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An Open Invitation

By Andrew McCarthy

My father died this year. No one who knew us would have said we were close. He and my mother divorced thirty years ago, shortly after I had left our New Jersey home to pursue my life. Not long after that he remarried suddenly and settled in a small costal town in Maine to restart his own life.

“Good” my brothers and I joked, “That ought be enough distance for everyone.”

Over the next few decades my dad and I saw each other rarely. We spoke only occasionally. Yet when we did, he always invited me up to Maine.

“An open invitation, Pal,” he would shout into the phone. “It’s glorious here. Come on up.”

I would demure, and the strain of a scarred past and an unrealized present would rise up quickly. Rather than shine light on what was and wasn’t there, we rushed off the line and back to our individual lives.

As my own children grew, they began asking why they had never met Grandpa—I could give them no reason good enough, so one summer morning we set out for Thomaston.

On that lone trip north we were received graciously, if tentatively. My kids loved meeting their grandfather and his wife. I found it odd that scattered around his home were long forgotten relics from my childhood—a chair, a small painting of a boat, a bookcase. “How had these things gotten here, into this strange house,” I thought to myself as I wandered from room to room.

While pleasant, our brief visit didn’t engender a passion in either of us to bridge whatever gap the years had etched.

Then last winter I heard my father was sick—dying—in South Carolina where he and his wife had gone to wait out a particularly bad New England freeze. He had been sent home from the hospital to a home that was not theirs.

I surprised myself and boarded a plane in order to be by his bed. He was at times eerily lucid. I said to him things one says at the bedside of the dying—truthful, loving things. Tears stained both our cheeks. I left him there and returned home to work. The next weekend he was hanging on, and I went again to him. He was remote now, nearly gone. There was no conversation. Each massive effort required for his intermittent breath brought him only closer to death. I held his hand and whispered to him.

I was lucky to bear witness to the passing of the man I knew so deeply but not at all. We had not washed clean our past, but set down its burden in order to share a present that was oh so final— yet can the business between parent and child ever be final?

Lately, I find myself growing more and more eager to accept his open invitation and return to Maine.


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Tuesday, March 28 at 7pm Barnes & Noble Union Square In conversation with Gayle Forman 33 E. 17th St., New York, NY 10003 Wednesday, March 29 at 7pm Barnes & Noble Vernon Hills Shopping Center 680 Post Rd., Eastchester, NY 10583 Thursday, March 30 at 7pm Books & Greetings 271 Livingston St., Northvale, NJ 07647 Saturday, April 1 Texas Teen Book Con | Houston, TX Sunday, April 2 Alamo Drafthouse | Austin, TX Monday, April 3 at 7pm Books, Inc Opera Plaza Not Your Mother’s Book Club 601 Van Ness Ave., San Francisco, CA 94107 Tuesday, April 4 at 7pm Book Passage 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA 94925 Wednesday, April 5 at 8pm Live Talks LA In conversation with Pico Iyer Ann and Jerry Moss Theatre, New Roads School 3131 Olympic Blvd., Santa Monica, CA 90404 Thursday, April 6 at 7pm Elliott Bay Books 1521 10th Ave., Seattle, WA 98122 Friday, April 7 at 7pm Powell’s Books 3415 SW Cedar Hills Blvd., Beaverton, OR 97005 Sunday, April 9 at 5pm Politics & Prose 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20008 Monday, April 10 at 7pm Boswell Books 2559 N. Downer Ave., Milwaukee, WI 53211 Tuesday, April 11 at 7pm The Book Stall at Chestnut Court In conversation with Betsy Bird 811 Elm St., Winnetka, IL 60093 Wednesday, April 12 at 7pm Talk of the Stacks Series Hennepin County Library Minneapolis Central Library 300 Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis, MN 55401 Thursday, April 13 at 6:30pm Parnassus Books Hillsboro Plaza Shopping Center 3900 Hillsboro Pike #14, Nashville, TN 37215 Tuesday, April 18 at 6:30pm Rainy Day Books At Woodneath Library 8900 N. Flintock Rd., Kansas City, MO 64157 Wednesday, April 19 at 7pm St. Louis County Library With The Novel Neighbor 1640 S. Lindbergh Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63131 Thursday, April 20 at 7pm Georgia Center for the Book With Little Shop of Stories Dekalb County Public Library 215 Sycamore St., Decatur, GA 30030 Friday, April 21 at 7pm Books & Books 265 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL 33134 Tuesday, April 25 at 7pm Barnes & Noble Market Fair, 3535 US-1 #400, Princeton, NJ 08540 Wednesday, April 26 at 7pm Brookline Booksmith 279 Harvard St., Brookline, MA 02446 Monday, May 1 at 7pm Darien Library In conversation with Dani Shapiro 1441 Post Rd., Darien, CT 06820