It’s a truism, of course, that writers drink. And as a class, though this is less well-known, they are often depressed. What’s even less well-known, however, perhaps I would even say a secret, is why they drink, why they are so often depressed.
The sordid truth is it’s because writers are lousy parents.
“What?” you exclaim. “That’s crazy. My mother’s cousin’s ex-brother-in-law’s mailman became a writer. He drank when he wrote, he was depressed when he was rejected, but he was terrific father.”
Well, yeah, that’s true if you want to talk about a writer’s offspring. I’m talking about a writer’s children.
Writers spend weeks, months, often years raising each little literary Writer Junior. His name might be “Short Story,” or “Graphic Novel.” If the writer was feeling expansive at the conception, it might be “Great American Novel.” But no matter how long he spends on raising Junior, with all the passion and love he can bestow, invariably, when he sends his child off into the big world, he never wants to see that kid again. It’s not just that he wants little “Novelette” to make it on her own, he boots her out the door with orders not to come back. All he wants is a letter saying that “Novelette” has found a job with Asimov’s.
Unfortunately, little Novelette does come back, more often than not, in fact. And what does she find when she returns home? That Dad has already raised another in her place. Now he’s stuck with two kids he needs to find a home for. So he sends them both away with orders never to return–and of course, they both do, but Dad has yet another bundle of joy on the way, and so it goes.
Occasionally, of course, Novelette or one of her siblings will stay away, to live in a faraway town called The New Yorker. Then Dad will laugh and dance and tell everyone how successful his “little effort” has become. But what about all the others, all the children who haven’t found jobs, who may never find jobs? He has to keep sending them away, until he decides there are no more towns, no more markets, and he shuts them away in a trunk or a box, there to sit for years, if not forever.
You think this is easy? You think a father wants to do that to his children? Hell, no. But he has to. It’s part of raising a writing career that sometimes you have to be a lousy parent.
But there’s hope, too, the hope that someday he’ll be hugely successful, so successful that even the most hopeless of his children, the runt of the litter, will be wanted. On that day the writer will open his trunk and pull out his neglected but never-forgotten offspring and happily send them to live on their own.
Because while writers may be lousy parents, they do their best.