The Legacy of Nagasaki: Contradictions from my father’s past
At the end of this article is a lightly edited version of an essay on The Legacy of Nagasaki, first published in the De Moines Register on August 9, 1989, on the 44th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki — my 41st birthday. Another essay, “The Legacy of Nagasaki, Redux,” is in progress.
At the time I wrote the first essay I was just beginning to have glimmerings of my father’s treacherous betrayal of a child’s innocent trust, but I shoved that aside for a few more years, believing I had to finish my dissertation first. I was afraid what might come up in therapy would thoroughly distract me from finishing, and I was up against a deadline. I had to finish it by June 1994, or I would have to re-take my comprehensive exams. As it happened, I could not finish until after I began to come to terms with contradictions between my idealized version of my father and the reality I could no longer avoid.
That exploration began in the fall of 1992, when I went into therapy to find better ways of coping with the stress of my teaching job and the necessity of completing my dissertation. In the process of that therapy my world fell apart in early 1993. I submitted the final version of my dissertation (having defended it in October 1993), on the last day I taught at SUNY Brockport in early May, 1994. As I was being wheeled out of the building on a gurney and taken to the hospital for a medical/psychological evaluation, I handed the envelope containing my final corrections to my department chair and asked him to express mail it my graduate college. I was on the verge of complete emotional and physical collapse. I did not teach nor work for pay in any capacity for more than a year afterward.
The September after “The Legacy of Nagasaki,” was published in The Register, I read Louise DeSalvo’s biography of Virginia Woolf, Virginia Woolf: The Impact of Childhood Sexual Abuse on Her Life and Work.” In it, DeSalvo examines the impact of Woolf’s experience of sexual abuse at the hands of her half brothers. DeSalvo says that Woolf’s suicide can be directly connected to her terror over the rise of Hitler in Europe, representing to Woolf the abject powerlessness she had in the household where she grew up — not just because of her half-brothers, but because of…