This narrative focuses on the use of fiction in conjunction with autoethnography in order to possibly change narrative inheritance. I use speculative autoethnography to seek out alternate outcomes of past life events. In this writing, fictionalized conversations take place with the hauntings of my child self during fragments of past experiences that I consider contributors to a failed familial relationship. I use this method to offer an alternative to the assumed social constructs of needing to “repair” such relationships. Through this account, I suggest ways to redirect the narrative momentum that pushes narrative inheritance into the future.
As I sit down at the table to type, I bump my forearm just above my elbow. I look to make sure the skin is not broken. My gaze falls upon the inch-long scar, resulting in a strong visceral memory of how it was obtained. The tension in my shoulders begins to ease as I write. Scars are living reminders of how we remember events in our lives. By triggering emotional responses or memories from the cicatrix on the body, I am reminded of how this injury still haunts me. The bodily marking has been carved like petroglyphs as a remembering of the past.
This work situates itself specifically on the borderlines between autoethnography and speculative fiction in personal narrative. Suzanne Gearhart questioned the existence of fixed borders between actual accounts and fiction.1 The fluid nature of these borders allows for this experiential look at past events that demonstrates the interaction of autoethnography and fiction concerning the hauntings of a failed familial relationship. These are hauntings caused by the resurfacing of childhood events that appear to me in my solitude.
It is in this resurfacing of the past that I consider the intersection of speculative and spectral. Speculative is based upon conjecture rather than knowledge involving risk of loss, uncertainty, and unpredictability. Specter is something widely feared, dangerous, or uncertain. I often think about the spectral hauntings of my father and the uncertainty and unpredictability of never knowing, speculating when the spectral figure will return; I think of the uncertainty and the fear that his ghostly presence brings to the surface—how his temper and verbal abuse are still a part of my life today.
I use autoethnography as a way to re-member.2 By re-membering, I am not referring to remembering as a means to store, distribute, retrieve, and process information, a framework of understanding, or a retention-learning mechanism.3 Rather, I am referring to re-membering as putting pieces of the past and present together in a process of relational reconciliation, which has been disrupted by lingering memories of childhood experiences that still haunt my unconscious. I do this by combining autoethnography with speculative fiction, a term that is credited to the science fiction author Robert A. Heinlein. The combination of these two methods is what I refer to as speculative autoethnography.
Allowing for the opportunity to speak to the ghostly hauntings of my childhood memories, the purpose of speculative autoethnography as used here is to “speak of what is past and passing, but especially of what's to come.”4 How can I converse with what has passed and what is still passing in order to have an effect on what is to come? I use speculative autoethnography as a method to explore conversations between my adult self and the hauntings of my child self as I revisit past events that I consider catalysts of my failed familial relationship with my father. Even if the extant relationship with my father cannot be repaired, then perhaps I can repair the hauntings of my childhood memories.
If we already have autoethnographic fiction,5 why have speculative autoethnography as a genre? Speculative autoethnography addresses fiction that includes not only possibilities, but also impossibilities such as going back in time, having conversations with one's self, and learning from those conversations that never occurred nor could ever occur. Revisiting past events is not a new concept, nor is fictionalized conversation. Arthur P. Bochner addresses a father/son relationship after the death of his father and Andrew F. Herrmann addresses a father/son relationship of an absentee father.6 Both of these authors use what I refer to as speculative autoethnography. While fictional autoethnography combines the imagined with the real, I prefer Heinlein's use of speculative referring to contemplation, conjecture, and/or abstract reasoning.
Johnnie Gratton defined fiction as “making and not just making up; fiction as the corollary of imagination, fantasy, and desire; fiction as the supplement of memory.”7 It is my desired relationship with my father that haunts me. The fictionalized conversations supplement my memory in order to make meaning of situations that escaped my understanding as a child. I use speculative autoethnography as a compatible means of blurring the accounts of past life events as I negotiate the interaction of my adult self with my past memories of the shattered images of father as witnessed by my child self.
