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Killing Fathers
Bar Harbor
I continue to curate and present my parents’ papers as a way of honoring and preserving their memories. And, in part, to assuage my own guilt at having been a less-than-perfect son. I find that, in that feeling, too, I am my father’s son.

Found in a printout of my father’s LJ entries, from the period immediately before mom’s death:

Private entry:
Daddy, daddy, don’t go! What did my biological father die of? I need to get a copy of his death certificate to find out for sure.
I’m a father-killer. When Harriet asked me, did I kill fathers, I said No, I didn't kill Bob, but she meant Ray.
Saturday, June 18,2005
A related document, found on his computer:

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Harriet and I discussed my father’s death again tonight. I’m writing this down so that I don’t “forget” it again.

In 1945, when I was two years old, my father Raymond A. Kay was sick and, as far as we know, spent some time at home – perhaps several months? -- preparing for an operation. He was 32 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, and weighed in excess of 270 pounds. I believe that he was being hospitalized for a hernia repair operation, but I’m not sure of that. He died in December 1945 (I have one reference to 12/11/45 and another to 12/7/45), shortly after my own third birthday on November 20. The cause of death, I have always assumed, was complications (primarily peritonitis) of the hernia operation. Harriet recalls that Mom said at one time that Ray had had a heart attack, but I have no recollection of that myself.

The scenario that Harriet imagines goes something like this:

I’m two years old. My daddy has been at home more than usual, and spending more time with me. Then he is worried about his upcoming operation and perhaps spends less time with me, or is in a bad mood, or snaps at me, or something like that. Then he goes to the hospital and never comes back.

At three years old, I was just getting language skills and was in a very self-absorbed stage of life – in other words, I would have been making life hell for my parents, just as two-year-olds do. It’s not unreasonable to suppose that my father, worried or upset at the upcoming surgery, might have chastised me and told me to behave or else.

And then the “or else” happened. He didn’t come home from the hospital. And thus it must have been my fault, because I misbehaved. Therefore, I killed my father. Yikes! And it’s likely that, given my age and the tenor of the times, nobody would have talked to me about it. My daddy’s death would have been spoken of in hushed tones. And I would have every reason to go on believing that somehow it was my fault. Because kids tend to think like that.

The only memory I have of my father is an image of his body laid out for viewing in a coffin in the living room of my grandparents’ house. This is like a single photograph without a caption. So far as I know, I don’t actually have such a photograph except in my mind’s eye.
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(Offers a comradely hug)

I don't know what to say. Man, that's sad.

I don't either, but I'm glad you tried.

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