Remembrances of a willfully forgotten past

by YES! Staff

Jeff Laughlin

Willful ignorance destroys emotions. Or is it ignorant willfulness that creates emotions? Are both true? Vice versa?

After years of confusing the two, I unwittingly defined their roles recently.

Willful ignorance means obfuscating reality with booze and entertainment — a daunting task since most methods of muddling lead to re-examining or mirroring the reality I intended to avoid.

Ignorant willfulness, as legendarily ascribed to humanity when Thomas Gray penned the phrase “ignorance is bliss” in 1747, arrived blindly drunk in a bar bathroom. I stumbled headlong into its meaning.

I should explain. March 3 marked my father’s birthday. He would have been 64 had he not died in 2010. Willful ignorance of this date led me to binge drink and stumble around from venue to venue.

Through a belabored screening of John Dies at the End, a viewing of the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra in two formats, several bars, some post-drinking drinking, band practice and a few basketball games, I ran roughshod over the weekend without really considering the weight of the date.

I very rarely argued with my father, mostly over politics. His arguments bordered between satire and willful ignorance — a cross between Jonathan Swift and Bill O’Reilly. When Elian Gonzales arrived in America in 2000, he was a 7-year-old illegal immigrant whose mother had died fleeing Cuba. I expressed sympathy and my dad coldly asked, “Who’s paying for that kid to stay in America?” I argued until I was red-faced before finally he revealed his likeminded sympathies to Gonzales.

Nowadays, despite his absence, I still argue with him. Anytime I read an article, I can hear him: “Who’s going to pay for that?” “Whose responsibility is that, exactly?” Once, when drunk, he admitted that Bill Clinton was a good president — or more correctly that he “wasn’t that bad”— something he immediately, vehemently denied saying. I wanted to put the Clinton quote on his headstone, but I figured that would seem bitter.

My old boss once told me, “That’s the day we all grow up, when our father dies.” He was right, though he knew nothing of willful ignorance. How could he? His father left him a successful bookstore in New York City. Mine left me unanswerable questions and a house that turned into someone else’s extermination business.

Ignorant willfulness kept me up until daylight. How could I have forgotten why I was so intent on forgetting what day it was? I was floating over my father’s recent passing rather than discussing or embracing it. By the time I passed from ignorant willfulness to willful ignorance, I realized neither was important. My actions were restless fits and starts. Once I struck remembrance in a bar bathroom, resistance was futile.

I cannot overemphasize the reaction a man can have to looking in the mirror and seeing vomit in his beard. It’s akin to the moment you realize you locked your keys in your car. The main difference is the vomit in your beard.

This incited memories, though. My wandering mind proved paramount to remembering 14-year-old me, the time when my dad handed me $300. With my eyes bright, he snatched it away to tell me he had to give that money to a judge for child support. He told me if I had a kid before I wanted to, I’d be doing the same thing my whole life.

“We planned you,” he said, “so I don’t mind… much.”

I washed the puke off my face and remembered standing outside to drink beer one Christmas because his second wife no longer approved of beer at Christmas. I laid down until sunrise and remembered the mask he used to wear to scare my sister and the particularly awful way he drove in traffic.

I remembered his coaching style: part Bobby Knight, part Jim Valvano. When I played for him, I got all the benefits Bobby Knight’s son — especially the time I called him a bastard under my breath and he heard me.

Before I realized it was March 3, I didn’t know why I was so unhappy. I used ignorant willfulness to push away emotions, but willful ignorance brought them to the forefront. Ignorance is bliss, but intended consequence cannot supplant memory or emotion. Production of memory can neither be created nor destroyed, and therein lies the definition — willful ignorance enhances emotionality while ignorant willfulness creates the opportunity to do so.

My dad would know how to ignore all this. I miss him.