As I stand at the crossroads, I consider the direction I took of categorizing my father as the boogeyman who traumatized me and caused me fear; I consider the path of being as much a failure as a son, as Dad had been as a father. This is my haunting. “For profane illumination is a way of encountering the ghostly presence, the lingering past, the luminous presence of the seemingly invisible.”8 In order to encounter the ghostly presence of my haunting, I need to recognize its visibility. I imagine those times in my life when I want the scenarios to transpire in way that reshape the past to have an effect on the future.9
My father's relationship with my two brothers and me quickly became one of commander and subordinate. Orders were given constantly and there were consequences if those orders were not followed. I was never sure what would or had set him off, but I quickly learned to not speak as often, and to avoid Dad's presence as much as possible. Silence was the preferred state of the house when Dad was home. Laughter soon became as haunting a memory as the events I am about to disclose.
As I recall these hauntings from my past, I have conversations with my child self. In these conversations, I have researched authors published during those time periods to help me understand the actions of my father. I relate these finding to my child self in order to try to bridge the failed relationship with my father and to lessen or rid myself altogether of these hauntings. These hauntings are different than the hauntings of Herrmann and Elyse Pineau.10 where they are referring to the deceased, my hauntings are of the past—those memories that surface without warning and remind you of failures that you want to resolve, but they take the effort of more than yourself. The person at the center of my hauntings is very much alive.
I stand tracing my past. I scan, stop, and scan some more. I now stop in front of a white brick house with a shared wall between its carport and the neighbor's carport. There are three other duplex houses in this cul-de-sac found within Mayport Naval Base in Jacksonville, FL. People walk by on the main road. I am a stranger to them, but they do not react to my presence; they are but a part of my haunting. This is where I lived for a brief portion of my childhood. I walk up to the white-painted brick house. The entrance is on the side by the carport. As I enter the home, I recall the open floor plan—the kitchen to the left, the couch and two chairs and small dining table to my right. There is a simple, but welcoming environment as I access the mostly forgotten details of this space. My father lies on the floor. Standing at his feet is my child self.
As a boy of 6, I place my stomach upon the soles of my father's feet. Lying down with his back on the floor, my father lifts his legs as he simultaneously lifts me into the air.
And he holds my hands
As I shout with excitement
I am Superman11
This is the beginning; this is what I wanted to continue. It is at this moment, the crossroad, if you will, that I stand at the intersection of context, self, and other.12 I need to find a vocabulary “that register[s] and evoke[s] the lived and the living, in their historical time, of the organized forces of order and violence and the aggrieved person when consciousness of that meeting [is] arising, haunting, forcing a confrontation, forking the future and the past.”13 At this meeting point, I consider this might be a place to begin conversations. By doing so, perhaps I can eliminate “the conditions that [produced] the nastiness in the first place.”14 I fast forward to 6 months later. My father is coming home—permanently. “My father's first day home as a civilian, after resigning from the United States Navy, foreshadowed what was to come.”15
My mom took my brothers and I to the barber and had us clean and ready to present for inspection when my father entered the house.
“WHY HAVE YOU BEEN SPENDING MONEY TO CUT THEIR HAIR?”
“I just had the boys' hair cut so that they would look nice when you came home,” my mother says, barely audible.
I try to find a corner in which to hide as my father stomps over to his duffle bag and pulls out his hair clippers. I think I spent more time hiding in the corner between the end of the couch and the wall than anything else I did between the second and sixth grade. On this day, I do not find my safe corner next to the couch. I am exposed and in direct view of my father. He grabs me by my left arm and in a single motion he places me atop a bar stool while turning on the clippers to shave my head. The clippers forcefully scrape along my scalp. I begin to cry.
“STOP CRYING! I'M NOT HURTING YOU!”
“I know,” I say between sobs.
“IF YOU DON'T STOP CRYING, I'LL GIVE YOU SOMETHING TO CRY ABOUT!”
The tears will not stop on my father's command. Suddenly, I am
knocked off of the stool
Dad's backhand caught me off guard
No longer crying
I climb back on the stool. My two brothers wait for their turn to have their heads shaved.”16
I watch as my father finishes the head shaving. Then I realize that my child self sees me, and somehow he knows who I am. After being allowed to step down off the bar stool, my child self goes outside—I follow.
“I'm sorry.” These are the only words that I can muster; and they seem as meaningless as they sound. I lower myself to my knees and sit on my heels so I am at eye level with my child self.
