Yesterday I was sent a link to a YouTube video of a reading I did last summer at Southampton College Writers Conference. Up in the right hand corner of the screen was a link to a documentary on my father that I had never seen, let alone heard of: ““The Private World of James Jones,” made for Canadian TV in 1967.
I clicked on the image of my father, and began to listen to him talk. It was such a shock to see my parents so young, beautiful, rich, at the prime of their lives. I started wondering if I’m who I think I am, or some twisted projection of who I really was meant to be. After a few minutes I had to turn it off. I was afraid. I was afraid of discovering things I didn’t know about my dad. He died when I was so young (16) that we never discussed many of the topics he brings up here.
After sleeping like a person in a coma last night, I went back to the documentary this morning and watched it the whole way through. By the end of the third part, it’s late at night and my parents are at a dinner party and they’re both completely drunk. My dad is talking about his childhood, of being alone. About his Puritanical grandfather, a tea-totaler who was half Cherokee and raised his sons with iron-fisted harshness. “He destroyed his sons,” he’s telling his great friend, Jessie Wood, so beautiful, so young here. Then, my dad starts yelling at the poor editor of TIME Magazine, who looks perfectly baffled and stunned, and not nearly drunk enough for this onslaught. What my dad is saying is true, though. But what finally comes out is this pure, unadulterated rage at the injustices of the world. My God, through the whole documentary he is building to this — this explosion of rage. Again, I had to turn it off. And my mom in the background yelling, “You tell ’em, Jim!” Now, I recognize her. I recognize that unfocused look, that turn of the head. She’s so drunk she’s slurring. But … what he’s saying is true. The US always backs fascist dictatorships when they ‘help’ with a coup. True. And he thinks TIME Magazine defends the government’s choices. I feel sorry for the poor TIME guy. Oh, no worries, he’ll get my dad back with the next horrible review. I can see it in his face.