Doctor of Bullshit
Nick’s father gets a degree from a diploma mill, the august Westham University. He insists on being called Doctor X, doctor of nutrition management.
Nick finds this all laughable. Pathetic. His father is trying to redefine things, create a narrative predicated on perfidy. A man respected for his title. Doctor. The apotheosis of prestige and privilege.
The truths: Westham is an empty diploma mill in West Virginia. Take me home, country roads, full of crap.
His father cares little for truth. Facts. Or for nutrition management. He lies about his life, his expertise. He has a never ending coterie of women whose minds he manipulates, whose bodies he values and discards. The father seeks solace in laziness, lying astride a couch, playing with himself. Dictating orders to those around him. Namely Nick, the twenty-something college student. Nick’s age, station matter little to the father.
Nick is a young nascent writer, a college graduate. But to his father, he is just a gofer. A gofer whom his father was responsible for conceiving. Of course, he’s also a gofer with his mother’s sickening moral attitudes. Ethics. Nick’s father reminds him of this, tells Nick that ethics didn’t earn a degree.
Use people, he says, voice a nasal growl, as if this is the chorus to some sick song. He repeats this chorus the day he receives his diploma in the mail.
His father keeps relishing his victory, talks of opening his own nutritional center with this degree. He thinks of commodities valuable and insidious: Vanity. Recognition. Competition vanquished.
Nick likes the art of creation. Of human enjoyment of art. Whether it’s his stories, or paintings, or music.
His father is a master of creating dreck. He moves the diploma around, tries to get the empty and hollow diploma mill to bind his thesis in book format. His laughable thesis.
The truth: Nick earned that degree. He did his father’s homework. His father couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands, a flashlight, and a probe. Nick did his father’s homework, fettered by guilt, father’s words a fusillade: Bad son. Do your duty. Daddy loves you. Father a narcissist, who swung between charm and rage, jollity and Herculean fury.
Good son. Bad son. Selfish. Senseless dreamer.
Nick has relished the moments of jollity, cowered during the tempestuous lectures that rose from his father’s mustache, a creature in and of itself.
Meanwhile, Nick tries to create. To flee the father. He applies to MFA programs, ensconces himself in the tender prose he’s written for years. His father asks no questions, save for telling Nick that he is crippling his father’s dreams. Spend less time on writing, he proclaims, without thought.
Nick keeps writing. Nick considers telling his father this truth about the diploma mill. A good son would. But he’ll never be his father’s notion of the good son, a toady. A meek loser. But he needs simply to survive, to hang on, a day by day process. If he can survive a day sans a lecture, he’s in bliss.
His father lives on in his dreamworld.
His father hangs his diploma prominently above the fireplace. Of course, he tells Nick to discard his dreams first. He brags of his feat to his friends, even as Nick reads on and on about this diploma mill. He derives an innate pleasure knowing this school is as valuable as a three-dollar bill. It’s a power he can hold over his father, store for the right occasion.
Of course, Nick figured out that his father would live these cycles in perpetuity. No change, no metamorphosis from anger into parental love. No transformation into something stable and whole and tender.
If only he’d known years ago, a thousand tears dried, a thousand angry words uttered, dissolved in the dustbin of his history.
His father keeps clinging to paper moons of illusion.
Nick’s father rents a cap and gown. He needs good graduation pictures, he says. He needs not speak the real reasons. The pictures add prestige, grace, verve. They’re a fig leaf for perfidy.
Nick tries to extract himself from the situation. He gets called bad son again, submits after a fight, after words are issued. Bad son, I should disown you, the phrases spilling from his father’s mouth, as they have before. Familiar. His father’s lecture leaves him wounded like a man on a train track, body parts severed, needing reattachment. Nick just needs peace, tenderness, love. What’s to lose? His father is the one digging his own hole of lies. It’s cold pragmatism, giving in, but soon enough Nick will say adieu to that.
Nick keeps striving for his own success. Each word he writes is more than an emotional note. It’s a means of escape, a combination that he must crack. Which school will accept his combination? Which school will promise him liberation from his mustachioed Pharaoh of a father. He tries to imagine himself, successful. Living a life that is not predicated on father’s orders, but on his own ordered needs and wants. Love, friendship, creation.
Nick takes pictures of his father in august settings, concealing his reluctance. The state Capitol building steps. In the gardens next to the old train depot. Nick takes the pictures, while laughing, watching this scene unfold. His own life is still to be unfurled. He is young, his father aging like the leaves on the vast oak trees, turning to flame. Nick imagines something true and real, snapping the pictures. He imagines himself a year from now, two years from now, somewhere far from his father. Someone new and different. Someone in a writing program, in a state full of energy and joy. Not like this place, where people ride the buses wearing reserve and misery like their worn-out parkas.
He imagines himself making new friends, being able to create a life of his own, all the while snapping pictures of his father. Cap turned in one direction, and another. Tassels visible. Diploma in his father’s hand, of course. A mighty fortress is my father’s lies.
Nick hopes his own life can come into being. He doesn’t want to pretend, to create his own life in the dells of his consciousness. A life he doesn’t have yet. To dream seems so pathetic and putrid sometimes. Dreamers can be great artists and they can be the users, the abusers.
Nick hopes beyond hope, taking picture after picture of his father, his mustache bristling over a victory without shape or substance.
He hopes, but hope isn’t enough.