“Remember last Christmas when you felt like you were Superman and Dad was flying you around on his feet?”
“Hold on to that memory. It will bring you joy when you try to remember happy times with Dad. I wish I could tell you that everything gets better, but this is going to be your life for a while. He loves you; it will be hard to see sometimes, but he does love you. You may not understand all of this now, but you are strong. Do you understand what I am saying to you?”
“I think so.”
“You will have many good people come in and out of your life. Most of them will stay with you for your entire adulthood. Learn from those you like, and find strength in their love for you. Please always remember that.”
“Ok. I will remember.”
I now stand in the side yard of my grandparents' farmhouse. My grandfather has died and left the house to my mother. My grandmother moves into a trailer at the edge of the property. There is a warm breeze blowing through the orchard and the air smells of peaches. It is a sweet relaxing smell that lulls you into a serene state of mind. I close my eyes and focus, through the rustling leaves, on musical tones created as the wind blows. I can almost hear the babbling brook rise from the ravine behind the wooded lot of the farmhouse. Then an angry yelling voice brings my focus to another childhood haunting.
I am recruited to assist my father with the task of washing his car. It is mid-June, two months past my twelfth birthday. My father slowly drives his 1972 black Plymouth Roadrunner through the side yard and stops underneath a shade tree. This is done not to give either of us protection from the summer sun, but rather so that he would have time to apply the Turtle Wax® without the sun drying out the application.
Two jobs are assigned to me. The first is to clean the interior windows. I am not allowed to use paper towels as they cause streaks; I have to use newspaper. My father tells me, “If I find a streak, you're going to get a beating!” Maybe this is a joke, but I have my doubts. I scrub the windows to ensure that every inch is streak free. As I exit the car, my dad is finishing the final touches of washing it. My second job is to rinse the remaining soap off the car. My dad hands me the hose, but I do not have a good grip on it. The force of the jetting water causes me to drop it. The nozzle goes underneath the car. As I reach to grab it, something from the undercarriage of the car rips my right forearm. Blood covers my arm, and I am crying. The slap stings my face, and momentarily causes me to forget about the blood gushing from my arm.
“You're worthless!” My dad yells at me, and tells me to get out of his way. There is no concern for either the bleeding gash, or the waling cries of his son. My mother rushes outside to tend to my wound and tears.
I walk over to my child self.
“Everything is going to be okay.” I offer. I see the fear in his eyes; I remember the fear in his eyes.
“I think I have an explanation for Dad's anger.” I continue. “Dad and Mom got married so young, and teen marriages usually end up with one or both of the parents dropping out of high school,17 as was the case with Mom and Dad. Being a high school dropout, you often end up in a job you don't like in order to provide for your family. This creates tension in family relationships.18 Think about it this way: Have you ever considered how hard it was for Dad to go to work every day at a job he didn't like? And even worse, he seemingly had no other choices because his family was depending on him for their very existence. It's a lot of pressure. I guess I can't really expect you to understand that immediately, but just give it some thought.
“I know they were young when they got married, but they just seem so unhappy. That makes me unhappy. And Dad is so mad all the time. I am scared to talk to him. Besides, I don't think he cares about us.”19
“I know now that Dad never meant to cause you to fear him. He is so stressed by work that when he comes home all he wants is to relax, and the only way he can relax is when everything in his world is the way he wants it. When he comes home and all of your toys are out, it just adds to his stress. I know it may not make sense, but when you, your brothers, or Mom disrupt his need for a little bit of peace, he snaps. It isn't that he doesn't want to be a father to you and your brothers, but I do not think he is happy with himself—where he is in his life. Dad has always wanted to be the best at whatever he does, so I think he constantly feels like he is being challenged personally and financially as he tries to live up to his own self-expectations of being a father and a husband. I also think that when he gets mad so easily that perhaps he is just tired of struggling all the time. I think he is tired of working and not having anything to show for it.”
“I do know that a lot of fights between Dad and Mom are about money.”
