions and my father had called me to task. He had always used his intellectual faculties to correct me while remaining dispassionate. However, on the Donnybrook occasion he used full throttle rage. If a parent has never once been angry with you in your whole life, when he finally blows up—you listen.