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    by William Least Heat-Moon

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Entries in daughter (2)


Blue Highways: Fifield, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

This post will be my second personal "letter to the daughter I will never have" in this series involving William Least Heat-Moon (LHM) and a teenage runaway hitchhiker traveling with him to Green Bay.  I'll touch on issues of abuse, based on the quote from Blue Highways.  The ribbons at right represent awareness of child abuse (blue) and sexual abuse (teal).  Fifield can be found by a quick trip to the map.

Book Quote

"At Fifield we went east toward Minocqua...'Can you tell me why you took off?'

"'Angus lost his ass in a taco franchise and things got really bad at home  I mean, you know.  The business got worse, and me and Kevin started catching hell worse.'

"'Who's Angus and Keven?'

"'Black Angus is my dad.  Kevin's my brother.  Anyway, like Angus was losing it.  I mean, he'd always find an excuse to beat up on us like maybe a low grade or using a buttertub lid for a Frisbee in the house, so he'd punch us because he was losing his ass...Anyway, the night his partners and him gave up the franchise, Black Angus's face started twitching like it does when he's tense.  Mom told us to look like we were studying even if we weren't.  God.  Two days later he was trying to parallel park, and Kevin didn't tell him he was getting close to a pole, and Angus dented the fender.  Right there in the shopping center, he starts yelling and slapping Kevin.  Kevin didn't say anything then, but he ran off that night.  He's in New York now, but I'm the only one that knows where.  He's into Hare Krishna."

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Fifield, Wisconsin. Photo by Billertl and hosted at Wikipedia. Click on photo to go to host page.

Fifield, Wisconsin

This post will be a continuance of a letter that I am composing to the daughter I wanted to have but, because of life's circumstances and my own inaction, will not.  The catalyst is LHM's rider in Part 7 of Blue Highways, a young girl named Stacie who is running away from home.  If you want to see the first part of my letter, please see my Blue Highways: West of Minong post

Letter to the Daughter
I Will Never Have
(Part 2)

You may wonder why before I made reference to things in my life that I didn't explain more clearly.  Well, it's because I had a hard childhood.  Had you existed, I would have done everything in my power to protect you from any sort of harm so that you could grow up with an unmarred, positive, strong and secure sense of self.  That sense is what I, even at my age, am still trying to develop.

There are lots of broken people in the world.  I am one of them, and it is that brokenness that has also possibly been a reason I was never able to get my act together so that you exist in my life.  The thing I've learned about brokenness is that it hardly ever just spontaneously materializes.  Of course, there are some people who have troubles that get the best of them without any prior exposure.  However, most of the people who are broken were harmed or marred by someone, who was probably harmed or marred by someone before that.  Much of the brokenness can be traced in a remarkably tight and strong chain back through generations.

My story is no different.  Born as the result of an affair, given up for adoption at birth, put into a happy home only to be taken from it when another child was born, put into another home where I was raised and where my adoptive father was an alcoholic and a pedophile.  He taught me many lessons, including that adults did bad things too.  When an adult, the person who says he's your father, tells you that you can't tell your mother what he is doing to you, you know that there is something wrong even if you are only 5 years old.  When you can't tell anyone what is happening to you, and you have a deep, dark secret that can't be shared, you reside in your own special kind of hell.

It's not worth dwelling upon except for the fact that it, and the other family dynamics that swirled like a horrible emotional maelstrom, shaped much of the rest of my life.  I became the fixer, the mediator.  I became very dependent on displays of affection directed at me.  Inside, I felt like I was the worst person in the world.  I felt undeserving of love.  Outside, I lapped up displays of affection whether they were real or not, even though inside I waited for the eventual disappointment and the loneliness.

Thankfully, I didn't get involved in bodily harmful addictions, such as drinking or drugs, to ease my pain.  I didn't become a malicious person, though I've done my share of manipulating.  I did develop a "rescuer" mentality, which meant that I tried to fix other broken people's lives.  It never worked.  Broken people cannot be fixed unless they are willing to be fixed and I was like any other of those people.  I understood what being broken was, but I was unwilling to let people rescue me just as others were unwilling to let me rescue them.