“Having a family so young can add extra financial pressures.20 Dad and Mom are struggling, and having children puts everything into crisis mode. I think Dad and Mom married too young and when they started a family, they were already in crisis mode. I also think they have stayed in crisis mode ever since, making money an ongoing issue. I know money is important, but I think it's a problem when money discussions replace more important family discussions.21
“What kind of discussions do you mean?”
“Well, you are twelve now. Don't you think that they should talk to you about sex and religion?”
“Talking about things like sex is embarrassing and Dad is not very religious.”
“That's the point. Discussions of sex should not be embarrassing, and even if Dad is not very religious, that should not determine your views on religion too. Honestly, I don't think Dad ever learned how to talk about things like sex and religion. In fact, if anything, he was probably discouraged from talking about things that were of a personal nature because it was considered, well, weak. Dad has always been distant.”
“I think he's too busy or just doesn't want to be bothered by us.”
“Maybe Dad is distant as a father because he learned to be that way from his father; Grandpa never talked to us about anything. He probably did not talk to Dad either. I think Dad knows how difficult growing up can be, but he managed. I guess he thinks you will manage to grow up without too much intervention also. Try not to focus on the lack of conversations with Dad. That kind of silence can have negative effects.22 You should question everything. Don't be afraid to talk about things that are on your mind.”
“I told you already that you are strong, and you are stronger than you realize. Do not stop being strong. You will be tempted to give up. Never give in to that temptation. Okay?”
“I will try my best.”
I keep telling my younger self that he is strong, but am I strong enough to exorcise this haunting? As I race forward to the next encounter with the shattered images of my father, I find myself standing in front of a red brick apartment building. There is an all too familiar sound of yelling coming from one of the apartments—not the one in which we took up residence after my parents' divorce, but the one next door to us. At least the yelling has stopped at our new home, except for Dad's last visit to our apartment.
The last time I see my father in our home, he comes over at my mother's request. She has left him, but she thinks he will realize that there needs to be changes in the relationship and agree to counseling.
“Please go to counseling with me. The children need you.”
“IT'S OVER.” His words silence my mother.
My father turns and walks away. As he walks toward the front door, my mother lunges for him, grabbing his right leg. My father continues walking across the living room, dragging my mother across the floor as she begs him to stay. My father shakes off her grip as if he has just stepped in dog shit. He looks down at me, “WHAT ARE YOU CRYING ABOUT?” He walks out and never returns.23
Again I see that all too familiar fear in my child self, but this time it is joined by a deep concern for Mom. “I wish I could tell you this is the last time you will feel rejected or hurt by Dad. The first time I saw you, I told you to hang on to that memory of you flying as your belly rested on the soles of Dad's feet. That will be your last happy memory with him. Now you need to let go of the pain. It will only affect you. The hurt will find its way to healing through the influence of your friends. You will be blessed beyond your imagination with the friends you will have in your life. Now I want us to try to begin a journey of forgiveness. We may not be able to heal our relationship with Dad, but perhaps we can rid ourselves of these hauntings.”
“What do you mean by hauntings?”
“Hauntings are events in our lives to which we hold on. They spring up whenever an event or trigger word or smell causes them to surface, and we have to deal with them or the hauntings will continue.”24
“You are appearing to me as my own hauntings? Is that it? And I am the source of your hauntings?”
“Yes, that is why I am trying to help you understand, at least from my own perceptions, why Dad left, why he never tried to have a relationship, and all the other why questions that were never answered and that are a part of our hauntings.”
“Okay, so tell me the answers to my why questions.”
“I am not sure I can give answers, but I can try to help us understand. First, choosing to live with Mom made Dad feel like he was being abandoned. I know you feel abandoned, but have you ever considered that the divorce was hard on Dad too? I think Dad felt like he was not wanted; even worse, I think he felt as if he had failed as a father because we did not choose to live with him. It is difficult for Dad to show his feelings. Perhaps he was embarrassed or wanted to give you room to adjust so he did not want to put added pressure on you by asking you to live with him. I think Dad was waiting for you to choose to be with him. I also think that he expected too much from you. Dad should have tried harder to reach out to you during a time when everyone was feeling abandoned and unwanted in some way. Perhaps Dad did not have anyone to whom he could talk. I am not sure he would have even talked if he did, but, as we have discussed, he never was very good at sharing his emotions. I think Dad and you continue to be separated due to the divorce as Dad's role of father was reduced by the lack of visits. You did not have much interaction with him. You were a child waiting for your father, and Dad was a father waiting for his children. The longer that separation existed, the less he probably saw himself as a father.”
