Dedication Page

Last week marked ten years since my father died. I’ve decided to dedicate my book to him.

I finally settled on a title. The Intimacy of Communication: A Spiritual Encounter.

The book is in its final stages, and I’m learning more about Microsoft Word than I ever thought possible. The perfectionist in me wants everything “just right,” as if a typo makes me a bad person.

I expect perpetual greatness from my writing when better-than-average in some parts might be good enough. Did I expect greatness from my father all the time? Did I assume he shouldn’t get angry or that we’d always see eye-to-eye? If so, I was a fool, or at least a child.

Books endure revisions—and revisions of revisions. Whole paragraphs disappear, chapters expand and contract, wordy prose turns poetic.

Over the last ten years I’ve reimagined our father-son narrative. Some days a piece of dialogue we shared gets a fresh—or murkier—interpretation. Some days the character played by my father undergoes dramatic rewrites, revealing tragic flaws I hadn’t considered.

It’s hard for a son to grasp the power of his father’s presence, but even harder to mourn his death. As my book nears publication, have I even begun the process?

Mourning Sickness

In 1917 Freud wrote his influential “Mourning and Melancholia” essay in which he compares the process of mourning a loved one versus the persistent sadness involved in depression. When a loved one dies the mourner feels an incredible sense of loss, but after a reasonable amount of time he realizes the person is gone and can’t be reclaimed. As the energy attached to the deceased withdraws the mourner moves on to other libido investments.

The depressed patient differs from the mourner in two important ways. First, he is unable to let go of the loved one or desired object. His connection to the person/object was so strong, and his willingness to release the energy surrounding it so weak, that he mistakes the object for part of his ego. Second, he develops what Freud calls “a delusional expectation of punishment.” Guilt weighs heavily upon him, even when he’s not in error or deserving of blame.

Freud concludes that depression is a result of “narcissistic identification with the object.” The depressed patient takes pleasure in punishing himself, often by announcing publicly (today perhaps on a blog) how awful he is. Actually he finds someone else “awful” (usually a loved one living in close proximity) but renders judgment on himself. In the midst of depression his behavior “proceeds from a mental constellation of revolt.” Hence the idea that depression is anger turned inward.

Of course psychiatry has advanced light years beyond Freudian theories. With little data in hand Freud assumes that depressed people have a “pathological disposition” that leaves them vulnerable to melancholia. What if the patient’s excessive guilt is a symptom of his illness rather than existing prior to it? I get the sense that Freud sees depressed people as self-obsessed attention hounds looking to blame others for their misery. This approach sends the wrong message to folks already in a lot of pain.

But I appreciate Freud’s attempts to understand this devastating disease. It makes me wonder: What have I been mourning all these years? What part of me is missing? Against whom am I revolting and how many of my wounds are self-inflicted?

If Sartre Married A Kardashian

Way back in the twentieth century Sartre famously declared: “Existence precedes essence.” You exist first, Sartre said, then you build a life. You are nothing more—or less—than the choices you make. As a condemned-to-be-free consumer in the Digital Age, I’ve discovered new ways of applying Sartre’s catchphrase.

Facebook precedes friendship

I’m not friends with someone unless we’re on the same page: Facebook. Before Mark Zuckerberg stole from those dopey twins and set the social media world on fire, people connected on a personal level. Facebook eliminates the need for genuine communication. And yet we’re socializing more than ever. Without accepting my friend request you’re just another stranger. Even if we’re twins.

Google precedes memory

Don’t know what I mean? Here let me Google that for you. Eons ago when elders passed down stories via word of mouth, memory played a vital role. Today our myths assume database form, milliseconds from our fingertips. It’s a far cry from oral history. But if you’re at work don’t Google anything with “oral” in it.

Twitter precedes mourning

People used to die in peace, away from cameras and smartphones—and smartphone cameras. Die today as a celebrity and the world will tweet its condolences. There are no private ceremonies anymore. Everyone’s an eloquent eulogist exalting your character in one-hundred-and-forty characters or less.

Instagram precedes eating

Enjoy your chicken enchiladas after capturing the essence of the dish in a shot creatively captioned: “Best lunch ever!”