Recently, Michael Enright interviewed Erin Carr on his CBC Radio show, The Sunday Edition. She's the author of “All That You Leave Behind”, an autobiographical tome about herself and her family, in particular, her late father journalist David Carr. I bought the book as a result.
Having finished it, I find myself noting, as I did to the son of Hunter S. Thompson when I wrote that the glory he dispelled upon his dad was falsely inscribed, that similarly, Erin Carr seems to have been lured too far under the spell of her father, not a bad writer but a bad person. A drunk. A drugged out cretin. A narcissist. A fighter. A loser. A man capable of meanness. But a man capable of greatness. A man who under-achieved.
Juan Thompson eventually managed to build some kind of a relationship with Hunter when he stopped expecting his father to be someone he was not. It freed him to expand his own life.
My hope is that Ms. Carr can reach this status too.
Erin, I bare you no ill will, nor did I towards Juan Thompson, and I surely get that both of you have a need to reflect the brilliance of your parents' art. It should be so. We should all have such illustrious progenitors, and, in part, I'm envious (my dad was a banker). But let’s face facts: HST, a once brilliant writer, devolved into a bumptious fool whose fine mind had long ago been pickled and gone AWOL. David Carr avoided that fate for the most part (and good for him!) because I think he respected his art and his family. But much as I try to find a likeable, honorable person in Erin’s descriptors of her dad, I just don’t feel it. Now, either that means I’m an insensitive lout, or I simply don’t get it, or, maybe Erin is lacking in her ability to share David’s wonder, or, maybe he just wasn’t that wonderful after all. Pretty sure it’s the latter, but who knows.
Erin's fine book "All That You Leave Behind" recounts her uncle’s oratory at the wake: “Even in the throes of his crack addiction, he still loved us. But he made it hard to love him.” Parse that thought for a minute: why is Joe so reverent about a drugged out slacker being able to love family and friends? Where is it written that drugs obliterate love? But it’s the admission of that second thought that reverberates: David made it hard to love him. Why would that have been? It says so much.
It'd be too easy to write me off as someone who looks down on those with addictions (I don’t, and I've known a few), or as someone lacking a meaningful family life (I've had a swell one, thanks). I am an iconoclast and cynic, yes, but I've never been impressed by celebrity. And truth be told, I wanted to admire David Carr in all his guises. Let’s face it: I'm a writer too, and my media heroes are few and far between these days (see previous blog entry about how the mighty are falling, as a fine result of the #MeToo movement). I could sure use some idols to respect. The fact that David comes up short is disappointing. But, there we are.
FOMO (fear of missing out, for the rural over-70 crowd) is a sober mental affliction (and one I find hard to respect). And yet, Erin seems to rejoice in supposing her father invented this malady. Fraid not. Then she wonders at the many speakers at her father’s wake, “How could one human be so many things?” But doesn’t this just point to the fact her love for her dad is impaired? Why, I’ve been to other wakes where the number of speakers and their topics and stories have been just as plentiful and awesome, but that doesn’t put the revered one on a pedestal; it simply reflects their dimension. And that’s just fine, whether you're David Carr or Jane Doe.
Erin showcases her lack of confidence in her self and her work and her relationships in her book, but that should not be viewed as a reflection of her inability to be measured next to her father’s “greatness”. Rather, it has to be measured in the absence of a real parent’s love. Because, sadly, David Carr was never a parent. He tried to be a friend, failing to accept that one truism we all come to accept sooner or later: you just can’t be a friend with your child. Not in the true sense of the concept.
“He told me I could do anything.” Wow! That’s it? That's the great profundity we’re all supposed to go gaga about? Sorry Erin, but that so easily passed off thought is one that most of us parents have said to our offspring at one time or another. You'll likely say it to yours, if you have 'em. But it's a little sad that such a common place maxim should be revered as words from on high in your perspective.
And really, Erin: blaming your “Irish heritage” as your driver for getting pissed. Sorry dear girl, but that’s just a cop out. I'm Irish by heritage, and have lots of friends who fill that ancestry. Most of us enjoy the sauce, but I don't know of any of us who are alcoholics. (Hopefully!)
Erin's sister Meagan at the funeral: “He was a devoted husband and father”. Really? Well, OK... maybe, you know, with Jill. Except when he went off the wagon. And except earlier when punching a woman in the face seemed to be de rigueur. And except with smoking way, way too many cigarettes each and every day, knowing they would eventually contribute to his early death, robbing you kids of his "greatness". Sorry, being a "devoted husband and father" just doesn’t hold up in its fullness. And yes Meagan, I’m sure that’s how you want to remember him, and good for you. As long as you don't paint it as gospel, cause it ain't. As well, when you utter, "Mean What You Say is a flagship value in our family", I sure hope you don't actually regard this as unique to the Carr’s. Are you all so narcissistic that you'd actually believe no one else subscribed to that same calling? I would hope not. Because I sure encouraged my two sons with this kind of stimulation. And my family did with me as well. And I know others who clung to at least a version of this ethic. That David managed to instill this in your wee minds as being so special a maxim is, um, unusual. “Dad was genuine about what he was saying,” adds Meg. Really? I'd challenge that notion, because I think he was acting a lot, holding few beliefs as being real. After all, he said about journalists, shortly before his untimely death, "We are all, at bottom, entertainers."
OK, I'll back off. I'm in no way trying to rain on your parade, Erin. This screed is simply aimed at encouraging you to appreciate who you are and your own hard won greatness that is a reflection not of David Carr's kid, but of you: Erin Carr, writer, producer, bad ass. Yes, your dad taught you plenty, and you're lucky for that. But let me thank you, and congratulate you, on writing “All That You Leave Behind”. It is a book that I found engaging, resourceful and inspiring. I'm glad to have read it. And it couldn't have been easy for you to write. At the same time – and please, listen for just a bit more before deciding to trounce on me – let me implore you to apply some objectivity as you investigate your father’s life and his influence on your own. Because I believe you are overwhelmed by David Carr’s “reputation” to the point where your awestruck impression of him is holding you back. Don't give up admiring him. Just keep him in perspective, so you can do the same with you.
David Carr was a talented journalist who loved his daughters. Of this, there can be no debate. But he was, at the same time, a flawed individual whose defects limit his reputation and challenge his likability. If his life is viewed in the context of that renown, then those who revere him will be freed from the shackles of admiration obedience, being prepared to love and worship while also being open to acknowledge limitations. “And this will set you free.”
At the end of the day, none of us can really move forward if we think we're only a function of someone else.