Greatness: Books of Legacy (or “On Fatherhood”)

When I was…I dunno, fifteen or so, my family took a long summer road trip. We’d often done summer road trips as a family for my whole life. This one was the whopper, and my parents had probably been planning it for years.

Trish and I were dating at the time, and I faced the terrifying prospect of being away from her for ten days straight. No phone calls, nothing.

I hated it. I resented it. I…even then, I saw it as a matter of perspective. I sat back and looked at the situation from my perspective (where it was a really big deal), and I could see that, from my parents’ perspective, being away from a girl I didn’t really date yet, for less than two weeks, wasn’t that big a deal.

But I was outraged by it. I came up with an idea, and I put it immediately into practice. I wrote Dad a furious letter, telling him exactly how I felt, exactly how important that summer time with Trish was to me, and how much it hurt that I had to be away from her. That wasn’t exactly the idea, though. My idea was to keep writing letters like this, to write Dad every time I had something important, something dramatic that I wanted to say to him — to write it down, and keep them all together, and save that until I had a son of my own. Then read them all, because that would be exactly the words I needed to hear.

I didn’t stick to it. I wrote only that one letter. The reason was this: well, first, I really don’t stick to very many of my ideas. More importantly, though, everything I had to say in those letters was negative. Because anything positive I had to say, I just said. I’ve usually been pretty good about that. So it would have just been a bunch of whiny letters in poor penmanship.

There are ways in which I really wish I’d followed that through. There would have been some valuable lessons in there, and some powerful reminders. Mostly they’d probably be reminders about what a whiny brat I was, but even those have their value.

Sometime in college, I got an idea for something similar. I think Daniel or Toby, or someone, was telling me about a cultural group that had this practice, but it might have been an original idea….

Anyway, okay, I’ll tell it in story form, because that’s what I do.

Within the history of my fantasy world, there comes eventually a line of kings known as the Davinic Kings — these are the heirs of Daven, centuries later, who reunite and rule over the FirstKing’s old realm, and it’s a time of prosperity and happiness. They are legendary kings (as the similarity of the name would imply).

And I decided that, among themselves, this family of kings would have a practice of writing Books of Legacy. Each king, when he first learned that he was going to have a child, would write a book containing all of his wisdom, all of his experience — everything he truly wanted to teach his son. He would spend the nine months or so writing down his message to his son. When his son reached the age of maturity, his father would give him the book, and perhaps teach it to him.

I thought how cool it would be to write those books, to write the collected teachings that each of these great and powerful men (while they were still young) would like to pass on to their sons and heirs. How much could you say, how much imply, about a character and his world, within that particular framework?

I didn’t follow through on that. I have a few notes scribbled in one of my scribblebooks that I’d intended as some of the bits of wisdom, and I stumbled across those on Sunday morning. Of course, those are only three years old or so, and they already strike me much the same way that my high school rants at my dad would, if I still had those.

And I think that would be a big part of the message. It’s amazing how much we change, from day to day, and I think that’s one of the most awesome things about writing, about setting down, at one time, a whole world, that may seem entirely alien when we look back on it tomorrow. Because we carry our memories with us, and modify them, in subtle ways, to match the world we’re living in now. It’s nice to have something, some hint or snapshot, showing the world as it was, then.

It can be embarrassing. It can be really embarrassing. But that’s part of the process, innit? That’s the price a writer pays, to do this remarkable thing.