I have gotten into trouble time and time again because of this.  There are broken people who have become malicious, abusive emotional bullies who prey upon broken people who are rescuer types.  They give rescuers false affection, play to their needs, and when the rescuers are hooked into their stories or emotionally invested, the abusers begin to belittle, manipulate and play emotional games in efforts to control them.  Abuse happens to both children and adults, and it takes the same form.  It starts with candy, and ends with bile.

You'd think that adults are better able to guard themselves, but we can't, because often situations or relationships take us back to our childhood desires and fears, and we play out harmful situations over and over again.  I've been there...even recently.  The key to breaking the pattern and therefore breaking the unbroken chains that seem unbreakable is knowing oneself, knowing how one responds to those "triggers," and ultimately being kind and gentle to oneself.  That is what I'm learning to do.

I don't know whether having a child would have helped me earlier in life.  Perhaps I would have discovered what I needed earlier and gotten helpful guidance.  Maybe being childless was something that needed to happen so that I could work on mending myself.

Regardless, I know that if I'd had you, I would have protected you.  You would have never had reason to fear from me.  There would have been no emotional mind-games played upon you.  I would not have manipulated you, or gotten disappointed if you didn't meet some kind of "ideal" that I would have expected of you.  Ultimately, I would have hoped that you would have someday been proud of me and what I came through, and how well I parented you.  I would have reveled in the knowledge that you knew you could talk to me about anything - that there would have been no deep, dark secrets eating away at us and our relationship.  Above all, I would have felt accomplishment in raising a balanced and happy child into adulthood.

Musical Interlude

For a long while, I have been in love with the waifish voice and lovely simple poetry of Suzanne Vega.  I especially resonated with this song, Luka, about an abused child.

If you want to know more about Fifield

Price County: Town of Fifield
Town of Fifield
Wikipedia: Fifield

Next up: Minocqua, Wisconsin


Blue Highways: West of Minong, Wisconsin

Unfolding the Map

I really don't have much in the way of introduction for this post.  I'm just going to let it, and the subsequent two or three posts, speak for themselves.  The only thing I will say is that this blog has been about my inner thoughts about the books I'm mapping, so I can warn you that the next few posts will be very personal and difficult for me, and are a result of William Least Heat-Moon's chapter where he picks up a runaway girl and gives her a ride to Green Bay despite his misgivings.  The map will show you the area that I believe approximately shows where LHM picked her up.

Book Quote

"'Hey! Sir!  Going toward Green Bay?'...

"'Do you live in Green Bay?' She shook her head. 'Look, I'm not picking up some teenage roadie unless I know what you're doing.' I kept checking the rearview mirror.  'Where do you live?'

"'Eau Claire.'  She was trying not to cry.

"'What are you doing up here?'

"'Come on, man!'  I put the truck in gear.  Her face red with rage, she screamed, 'I split!'

"'What's in Green Bay?'

"She took a few steps up the road.  'Christ!  I don't need a ride this bad!'

"'And I don't need your trouble.'  I put the van in gear again.

"Through gritted teeth she said, 'My grandmother's in Green Bay!'

I checked the rearview mirror again.  The truth was I thought she might be the bait on some scam.  'Hey!' she said.  'I'm the one's supposed to be scared.'"

Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 12

Old saloon in Minong, Wisconsin. Photo by Tom at Tom's Travel Blog. Click on photo to go to host page.

West of Minong, Wisconsin

A Letter
The Daughter
I Will Never
(Part 1)

Dear ____,

I don't know what to call you.  The only reason I call you ____ is because I'm not really sure what I would have named you or if you would have come to me with a name.

I'm writing this letter to you because this next set of stops in Blue Highways, where LHM rides with a young runaway girl hitching to Green Bay, seems to invite me to do something that I have been meaning to do for a long time.  I need to come to some kind understanding that I will never know you.  I need to grieve that you will never exist in my life.

You see, I'm 48 years old now.  My wife and I put off having children until we began to consider becoming parents in our late 30s.  Little did we know that was too late.  Her body had developed conditions that meant that there was little chance of fertilization, and little chance of implantation even if fertilization occurred.  That was terribly emotionally difficult for her - for both of us.  I was supportive, assuring her that she had no blame, no reason for feeling guilty whatsoever.