“I guess that because I am hurt, it is hard to try to see things any other way. I just know I feel abandoned. Do you have anything else for me to consider?
“Yeah, I do. You were so young at the beginning of the divorce. You should not discount what you were feeling. However, I do think it is perhaps unfair to think Dad walked away from the divorce a free man without a care in the world. We never once considered how hard this time was for Dad. Everything was changing so rapidly. We did not necessarily understand about loneliness and depression. We never understood Dad's loss; we never tried to understand his loss. Perhaps the more removed Dad was from his pain, the easier it was for him to deal with it. But that removal of his presence from our lives had a lasting effect on us too. Plus, we suffered because Dad paid such a small amount of child support.25 We had limited adult supervision at a time when we needed it most, and we lost touch with Dad.26 The more uninvolved we thought Dad to be, the more withdrawn we became. Everyone seemed to be going in opposite directions.”
“What is wrong with everyone going in opposite directions? I don't like staying around here.”
“I know, but the problem lies in the fact that there is little to no interaction with one another. Without interaction, we lose that connection to our family. Eventually you will create your own sense of family and who fits into that idea of family.27 But before you create the sense of family that works for you, keep in mind that Dad has difficulty trying to change the person he is, and he may never be the person you want or need him to be. Maybe he is too stubborn for his own good. He wants things on his terms.”
“Why should I have to let Dad off without changing?”
“I am not saying you should do that. I just want you to try to understand my perception of Dad's position in the divorce and his subsequent lack of interaction based upon what I have observed. Dad was raised with a certain code of what it means to be a man, but that is not an excuse. He was raised to be like his father, but we need to question the non-interaction of Dad and his father too.28 Dad was raised to be a provider, to avoid expressions of vulnerability, and to avoid anything that could be perceived as weak. Furthermore, he was taught to break ties with his mother, but perhaps those ties were not replaced by the physical presence of his father. In short, he was raised by a set of standards from the 1950s.29 You have to ask yourself, to what extent did Grandpa play a part in the way that Dad sees himself as a father? How can we expect Dad to meet expectations of being a nurturing father when he was raised with the idea that being a father only meant paying bills and a mortgage?30 We are criticizing Dad for retaining his stern façade while expecting him to take on roles and show care in ways that violate the traditional code he was raised to follow. Traits such as nurturing children, revealing weakness, and expressing his most intimate feelings were not how Dad was raised.31 Even though we have an expectation of Dad to be softer and more open with his feelings, he has at least taught us how to stand on our own two feet. He and Mom both taught us that lesson.”
“I think I could have learned that on my own. Does Dad ever become what we want from him? Does he ever soften?”
“At times I think he does, but then he gets mad and reverts back to being closed off and unapproachable. This is about understanding him from my perspective, so you can let go of the hurt; it isn't about changing Dad. You need to keep in mind that Dad keeps his emotions inside; I am not sure he can be the person you want or need. I can see times in his life that he needed to have someone who could have listened to him and allowed him to share what he was going through, but I do not know if he can ever be that vulnerable, especially around you. Being that vulnerable is an unnatural act for Dad; it is so foreign a concept to the way he was raised that I cannot imagine Dad ever sharing his feelings. He keeps everything on the surface. Maybe to protect us from what he might want to say, or maybe to protect him from being hurt again.”
“I understand Dad needs to protect some macho image. I also realize our relationship will change when I become an adult. I just hope I never look at sharing my feelings as a sign of weakness.”
“You won't. But even as an adult, you desire a father who is more involved with your life.”32
I have taken the summer off to work, without interruption, on my dissertation. Every morning I go to the gym, and then I walk to a small local restaurant on Main Street in my hometown of Danville, VA. I sit in the back corner with my books and laptop. The restaurant has free Wi-Fi, and they gave me permission to spend my day there working. I have no other Internet choices outside of this restaurant and McDonald's. The restaurant is open from 7 am until 8 pm. I stay until 6 pm nearly every day, eating a small breakfast and lunch as I work through choices while researching my dissertation topic. As June rolls around, I call my father. He knows I have been working on my dissertation, but perhaps he thinks I should have been in touch with him more. During the phonecall, Dad is distant.
