Arts & Culture

The Power of Three

My friend Tyson believes in something he calls the Power of Three, which sounds like some New Age mumbo jumbo, but actually makes some sense when you listen. The premise is that when you get three distinct signs (that’s the … Read More

By / December 4, 2008

My friend Tyson believes in something he calls the Power of Three, which sounds like some New Age mumbo jumbo, but actually makes some sense when you listen. The premise is that when you get three distinct signs (that’s the only word that comes to mind, sorry) leading you to the same conclusion, you need to take action. So, essentially, my friend believes in what the rest of us might call Common Sense.

I’ve heard all about his theory before, but Tyson has a notoriously bad memory, and recently as we were driving over to Tampa, he repeated his theory about the Power of Three (or POT as I call it), and attempted to apply it to whether or not he should move. I have to admit that I wasn’t paying close attention during the conversation. It’s not that I don’t find him interesting–he is sometimes–but I was distracted, and when he brought up POT, I found myself linking what I thought were simple coincidences together. I present the coincidences here for your consideration. If you have time, would you take a look and then tell me what the universe wants me to do. 

Seemingly Random Instance Number One:

I had just finished reading aloud three sections from Dumbfounded for a bookstore audience. There were maybe forty people in the audience, and I remember thinking that seemed like a lot for a town where I had no connection. Maybe this is why I allowed myself to relax and have some fun. When I do these readings I generally read the same three sections, short excerpts from different chapters, so the audience gets a good flavor for the book. I’ve rehearsed and timed them; it takes about twenty minutes. Then there’s time for questions. 

The last section I read from is a chapter called "Jude the Obscure", and it’s the first really pivotal chapter in my book. It’s the chapter where I learn, conclusively, that my life up until that point had been a lie. A well-orchestrated lie told for my protection, but a lie nonetheless. It’s also the first non-funny chapter, and the first chapter where the reader gets formally introduced to my mother Jude. So I finish reading the chapter and it’s time for questions.

I’m expecting some questions about my mother, especially since this last bit I read was about her. People always ask about her. I’ve come to rely on it. But something strange happens this time, which is why it’s lodged itself in my mind. A man raises his hand and I call on him. 

"What about your father?" he asks. 

"My mother?" I say, thinking I must have misheard him. I said nothing about my father in the reading.

"No, your father. Where is he?"

How the hell do I know? That’s what I want to say, but I don’t. Instead I explain that my father checked out before I was born. I never had to ask about him, because somehow I got the impression that he had slipped into the world of unmentionables.

"So you’ve never tried to contact him?" the man asks.

"No," I say, "it must sound strange, but I never really thought of that as an option. I guess if I were young today it would have been easier, what with the Internet, but I never really thought about trying. Somehow that seems disrespectful to my grandparents. They were the ones who raised me when both my biological parents developed Peter Pan syndrome."

The man didn’t seem completely satisfied with my answer, and I have to admit that I wouldn’t have been either. What I didn’t tell him was that if I’d kept on reading from "Jude the Obscure" I would have come to the part where my mother tells her friend that my biological father didn’t know I existed. I have spent some time thinking about this twist in my story, but I know my mother is prone to exaggeration to garner sympathy and I’m not sure she wasn’t lying. Certainly she never said this to me, but I also never asked her about my father.

So maybe it was the shock of the man’s question that night–I swear in a dozen other readings before nobody had asked about my father- but for the first time I began thinking about my father.

Oddly Coincidental Instance Number Two:

I’m driving down the road a few days after that reading from Incident Number One and my friend Rebecca calls me. Her book club had read my book, and she wanted me to know that it was a hit. She says that the ladies (it’s a girls only affair) were disappointed that I didn’t attend because they had lots of questions. Instead they directed their questions at Rebecca, and she did her best to answer them. I asked what kind of questions

"Oh, things like What happened after the book ended to make you want to teach? Whether you and your mother patched things up. But then something came up that I didn’t know how to answer…They wanted to know about your father."

Again with this? It’s not like I claim to be the product of Immaculate Conception in Dumbfounded. It says very clearly "my father left, never to be heard from again." It’s no mystery. But I asked her to explain the line of questioning.

"I guess it wasn’t a question. It was more that some people wondered if things would have been different if your father had been around. And they couldn’t understand how you could brush him off in a few sentences." 

At first I was insulted. Didn’t he brush me off? And for as much as I know, he’s never written a book, so I’m not even a footnote in his story! But I was also insulted for my grandparents. Like, really insulted. For someone to insinuate that a totally absent entity could do a better job than my grandparents, who willingly gave up their Golden Years to chase around the little shit that was me, is beyond comprehension. Then I realized that’s probably not what the book club meant, and that it was a reasonable enough question. I also thought back to that twist in my story where my mother says my father never knew. I wondered if he did know, or if he was out there somewhere completely unaware.

The seed of doubt.

Okay, Seriously? Instance Number Three:

So I haven’t told anybody about this yet.

Maybe three days after that conversation with Rebecca, I got an email from a woman who had read about my book in the Washington Post. Something about the name sounded familiar and she went out and got the book and read it, and then she put somepieces together. She went to my website, found my email address, and wrote, "I know you don’t know me, but I think I might know you. I think we’re related."

Can you guess how? Well, continues the email, she remembers her mother telling her that before her father left their family, he became involved with some wealthy young woman. She goes on to write that her mother has passed away, and she can’t verify the name, but she believes the woman’s name was the same as mine and various other components of my story made sense to her as well. Small things, like my red hair. My first hair color was red; my father is Irish. Hers is, too. She has attached some pictures of the man in question. 

The pictures don’t really tell me much of anything. Everyone who has seen me recognizes that I look like my mother’s family. As my friend Michael commented a few days ago, every year I look more and more like a portrait of my ancestors. That or a Jewish mountain man, but only when I wake up.

Of course beyond the photos she’s been nice enough to include the name of her deadbeat father (for after he left her mother, he basically disappeared) and it is, in fact, the same as mine. I email her back and suddenly we’re conversing about a whole family I never knew I had. There’s a cousin who impersonates FDR for a living, uncles, aunts, and would I like to meet them? One uncle even thinks he knows where my father is…

So in the car last week with Tyson, his reference to the Power of Three got me thinking. I never tried to find my father before. What would have been the point? What good would it have done? But now I’m wondering, maybe it’s time. What do you think?

Matt Rothschild, author of Dumbfounded, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.