February 10, 1949
…I laid on the bed – I don’t know how long – just thinking about the future and what it may hold in store for us. The picture my mind conjured was a beautiful one – although I must admit that I dismissed all real or imaginary shadows that drifted across. My flights of fancy envision [a life] without any difficulties, problems and heartaches…I know that such a state is impossible to achieve, and yet I still go on hoping and dreaming. I can’t describe to you how much I worry about how I’ll adjust to the problems of living. I mean ‘living’ in the sense of taking my place as a responsible member of society, of having a job, a family, a home. I don’t really expect you to understand because you haven’t led a relatively sheltered and secure life. But try to realize that even in the Army, there were people looking out for my welfare – although in an impersonal way.
What will it be like when I have to stand on my own two feet and make decisions which will affect more persons’ than myself? I honestly don’t know, any more than I know my ability and capacity to handle responsibility…The buoyant confidence and enthusiasm which people see in me are not always there but are merely a “front” – possibly I kid myself along, pretending abilities which are non-existent. It’s wrong for a young man to fear the future. Youth should have courage and confidence..And I torture myself with thoughts that I may be a failure – mostly a failure in my own eyes. It’s not that I feel sorry for myself, for there’s nothing to be sorry about. It’s just that I want so much out of life and I’m not sure of my ability to get the things I want…
If I get a chance I’ll write you again this week, although the work has been piling up. In any event, I’ll call you Saturday when I get in.
All my love,
Jack was my dad. He was 25 when he wrote this letter to his girlfriend (later to be his wife, my mom). He was very successful in life and in love – lit up a room with a grin and charmed everyone he met into believing that s/he was the most important person in the room. There’s a lot of him in me; I see so much of him in my sons. His capacity for play, his curiousity and magnetism. His sobering moments of self-doubt and conflict. His ability to articulate his thoughts in a way that drew people to him. My youngest son wrestles at 25 with the same questions that my dad tried to pin in 1949. And perhaps we never emerge the victor in this match – we just learn how to best protect ourselves from our most paralyzing doubts and move forward.
And now I know from whom I learned the sham theory. No matter how much I have achieved – and I’ve been pretty damn lucky in that regard – I have been driven by the knowledge that if someone ever looked hard enough, they would discover fakery. I’m not that smart, thorough, sensitive, insightful…I just managed to fool those around me. I shared this belief with my favorite boss of all time when I began to earn far more than I was worth. Given that he had more exposure, responsibility and income than me, he consoled me with the view that by rights, he was the larger sham. I’m beginning to think such motivation is common.
I like to think I’m a reasonable example of ‘every woman’, only shorter. Ok, shorter, of a certain age where gravity is no longer something to be ignored, white Jewish, perpetually guilt-ridden, non-threatening and unfortunately still bearing the mantle of “perky” (back to being short).
Guilt-ridden – now that’s something I think of as a universal characteristic – so much so, I was going to build my future on it. In grad school, I determined that I could best work with the perpetually guilty. Certainly there’d be a reasonable and steady client stream. It’s one of those conditions that is easily trivialized (‘change the tape in your head’, ‘chant that you are letting go with each exhalation’), yet powerfully informs one’s persona. I think it must start during the process of birth – at the outset of the journey comes the knowledge that you’re hurting your mother. How the hell do you get over that? You don’t – thus my idea that there’s a market out there.