Columbia College Fiction Writing Department

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Ben Tanzer

Ben Tanzer is the author of the recently released novel Lucky Man. Click here for more info.

No one sets out to ruin their child's life. Things happen, bad decisions are made. We always want the best for our children, however. They should be happy, content, and successful, though maybe not as successful as we are. That said, I love my son Scottie very much and I want to say this publicly, here in this full-page ad. Variety, I know.

I am writing today to defend myself against the accusations laid-out in Scottie's memoir, Daddy Dreariest, and I have decided that a point-by-point refutation of some of the many troubling assertions cited within the narrative is the right course of action.

I write this with love, of course, and I do so with the belief that one day this action will lead us to reconcile. I also do so with the hope that one of my old friends in the business will read this message and look to option it, because I believe it's a great story for the right guy in need of a little mid-career resurrection. Think of it is as Kafka's "Letter to His Father" meets Good Will Hunting, and picture Bruce Willis in the lead. It will be brilliant.

Now, on to the book.

On page seven you write that I slept with your third-grade teacher, causing you and our family untold embarrassment and trauma. First, let's talk semantics. I never slept at your teacher's house, nor did she sleep at ours. There was no sleeping. Now, did two lonely people, one of whom was smoking hot, come together after said hottie may or may not have pursued the vulnerable and lonely parent of a pathologically difficult student and future memoirist after a late-night parent-teacher conference and approximately 22 shots of tequila? Maybe, but it didn't mean anything to said parent, nor should it to said child. It was never intended to happen in public, in broad daylight, or during the time period when students are dropped off at school. It also wasn't that good. And again, to be clear, there was no sleeping.

On page 21 you describe how I chose to dress you like a girl until you were seven years old. To start, you should blame your mother for this. I know she is no longer here to defend herself, but I don't think it's inappropriate to say that you can safely blame her for any and all problems you have with me or your upbringing. Now, it's true that we dressed you as a girl. It's also true that from birth you seemed, shall we say, a little effete to me, but there are a number of important reasons for her decision to dress you as we did. One, times were different then, it was the early 90s, and I cannot begin to explain how liberated we all felt in terms of bending the rules and fighting convention. I also cannot explain why we smoked so much crack, but we did and we got ideas, sorry. Second, Ernest Hemingway's parents dressed him as a little girl and look how well he turned out. Have you read As I Lay Dying, it's genius, a masterpiece, and you cannot deny the connection there? Finally, I knew I wasn't going to be around to raise you, but I still wanted you to grow up to be a man. We could have named you Sue, but that would have been so cliché. Meanwhile, I ask you to think about that fistfight we had just last month outside your book signing in Santa Monica -- do you think you could have beat me to within an inch of my life if we hadn't done what we did? Fuck no, and no need to thank me.

On page 97 you state that I killed your mother. Do you mean that literally or figuratively? I would remind you that I was cleared of that suspicious fire in 1995, the cut brake line in her car in 1999, and most important the alleged arsenic thing in 2002. People like your mother are born under a dark cloud and you cannot deny that something like that is genetic and has nothing to do with me. Bad things happen to all of us, though, and when they do we have to buck up and move on. I know I've tried to, and I will do so again despite these allegations. Now, you might be looking to imply that I somehow contributed to your mother's death in a more psychic or even spiritual manner, and that's more complicated. Can one's years of rampant adultery, drug abuse, narcissism, prison stays, insecurities, paranoia, and jealousy contribute to the death of their significant other's soul? Sure, but does the fact that all these examples apply to me mean I'm guilty of what you're suggesting? I don't think so. I've thought about it, I feel OK with my behavior, and so the answer is no. Next.

On page 134 you say that you've always wanted to believe that your real father was a prince. I take this to mean some hero type who is prepared to ride in on a proverbial white horse and save you from a universe gone wrong, correct? I also assume that you feel that I never filled that role. Let's be clear, though, while I know that this is a metaphor and that your likely father is not a prince, that doesn't mean he might not have been The Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or Willie Stargell, or even former vice president Walter Mondale. I wouldn't go so far as to say that your mother and I were on a break when she became pregnant with you or even that we had an open marriage, but I would say that your mom was kind of a whore. There. Now, I know that if she were a man, and there were many times I fantasized that she was, she might have been celebrated for her endless series of extramarital bedroom conquests. I also know that this double standard isn't right, but the fact is she wasn't a man, and so what she did was whorish by any definition. I know that's hard to hear, but I'm sorry -- society determines these kinds of labels, not you or me. Now you know the truth, let's call a spade a spade, and I hope that doesn't offend anyone.

On page 200 you say that I forced you to become a child performer, live out my dreams, and support the family. This is a loaded statement. Can anyone truly make anyone else do anything they don't want to do? And yes, I say this recognizing your age and size at the time, as well as my unpredictable bursts of rage. Still, say for the sake of argument a father could force his son to do something he didn't want to. You can't tell me that despite the manic behavior, the forced smiles, and the desperate cries for help, you didn't seem happy then. You write that you were crying inside, that you were high all the time, that you had only Harvey Weinstein to confide in. Yet, while all that might be true, you never said anything. You write that you didn't feel you could say anything due to the intense pressure you felt as a seven-year-old supporting a family of eleven. And to that I say yes, there was a lot of pressure, but everyone needed to pull their weight. We had to eat, didn't we? Where did all that money go? you ask. Is it true that I blew much of it on alcohol, limos, hookers, and high-end hotels? Possibly, but I was your manager, and I did what I thought I had to do. Do you think roles in American Pie Four -- The Next Generation grow on trees? Where is the rest of the money? It's hard to know exactly, but I wish you could ask your mom, because, to be honest, she was a thief. Ask anyone.

Ultimately, of course, this all boils down to your most malicious assertion and the overriding theme of your book -- I wasn't there for you -- something I think is very tricky to prove. Are we talking literally not there for you, a la cats-in-the-cradle physically not there for you, or figuratively, a la The Great Santini emotionally not there for you? Either way, I guess I feel bad about this. I blame society, of course, for creating an image of fatherhood that no one can live up to, and I blame myself a little, I know made mistakes. I always had a weakness for redheads, and maybe if your mom had dyed her hair red like I asked...well, who knows? To be honest, though, I mostly blame you and your unrealistic expectations, mopey looks, and endless haranguing. Parents have lives too, and I never felt you accepted that. If you could have, maybe we might have reached some kind of understanding, found some happiness in the little moments, and moved on, making the need for a 14-year-old to write such a book unnecessary.

So call me, please. Sorry about the injunction I'm requesting. We'll do lunch at Nate and Al's, and it'll be just like the old days. We'll nosh, we'll laugh, and we'll talk about the role of the father in that new movie you're attached to, because I have to tell you, I think I'd be perfect for it.