My dad leaves my mom for a client, Leslie, who becomes my stepmother. They relapse together, he shooting crystal and she shooting smack. They have a baby, my little brother, Jimmy. For a solid week, my dad calls the cops to report people playing war games in the foliage outside his house. The cops don't suspect a thing. Dad comes to my little brother's birthday dinner so loaded that he tries to telephone my sister with the television remote. I have to button up Leslie's skirt for her.
Leslie dies of AIDS.
My baby brother, Jimmy, who is 18 months old, comes to live with me because Dad relapsed again and there are dirty needles on the ground at the rehab where they live. On Christmas Eve, Dad threatens to break my legs for taking his son from him.
I don't really like to think about those things. And I don't like to read my dad's very nice magazine.
I love my father. We have the same sense of humor, and we correct each other's syntax and word choices mercilessly. We have always been friends—I mean, except for that short time when he wanted to break my legs. But we got past that—and pretty quickly.
But he can't understand why I won't read his website. He e-mails each month's new link to me, and then every time I talk to him, he asks whether I've read it. I'm busy, I tell him. I'm very, very busy. Stop bothering me.
But he is so proud. He has always thought of himself as a novelist who just hasn't written anything, and he is a publisher now. When I deign to look at the site, I find some good things, and I compliment him. I try to gentle my criticisms, to make them constructive. When I point out the pitiful copy editing, he blithely suggests I help out. When I suggest he's opening himself up to a terrible lawsuit for some libelous story or other, he doesn't listen—even when I try to engage him in an interesting conversation in which he could actually learn something about libel law (he likes to learn new things) through the benefit of my fancy and expensive journalism degree. I guess it doesn't really matter. Nobody on the Web seems to care about libel law anyway.
But what they really don't care about —what nobody today but the religious Right cares about, with its constant blather about "restoring dignity to the White House"—is shame.
Here's what it's really like to recall a time when I was 6 years old and you were all zonked-out on tranquilizers, Dad: there's no shame anymore, and shame might not have made any difference.