“I thought I would take time off from writing and go to church with you for Father's Day.”
“That's okay. You don't have to do that. How about we meet for lunch after church?”
My heart sinks, “Fine, where do you want to meet?”
“There is a fairly new restaurant called the Highlander. Let's meet there.”
We get to the restaurant, which, as it turns out, already has a reputation for bad service and poor food quality (at least it was a cheap meal). The place was practically empty, which is unusual as every restaurant in town has a waiting list to accommodate the throngs of churchgoers on Sunday afternoons. I was beginning to think that 1) My father was ashamed of me, or 2) He did not want to spend much time with me. Worse yet, maybe both.
Once again, I see the disappointment in the face of my younger self. There is not much age difference between the haunting of my younger me and adult me, and perhaps this will be our last visit. I look at my younger self sitting with my father and stepmother. He sees me, and excuses himself from the table.
He approaches me. “I thought I might be seeing you again. So what do you have for me this time?”
“First, I think you need to understand that the degree of estrangement between you and Dad stems from a lack of direct contact over several years as well as infrequent and unsatisfactory contact.33 There is no quality time engaged in conversation with Dad. I do not want to follow this pattern of estrangement, which is to let this relationship with Dad continue unchallenged, where assumptions are made and conclusions drawn, leading to a stalemate that can last for more decades. This has gone on far too long already. I find myself asking questions about the fate of my relationship with Dad. Is reconciliation possible? Should ties be renewed? What are the chances of being successful in establishing any type of relationship with Dad?”
“Those are pretty big questions. Do you have answers for them? You know I have struggled with those same questions. I think Dad has accepted our relationship is strained, but that somehow I and our relationship are still ‘okay.’”
“When the emotional distance begins relatively early in a relationship, such as between you and Dad, the projection process results in an emotional cut-off.34 The battle lines were drawn early in your relationship with Dad, and you have been waiting for him to meet your desires for communication based upon your terms without ever telling him what you want. This failure to communicate has created a personal rift between you and Dad. The two of you have lost the positioning of father–son, and now you see each other as equals—two adults. I do not necessarily think Dad likes who he perceives you and himself to be to each other, or even the views that you each hold toward the other when evaluated through this relationship or lack thereof.”35
“Can I ask you a question?”
“You said that you want to rid yourself of these hauntings, and that is why you are visiting me, haunting me. Our hauntings are intertwined with one another. What is going to happen to me if you are successful? Will I die?”
“No, hopefully you will be at peace, and your memory will live within me in a positive way. You will no longer haunt me with the negative memories of our past. Rather, hopefully, we will be free of the fear that made the hauntings such a tangible part of our life. I told you not to be scared. You trust me, right?”
“Yes, I do trust you. You and I are the same. How can I not trust you?”
“True, I just want to look in a mirror, and not see the fear that has been such a part of my life for so long.”
“So, if I am the peace you wish to see, would I not still be haunting you?”
“No, you would be my memory. You just have to forgive, even if the existing relationship with Dad cannot be repaired.”
“I can forgive. Will Dad ever know that I forgave him?”
“I do not know. That information will be up to me to let him know.”
Instead of looking back at past events, I now look ahead to what is to come. What has this exorcism of hauntings produced?
I am back visiting my hometown. The flight arrives in nearby Raleigh, NC. I receive a great deal on my rental car, and begin the hour-and-a-half drive to my hometown of Danville, VA. I stop in Yanceyville, NC, to visit my Aunt Pat. It is not just a desire to see my aunt that is the reason for my stopping; I am also nervous about visiting my father. After my PhD graduation last December, I have debated sending him this speculative autoethnography of my conversations with my child self—the source of my hauntings. I have decided to hand deliver the manuscript.
