At the engagement party my father must’ve been reminded of The Lake, as they had simply called it, or so I learned from his estranged brother because my father never mentioned it. The Lake was a Shangri-La owned by their Uncle Marv, and some weekends my father would drive over the Tappan Zee Bridge into Sullivan County, and once in a while he’d let his kid brother tag along. They’d stake their tent, hook worms and fish, hunt deer, and he was marvelous to be with — Just marvelous, his brother told me: The only place I ever saw that kid, your dad, at peace, absolutely at peace. Was there. They were hoping their father would buy The Lake from Marv, when Marv was old and selling, but their father couldn’t swing it. He’d launched a plumbing supply store that quickly foundered. So somebody wealthy bought The Lake and for some reason this taught my father a lesson. He was out of high school and working for his father by then, and it embarrassed him, the whole Irish Plumber thing. And without The Lake he lost interest in staking tents, hooking worms and fish. The hunt. He lost interest in his brother. He married my mother. And with her family money set out to establish himself as a successful corporation of one — computers, white-collar, self-made — and failed. And managed on his wife’s funds feigning work. His children could scarcely stand him and he didn’t seem to care. So when he met my fiancé’s father for the first time at that party, a corporate executive with a shock of salt-and-pepper, lake-adjacent woodland property and prestige cars, cigars, friends and affectionate progeny — it’s obvious why my father, and with him the rest of my family, refused to attend our wedding here the next year. There were other reasons, of course, but this is one of the more sympathetic explanations I have had cause to imagine.
Dan O’Brien is a poet, playwright, librettist, and essayist whose recognition includes a Guggenheim Fellowship and two PEN America Awards. His fourth poetry collection, Our Cancers (Acre Books), and an essay collection, A Story That Happens: On Playwriting, Childhood, & Other Traumas (Dalkey Archive Press / CB Editions in the UK), were published in 2021. He lives with his wife and daughter in Los Angeles.