Gregory Martin's 'Stories For Boys'

11.16.2012

By Daniel Tehrani

Talking repression, masculinity, and the father-son dynamic with the memoirist, who can now say his gay father's 'heroic'

Stories for Boys constantly references psychologists and other figures, particularly the recurring one of Walt Whitman. What inspired you to make these allusions, and why?

Well, I wanted to connect my sudden obsession with understanding more about repression, compartmentalization and secret lives and not have it be awkwardly placed and out of place. Those short chapters introduce this through a lay person way through my interest in these things, but show how I’m grappling with these things. It’s a deliberate delay of the way the narrative is working. As far as Walt Whitman, I will always love Walt Whitman. Talk about being marginalized: Whitman was gay in the 19th Century, and he really thought that what he had to say about gender, sexuality and identity could save the union. I got so fired up that, if I wanted to make this story about me and my father larger, Whitman was the way – his poems are shouting from the rooftops but at the same time he had so much shame. Memoirs are conversation between the present and the past, like a back and forth one of many threads, a way to come up for air.

Most of what we learn about your father comes from his emails or from the stories of others like your mother – what was the intent behind that?

The readers deserve another lens. I wanted my father to be able to speak for himself. He wasn’t going to make a memoir so I wanted to give him a voice. Looking back at those emails from my dad, they’re complex thoughtful and warm. He’s so humble and unassuming – whatever happened to him, it gave him such a depth and compassion for other people and a desire to see them to do well.

Though Stories For Boys starts very much about your father, by the end it charts both your progress as father and son. Was that intentional?

Initially, I did not want it to be about me but that’s the thread. It’s our two journeys, it’s a braided story of our won internal story. My dad had to take in the love as well as be held accountable. The more I wrote the more I understood my own choices, I could only portray my own progress and only speculate on my father. I never claim to know what he thinks and what he feels. I really think my father is heroic, I’m astonished that my father could have raised me the way he did. He had no role model for masculinity and he showed me how being a man can be about humility and sensitivity. I had no idea that he had this intensely complex mystery but I think its always hard for father’s and sons to understand each other on some level. There’s a distancing. My two sons are always more willing to share how they feel with my wife and I envy that relationship. I think that it’s because we’re supposed to be stoic –- its physical, its silent -– we’re supposed to be Marlboro men, but if you buy into that you put yourself in cage.

How has your family taken the release of Stories for Boys?

My family is surprisingly supportive, even my mother: She wants it to sell a million copies; she’s really come around. I gave them multiple drafts, and my mom was great about that, but it was painful for her, like picking at a scab and drawing it out. With proofreading and copyediting, enough time had passed that she wants the best for me. She came to a reading and sat in the audience, and someone actually asked, “How does your mother feel?” And I said, “Lets just ask my mom!”

I still have an unrealistic hope that my mother and father can be friends. My dad has just been phenomenal, he’s someone who didn’t reveal anything his entire life, pretending to be someone he wasn’t, hiding from people he loved some things that happened to him that are definitive. He’s always put other people before him and it doesn’t surprise me that he did that for me. When I asked him if it was OK if I write about him, he said “You wrote this, it's yours.”

He’s doing well, he’s out in the Mojave Desert. I want him to go somewhere like San Francisco, if only he could have a do-over. You have to play this “what if” game a lot. I wanted to write Stories For Boys to let him know that however flawed he was, whatever mistakes he made, he is heroic, and he is loved.

Stories for Boys is available now

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