Given the potential of fiction combined with the construction of autoethnographic accounts, I consider Gearhart's view of the fluidity of the borders of actual accounts and fiction36 as it relates to Bochner, who argued “I would like to see autoethnography viewed as… a kind of staging of memory that invites further inquiry into the meaning of the past and its reconstruction through the inextricably integrated processes of languaging and remembering.”37 The “staging of memory” through speculative auotoethnography allows me the opportunity to use these fictional narratives to cross Gearhart's fluid and passable borders between actual accounts and speculation as I explore the failed relationship with my father.
Although the fictionalized conversations I describe with my child self offer an alternative method of remembering and confronting relationships by projecting “self” into the imaginary world of “other,” this should not take away the conversations' emotional significance. They are about stories that “strive to understand the conditions under which a memory was produced in the first place, toward a countermemory, for the future.”38 I consider the ways in which my father views me: as the son who rejected him; as the son who caused him to pull away to hide his own pain; or, as the son who never understood him. Perhaps all three are true for him.
These fictionalized conversations occur between a spectral figure and my adult self. The hauntings are the interactions of the memories of my father with my younger self. Now, I am engaging in the real, the actual. I take a deep breath, and breathe my life back to the present. There are no more fictionalized conversations. Standing at the front door of the house that never was a residence for me, that never displayed my high school and college pictures, that never was a safe haven, I am scared. I feel the house is as much a representation of the mutual separation of our lived experiences as the hauntings I have described. Hesitantly, I ring the doorbell.
I wonder how this use of speculative autoethnography will play out in my family's narrative inheritance.39 The narration of family identity40 has been severed not only from my previous storying of family, but also from my brother's narratives that have been told to his children. My nephew and niece do not have a relationship with our father, their grandfather. As this narrative gets carried forward, how will it affect our past understandings and push them forward and carry the momentum of a different future that includes the progression of this speculative autoethnographic narrative?
I believe our current path can be altered. We can change our narrative inheritance, or the stories that we give to younger generations about family. We can push our new family inheritance forward since our perceptions of past events are a part of our lived realities. By re-orienting my narrative through speculative autoethnography, I can have an effect on the narrative inheritance of my nephew and niece, and thus affect our family identity.
Following the “do no harm” definition of re-visioning, I invite the reader to become more capable of re-visiting past situations for an increased understanding of their meaning(s) in order to present an alternative to their own narrative inheritance. These stories are both positive and negative; they are about family history and secrets. I am reminded of a line from the poem “Songs of Understanding” by Thomas Kinsella: “Reclaiming out of the past / all the good you can use.”41
As I reflect on these conversations, I can see the good I can use. While the conversations have helped me make sense of the directions in which I have traversed in this relationship with my father. I have also stopped blaming myself for being a child and not understanding the emotional impact of my parents' divorce upon both parents. Further, I did not reject my father when I chose to live with my mother. It was not a competition; there was no winner. Everyone lost something. This is the purpose of bringing the reader into the conversation. By doing so, we gain insight into the realm of what is possible; we validate the hauntings and their effects on our lives—past, present, and future.
Lastly, I would be remiss not to discuss the ethics of writing about significant others in our lives. This manuscript is not a vindictive unleashing upon my father. Rather, it is a way of talking about something that has been silenced for too long. The spirit of the writing of this manuscript is to grow closer to my father. If it causes him pain, then I have to live with the regret of causing that pain. I cannot say I should not tell this story; I can only say there is no easy answer to the personal dilemma of including others in my story. When I write about myself, I inherently write about others. By writing about others, I discover new things about myself.
I am now in my fifties. I know no more of my father than I did the day I placed my belly upon his feet. However, through this experiential writing, I have a greater understanding of my hauntings and my role in the relationship between my father and me. The re-visiting of my hauntings has made me realize the poor adaptation of these events in my life, which has led to this search for the why of what happened with my relationship with my father. Perhaps this is the reason for the re-visiting of my hauntings to reconcile the extant relationship to which I have classified in later life as “failed.”
Perhaps I will always be haunted to some extent. After all, resolutions do not occur in a vacuum. But when I think about my father, I remember flying around the room with my belly on his feet and feeling like Superman—the happy memory of being lost in the security of knowing my father would never let me fall. I still hold on to this memory. This type of relational reflexivity shows the possibilities, even if they are in imagined discussions between the spirits that haunt us and our selves.