“How to Kill Your Father” Creative Nonfiction by Carol Claassen

Carol Claassen

How to Kill Your Father

  1. If you’ve never loved him enough to want to see him at the bottom of a hole so deep it cuts through the earth and funnels into a dead star, you don’t have enough skin in the game for this.

  2. Begin early, before you know what you’re doing, before you can even hold a pencil straight or spell the name of his favorite trees, the ones clustered in the Sierra Nevada where he likes to hike. Tell him, as a young child nestled against his chest, his arms wrapped around you, your eyelids fluttering, that you love him.

  3. Sit on his shoulders so that when you’re no longer small enough to fit, your absence weighs on him.

  4. After your parents divorce and you move with your mother across the country, he will bombard you with letters and postcards. Don’t write back until he’s nearly yelling on the phone about how rude it is to not respond. He didn’t raise you this way. Shrug into the receiver when he asks how school’s going. When you finally speak, let him hear your eight-year-old voice in pinches as minute as mosquito bites so that after you hang up, he itches for you.

  5. Tell him how much fun you have fishing with your mom’s new boyfriend. Tell him you’ll try to write when you can.

  6. After the third grade winter break at his place when he touches you while you sleep, write him from your kitchen table in Florida. Demand an apology. Use the word “please” like he taught you. Write him again when he doesn’t respond. Imply that despite your origins in his body – or because of them – he has no right to yours.

  7. When he asks if you’ll be joining your brother and sister for the annual vacation, the only time to see him, consider how he used four words to apologize instead of the two you asked for. Let’s move past this. Say yes. What’s a week every year or two? He knows you only enough to know you’re his daughter. When you see him, try not to gag when he looks at you, touches you, says your name. Reveal so little that by the end of the visit he knows less about you than he did at the start.

  8. Take your stepfather’s last name. In the rare instances you write to your father, press the letters of your new name so deep into the return address on the envelope, he can trace what’s not his with his eyes closed. Don’t tell him how much you’d give to have your old name back.

  9. Rinse, wash, repeat until you’re eighteen and he shows up at your high school graduation with promises of future trips, his arm, heavy as a redwood, wrapped around your back. Smile for his pictures. Say cheese while silently wishing he would fall off the face of the earth.

  10. When you’re nineteen he will disappear on a hiking trip and five years later be declared dead in absentia. Two years after that, his bones will be found at the base of a mountain, and you will inexplicably long for the broad stretch of his shoulders to once again carry you through the world. You’ll dream of him. His voice will haunt you. Even the sound of your own name will raise his ghost. Set down everything you remember. Wish him dead, again and again. Maybe someday you’ll finally bury him. 

Carol Claassen’s prose has been noted in The Best American Essays 2011, nominated for a Pushcart Prize, nominated for Best of the Net, awarded The Forge Flash Nonfiction Competition Prize, and is published or forthcoming in The Pinch, The Normal School, Fourth Genre, The Forge Literary Magazine, Pidgeonholes, and 3Elements Review. She is working on a memoir about her relationship with her father while riding out the pandemic in her mother’s basement in Easton, Pennsylvania.

This piece originally appeared in SAND 22.