Book cover
A Memoir of my Father
Alysia Abbott

I spotted this book on a promo table at a book store in San Francisco and I suppose I was taken in by the striking cover, and because you know, like, I’m a father of girls. I didn’t really know anything about it, but I added it to my list. I’ve just finished listening to the audiobook, well-read by the author.

Abbott is a little older than me, but not much, and so the story of her childhood was striking when compared to my own. The wider geopolitical beats around the story sound familiar, but the lived experience is entirely distinct. At times I felt so sorry for this little girl who seemed to so desperately need a little more love and attention. And in other places I found myself a little jealous of such an open relationship with such an open father, a man who knew how to express himself clearly. At one point he tells her, in a letter, to be honest. And he uses this evocative line: “Secretiveness = loneliness.” It feels like something I should tattoo on my arm. (I will not…)

Abbott tells her story with skill. You can see, and smell, and taste the world she grew up in. And by using her father’s apparently copious diaries as a source, the memoir is chock-full of details and dialog that gives it currency. I was fully drawn in, rooting for Abbott. As for her father, we know from the start that he is destined to die from complications of AIDS. But I couldn’t help but root for him too. And in a way he triumphs despite his fatal illness. At one point her father writes, “AIDS is neither a curse nor a blessing: it just is.” There’s a zen acceptance here which, by accepting his powerlessness, paradoxically empowers him. It is a moving and uplifting moment in a memoir full of such moments.