We decided that we might try for adoption.  After all, I was adopted.  I am not particularly attached to my genetic material, and besides, I have always felt that loving and caring for a child transcends genes.  But, despite initial explorations, we couldn't get it together.  Then, personal difficulties and professional opportunities delayed us even more.

It is said that if you wait until you are ready to have children, you will never have them.  That perfectly describes us.  As I have gotten older, I think too much about things.  I hope that you will understand that it's not selfishness that drives me to give up my dream of you.

I want you to know that I always assumed I'd be a father.  I have always dreamed of raising a daughter.  I don't know why a daughter in particular.  Maybe it's the romantic notion of the bond that fathers and daughters develop, so different than the mother/daughter bond but just as special in its own way.  I pictured myself helping you grow, teaching you, being proud of who you would turn out to be and all the the things that you would have accomplished.  I saw myself not only playing with you and later, helping you learn how to throw a softball and how to bat, going to your dance or music recitals, and also being present at your birthday parties or taking you to your friends' parties.  I imagined that your mom and I would share being with you in your myriad of activities, and the best times would be when all of us were together.

I could see you being strong and independent, because after all you would have your mother and me as role models.  I also pictured in you an intelligence and a curiosity about what the world has to offer.  You would have a renaissance of interests, encouraged by me.  I would have only tried to give you a good basis for making the right decisions, but I wouldn't have tried to force you into being a younger, female version of me.  Instead I would have encouraged you to explore and experiment and find your way in the world and hopefully, you would teach me as you made your discoveries. 

I imagined you growing up.  I saw myself accompanying you to a father-daughter high school dance.  I pictured you bringing home boys.  I would play the protective father and you would protest that you could take care of yourself and I would trust you to be careful.  I saw myself proudly giving you away at your wedding.  You would look beautiful in your dress and in your happiness.  Your mom would dry her tears and I would choke back a lump in my throat.  I imagined you tired but happy after delivering your own children, and myself as the silver-haired grandfather connecting with granddaughters and grandsons just as we bonded.

But that won't come to pass.  You will be forever an illusory desire because I realize, at my age and after waiting so long, that it just .might be too difficult now.  You see, when people are young, they have kids without thinking about the consequences.  They just do it and work out the details later.  When you get older, you begin to wonder whether you can step up.  Latent fears, including that of being an older parent, step in.  You wonder if you be able to change your lifestyle to accommodate a child's needs.  You wonder if you have the right stuff.

If there is indecision, then I don't think it's right to try.  You can't just give child-raising a trial and after a month say "this isn't for me."  But it's hard for me to think about, because I really, really wanted you.  And I know, in my heart, that I would have been a great father to you, whoever you might have been.

I think about the runaway that LHM finds in the middle of the woods in Wisconsin, and I know that would not have happened to you.  You would have had no reason to run away, no reason to be scared and lonely and on your own.  Our house would have been the place that you and your friends would have wanted to be.  You would have been happy, and you would have been loved.  I would have used everything that I learned from my life, which, as you will see in subsequent posts has taught me a lot, to not only teach you but protect you.

I know that I have a naive view of parenting.  I know that there would be troubles, growing pains, arguments and fights, drama, heartbreak and other difficulties.  But we would have worked through them, and even if you were angry and upset with me you would have known that you were supported and loved.

But right now, I just want to say I'm sorry, and that on days when I'm not denying to myself what my choices have meant for my chance at fatherhood, I miss you terribly and I grieve your loss.

Musical Interlude

When I first heard this spoken-word song, If I Had a Daughter, after we purchased Terri Hendrix album The Spiritual Kind, it brought a tear to my eye.  Ms. Hendrix encapsulated many inner feelings I have.  This video was made by someone Ms. Hendrix knows and was approved by her.

If you want to know more about Minong

Minong, Wisconsin
Town of Minong
Village of Minong
Washburn County: Minong
Wikipedia: Minong

Next up: Hayward and Park Falls, Wisconsin