I read ‘You Are a Complete Disappointment,’ by Mike Edison, in the course of a single cathartic afternoon. The title is courtesy of the author’s father, the first sentence of his final, poisonous gift to his son, delivered on his deathbed.
It’s almost funny, the way Edison tells it, but only if you haven’t been there yourself. Edison’s father’s final bit of vitriol was not a departure or an aberration, it was merely the cherry on top of a lifelong pattern of cruelty. I doubt the man would see it that way, I’m sure he had his justifications prepared, should anyone call him out. I’m guessing he would tell you (after he told you to mind your own fucking business) that he was doing his level best at the difficult job of being a father.
Maybe it’s simple narcissism, this compulsion some men have to crush their sons, particularly the oldest ones. I spent my childhood wondering what I had done wrong, what fault or misdeed of mine had triggered my father’s latest cruelty. The worst part of it, I think, was this sense I always had that he had discarded me, that he had zero interest in teaching me anything, that he was only marginally aware of my existence and blissfully unconcerned with anything that happened to me, good or bad. I spent the first half of my life trying to impress him and I never came close.
In some motorcycle clubs, you get inked once you’re accepted, you get tattoos that brand you as a member. If you ever decide to leave, those tats have to go. If the parting is on good terms, they’ll generally let you get them inked over, but if the separation is acrimonious, they burn them off with a hot clothes iron. I have a few of those scars inside, places where I ought to feel something but I really don’t. The last conversation, if you could call it that, I remember having with my old man was much less dramatic than the one that forms the centerpiece of this memoir, but it was just as destructive. I walked away shaking my head, wondering what it was he really wanted from me, and what payoff he got from that kind of meanness. When he died maybe a year later, I went to the funeral but I really didn’t feel a thing, no anger, no sadness, not even relief, just, you know, ‘well, that’s over.’
Edison writes with openness and honesty, and with more compassion for his old man than I ever summoned up for mine. If the title speaks to you, then you know this already: you need to read this book.
Thank you, Mike Edison, for writing this.