A few months ago, before he died, my father read my novel, “The Space He Filled”. He was ninety-four years old, but his mind was still sharp and he positively loved the book. He talked about it with me at great length, discussing nuances and story, characters and just how and why some of it might have come from my life while other aspects clearly had their roots in my imagination. He was forever a curious, interested man who loved to question, to learn, to explore territories of thought and knowledge that were new to him. The experience of being able to discuss the book with him — and it wasn’t lost on a paranoid writer-son that it might be the last book of mine I’d be able to discuss with him — was without question the closest I have ever come to true contentment as a writer, a person, a son, a father, you name it. I can honestly say that at no point is a child more proud, at no time does one’s chest inflate in quite the same kind of thrill and excitement as when your parent, in this case my father, really and truly gets who you are in the very best sense. It’s an affirmation on a par with the major head-rushes of life. I felt a similar thrill when we brought our children home for the first time from the hospital. A connection, from either end of the parent-child conduit, of great purity and moment. Now I know it might seem that I’m overstating this moment of affirmation from my dad, but consider that I am a person who doesn’t merely write for a living or a profession. No, a writer is largely how I self-identifty, right along with husband, father, son. It’s not what I am, it’s who I am. So to have one more significant connection with my father on my terms, if you will, my turf — well, it was a quiet kind of bliss, and I savored it to the core of my being.
It wasn’t all that long after this extremely rewarding experience that my father began to decline. But even as he did, he always wanted to know how the book adventure was going. He was fascinated with ebooks, the new literary vehicle, and had a Kindle before I did. The more we went to doctors, the more evidence piled up that his life would not — could not — go on much longer, the more I saw it pushing down upon him, until I realized that I was even luckier than I thought to have had him read the book when he did. Because soon enough, he couldn’t have. Wouldn’t have possessed the energy, the staying power to get through a book. So amid the mounting sense of loss and the gradual understanding that a life well lived was winding to its conclusion, I felt thankful that we’d been able to share that one last meeting of the minds. The fact that “The Space He Filled” was about a father and son, and the sense of loss that came from their separation — though on vastly different, and fictional terms — only made it seem all the sweeter as I looked back. We had talked about fathers, sons, the bond between them and the importance of understanding each other. About how vital such a link was to both parties. And now that he is gone, how vital that link still is.
No matter how many ways I thought I understood the title of my book, no matter how many intentional turns of meaning I found as I mulled it over, my father still taught me one last surprising interpretation. I think some part of me, perhaps buried deep in the psyche, wrestled with the book’s theme because I knew what was coming in my own life. Funny how these things spill out of the subconscious, how they come back to haunt you with their poignancy later on… when they make you realize just how profound, how deep, and how impossible to replace The Space He Filled really was.