in my father’s house
Fairyland: A Memoir of My Father by Alysia Abbott; WW Norton; Available in Paperback (2014)
In her lovingly rendered and painfully honest coming-of-age memoir, Alysia Abbott describes being 13 and listening to her father Steve Abbott - San Francisco based poet, writer, editor, comic artist and activist – read his poem Elegy, which included a graphic detail about the death of Alysia’s mother many years ago. Shocked at the time by a detail she had never heard, she recalls:
“My dad had never spoken with me in detail about my mom’s car accident, and it felt uncomfortable to hear him sharing something so personal with an audience of foreign-tongued strangers. It was also strange to see the power of my father’s words on this otherwise boisterous crowd.”
This moment sticks with me vividly from this book – the poem links a moment of growth for a teenaged Alysia with the death of her mother when she was toddler, and it is also the poem that an adult Alysia will read at her father’s funeral, when he dies of AIDS a decade later. On a deeper level this moment lays bare the book’s central struggle: to not only understand the different facets of her father, but to find a balance between them: to understand his drive to participate artistically in the burgeoning queer world of post-Stonewall San Francisco, his identity as a gay man, his grief as a widower, and his sense of duty to his young daughter in a world with few role models for openly gay parents.
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