On May 18th my first book saw the light. It’s called Where Do I Fit In? A New Yorker in Never-never City (http://www.editorialconfluencias.com/que-pinto-yo-aqui/). I’m translating from Spanish. The book, published in the media and language of the country where I’ve lived for the last nine years, Spain, is about what I am, a foreigner going about my business as a father, husband, son-in-law, neighbor, citizen, consumer, and tax-payer in my adoptive city, Seville. One of the reasons I call it Never-never City is that I never ever would have thought I’d end up there, defining my life by it, describing, analyzing, praising, and criticizing it, to both boos and acclaim. Two critics have called it a love story, and I think that’s accurate, because I really do love the place, although not blindly. I’m attracted to it as much for its beauty as for its ugliness, as much for its defects as for its virtues. But there are Sevillians who don’t want this love story. They don’t think I should be allowed to love their city the way I love it. Or if I have to love it that way, they think I should keep my thoughts to myself. One respected Sevillian bookseller deliberately doesn’t have my book in her store. “If you’re part of my family and you tell me my sister is arrogant, okay, I’ll tolerate that. But, if you’re not a member of my family and you call my sister arrogant, I feel obliged to stand up for her,” she said to me. To this woman and other Sevillians of her ilk, I am not the city’s adopted son, but a pretender. I’m an author who’s usurped a birthright, their birthright. My book should be eliminated from the shelves.
One month and a day after my book was published, my 10,000-word autobiographical essay, “My Darlings,” came out in the Human Life Review (http://humanlifereview.com/darlings-autobiographical-essay/). The editor, Maria McFadden Maffucci, described it as “a devastatingly honest personal account . . . about the (two very different) abortions of [my] children, about [my] life as a writer living and having a family in Spain, and [my] relationship with [my] father.” Put more abstractly, it’s about all that my abortions have meant and continue to mean to me, how they’re present in almost everything I do, and how I wouldn’t want it any other way, although I’m not sure I’ve learned very much from my mistakes. Maria believes the essay might serve to counter the “lack of attention movement-wide to the stories of the fathers of aborted children.” The italics are hers, and are well chosen. It occurs to me that I might have called it Where Do I Fit In? A Father in No-no City.
While I came upon the material of my book by accident, living in a city I never thought I would live in, I came upon the material of my essay by mistake. There’s a difference. You’ll agree that, in the context of abortion, the terms “adopted son,” “usurped birthright,” and “eliminated” take on graver, perhaps even depressing connotations. A severe-minded critic might say, “How dare this guy write about his aborted children and all they’ve meant and mean to him, if he happily acquiesced to aborting them? All the rest is self-pity.” That critic might have a point. Self-pity certainly plagues me. In “My Darlings” I chose to struggle with it out in the open, both as a literary theme and a personal temptation, hoping to transcend it in the process, knowing that if I tried to mask it with self-effacing irony or clipped stoicism, I would write a lie. What’s more, I’m convinced that self-pity is what kept me from the truth for so long—the truth about myself and what I did. For so many years, I needed my act to be of cosmic significance. The gravity of the decision I’d made—or was an accomplice in—and how bad it made me appear to myself, also filled me with a dour yet smug self-importance. Finally, I had participated in the great sins of fallen man. Nobody could take that away from me. Or so I thought. Over time, it was taken away. Like any petty vanity, now it just comes and goes.
Which brings me back to Maria wanting to give voice to the fathers of aborted children. If the reader will allow me to speak generally, I think we fathers of aborted children should be heard, not despite having felt the loss of our children less than the mothers have, but because we felt it less, and therefore are less likely to wallow in the stagnating self-aggrandizement that is self-pity, or, as my passionately atheist and pro-abortion friend Rick puts it, “self-flagellation.” The crime didn’t occur in me, after all. In an act of cowardice and weakness, I helped snuff out life, yes, but passively, not actively. I don’t and didn’t feel the violation and then vacuum literally in my gut. My act weighs on my conscience, yes, but not terribly so, not so much as to believe I’m special—that is, better or worse than any other human being on earth, parent of aborted child or no. Life goes on in the shadow of my act, and, to be honest, sometimes that shadow feels like a living flame of love, making me dream of changing the world. “My Darlings” was written, in part, to encourage the parents of aborted children to accept this living flame as a blessing, whether they think they deserve it or not, because it’s the humblest thing to do. After all, thinking our way—our bodies, our plans, our vision of the world—should hold sway over everything else is what got us into this mess in the first place.
Portions of “My Darlings” were drawn from my book. The two works not only overlap in content, but in attitude. A different way to sum up “My Darlings” might be to say that it’s about what I am: a killer going about my business as a father, husband, son, writer, neighbor, citizen, believer, and dreamer in my adoptive city, Absolution. It’s a pleasant city to live in, although there are those who say I don’t belong. Yet I celebrate my belonging with thousands of words. I can see how that might rankle with circles that are out to suppress any truths that don’t fit in with their beliefs (“He’s not satisfied with whining from the hilltops, ‘I’m an accomplice!,’” my severe-minded critic might say, “he’s also got to assuage consciences, the only existing corrective force in this holocaust”). But the insistence to live on, to leave a mark, whether wanted or unwanted, opportune or inopportune, innocent or guilty, is the nature of the beast, or of the darling. Call it what you will.
Where do fathers fit in? Perhaps the only thing feminists and reverse sexists agree on is that we men should keep our thoughts and feelings to ourselves on all issues involving female parts or biological processes. The feminists, who consider men the eternal adversary, want us to bow out for their sake; they want to protect their territory. The reverse sexists, who consider men eternal children, want us to bow out for our sake; to protect us from what we can’t possibly understand. When it comes to the birthing or aborting of our children, all we fathers can really do is put in or withhold our two cents, and then hold or release a clammy hand. Women are burdened with the brunt of the issue, and should have the final say, up to a point. Twice, I washed my hands of my unwanted children while they were still in the womb. In other words, I’ve failed on two occasions to provide solidarity and support for the mothers of my children in their moment of truth, and the price has been life. But that doesn’t make my two cents worth less. Perhaps it makes it worth more. So I’m going to put it in without reservations or apologies, because it might just tip the balance—toward life or toward peace.
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John Julius Reel is an American writer and English teacher living in Seville, Spain. In May (2014) he published his first book, ¿Qué pinto yo aquí? Un neoyorquino en la ciudad de nunca jamás (Where do I fit in? A New Yorker in Never-never City.) Only one other accomplishment makes him feel prouder: his two home-schooled, bilingual sons.