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What we leave behind

What we leave behind

by Wolf Pascoe on April 1, 2012

Hold on tightly, let go lightly.  — Proverb

This fatherhood thing.

Is it me, or everyone who has a child? Lately all I am is sad, and it’s all I seem to think about.

James Hillman used to rail against autobiography. Bly had a personal grudge against all confessional poetry.

Sooner or later every writer must come to grips with this adamantine injunction:


If you write for God you will reach many men and bring them joy.

If you write for men–you may make some money and you may give someone a little joy and you may make a noise in the world, for a little while.

If you write for yourself, you can read what you yourself have written and after ten minutes you will be so disgusted that you will wish that you were dead.

— Thomas Merton



There are ways around autobiography in writing, but sinner that I am, there is no way round my son. I can’t look at Nick without going back in time. Back to his earlier years, back to mine.

I think it’s a condition of having a child, to be taken back.

Because children are fresh from God. They are hope and community and love, which amalgam is irresistible because it’s everything.




Last week at Fern Hill, a spring celebration in the yard. Children from every class, nursery through upper-elementary, climbed a makeshift stage, sang and danced.

The yard filled with parents, their hands filled with cameras. I too succumbed.

Here’s the report: Magic. Heaven. A Spalding-Grey, perfect moment.

Through the windless wells of wonder
By the throbbing light machine
In a tea leaf trance or under
Orders from the king and queen

Songs to aging children come
Aging children, I am one

— Joni Mitchell

It’s so tricky, presence. You want to be in a moment, not thinking. And part of you, the part holding the camera, is already grieving its loss and trying to hold on. This is the part Hillman and Bly are wary of.

I thought, how many more gatherings like these before we have to move on? Before we have to leave this place, entirely? Then I thought, wrong thought. Don’t think.

Then one more thought: It’s so easy to turn be here now into one more thing to beat myself up with.

And I snapped the shutter.




The self is so full of traps, leading away from things that are. You don’t see things as they are, the Talmud says, you see things as you are.

My hope when I write of personal things is to drill down to the place where self becomes selves. When I fail, I fail badly. I find third person much safer in writing. Plays are safer.

I’ve got a play for you. Our Town.

I won’t apologize for thinking that no American playwright has ever surpassed Thornton Wilder’s masterpiece. At the end, Emily Webb dies in childbirth and is allowed to go back to a time she remembers. Nobody can hear her.

The words are Wilder’s of course, but they’re truer coming from Emily. This is what she says:

I can’t bear it. They’re so young and beautiful. Why did they ever have to get old? Mama, I’m here. I’m grown up. I love you all, everything. – I can’t look at everything hard enough. Oh, Mama, just look at me one minute as though you really saw me. Mama, fourteen years have gone by. But, just for a moment now we’re all together. Mama, just for a moment we’re happy. Let’s look at one another. It goes so fast. We don’t have time to look at one another. I didn’t realize. All that was going on in life and we never noticed.

She says more than that,  but a blog post won’t bear it, I’ve left some lines out. Read the play, if you haven’t.

So little is bearable, really, and we ask too much of words.



Zen Fatherhood




Spalding Gray as the Stage Manager begins the Lincoln Center production of Our Town:



When I googled “Emily” and “Our Town,” I found dozens of videos of young actresses performing Emily’s monologue from the end of the play. Here is a video of the Lincoln Center production of the scene.



Well. What have you left behind? Just Add Father is listening. (Add your thoughts by clicking a few lines below below, where it says comments or add one. I always respond here.)


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff skorman April 1, 2012 at 12:10 pm

Very thought inspiring.Lots to digest.I believe that life is about having fun no matter what the circumstance as long as no one is being hurt.Having raised children I know that this can be joy or sorrow whats the choice to be.


Wolf Pascoe April 1, 2012 at 10:37 pm

Turn your avoid dance into a void dance?


David April 1, 2012 at 3:20 pm

“Then one more thought: It’s so easy to turn be here now into one more thing to beat myself up with.” Yes! I’m glad you took that picture. What a little moment, yet a triumph. I know that business of wanting to document every living moment of our children’s lives. We want to remember it all—ultimately to live it all so deeply that the totality of it is emblazoned on every inhalation and exhalation.

And if we’re so human that we want to take a picture, what of it?


Wolf Pascoe April 1, 2012 at 10:30 pm

And how glad I am you took the picture at the top of this blog.


Privilege of Parenting April 1, 2012 at 5:05 pm

Feeling this sadness, and gratitude, so keenly at this very moment—clock ticking in the kitchen of my sister-in-law’s Victorian house, all of us just back from a trip to a meditation center in the midst of trees and mountains, but hardly a soul to be seen. Goats and a single sweet burro, laughs and winding roads and the melancholy of a quiet afternoon with sun-dappled flowers and wood floors; tears in the throat, emotions so hard to tolerate, drifting together and apart, bodies and souls floating about uncanny and inexpressible really… dreading and hoping for the dark of evening, lamps and laughter, food and moments too loud for introspection.


Wolf Pascoe April 1, 2012 at 10:35 pm

Beautiful, beautiful. And yet again, most beautiful!


Barbara April 3, 2012 at 10:10 pm

I’ve been subbing in our elementary school… up until last week I hadn’t stepped foot in that building since my kids outgrew it. I even worked there for a year, years and years and a lifetime ago. Talk about being surrounded by memories and ghosts! But keep trying to stay in the moment. It will always be a challenge, but a worthwhile one. (Our high school performed Our Town as a One Act Play several years ago and that scene still haunts me.)


Wolf Pascoe April 4, 2012 at 9:33 am

Oh, those ghosts. I think they are what make people writers.


Kyle Bradford April 3, 2012 at 11:45 pm

First, this has made my night. The fact that you even quoted Merton sends your stock price higher than I had already estimated it to be.

As far as what I’ve left behind…maybe it’s naivete or my desire to ignore, but I choose not to live life that way. That is a slippery slope that leads no where but regret. All of us can find plenty to be remorseful over.

I think age has much to do with this feeling of “leaving behind.” It’s a stage we will come into and I would imagine leave out of long before departing this earthly realm.


Wolf Pascoe April 4, 2012 at 9:40 am

“As far as what I’ve left behind…maybe it’s naivete or my desire to ignore, but I choose not to live life that way. That is a slippery slope that leads no where but regret. All of us can find plenty to be remorseful over.”

It is a choice, and more power to you.

“I think age has much to do with this feeling of “leaving behind.” It’s a stage we will come into and I would imagine leave out of long before departing this earthly realm.”

Yet I see children doing the same thing. Perhaps it’s not age, but aging, which begins at birth.

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means,
Time held me green and dying
Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

— Dylan Thomas


Pamela April 16, 2012 at 6:21 am

Love what you write about not letting be here now be another thing to beat ourselves up about. I love your autobiography. You aren’t writing about yourself – you are writing about all of us and I think God and maybe even Merton would be down with that.


Wolf Pascoe April 16, 2012 at 10:56 pm

Merton’s always taking me to task. You’re right. He should cut me some slack once in a while.


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