Authors: Melanie Marchande
“He sent another one, asking how well I knew Daniel. I told him that professional courtesy prevented my going into details about my sources and the people I feature, and his next request was that I put him directly in touch with Daniel. I told him that I absolutely couldn’t do that, but if he had something to tell him, I could certainly do my best to pass the message along.
“At this point I figured I was going to get some kind of insane diatribe about Area 51 or something, but instead, he just repeated his plea to be put directly in touch with Daniel, saying that the subject he wanted to discuss with him was ‘private and important.’ He told me that he understood it was unorthodox, and that I had absolutely no reason to trust that he wasn’t a crazy stalker or someone who wanted to otherwise harass Daniel, but that I ‘just had to trust that he wasn’t.’ He wouldn’t respond to repeated requests for further clarification, and eventually, I told him that I absolutely couldn’t help him unless he told me exactly who he was, and why he needed to talk to Daniel.
“He was silent for a few hours, then responded, saying he wanted to speak over the phone. I have a few throwaway Skype numbers that I use for things like that, when I don’t want someone to actually be able to contact me after the fact, so I agreed.
“The voice wasn’t what I had imagined, at all. He sounded older, and very tired, and very sad. He told me that he’d once known Daniel personally, and that he wanted more than anything to ‘reconcile’ with him. When I asked him what he’d done that he needed to ‘reconcile’ about, he told me that he’d once disappeared out of Daniel’s life, a few years ago. He wanted to get to know him again. He wanted to get to know you. He wanted to ‘make things right.’”
I felt like my heart was resting on the bottom of my stomach.
“I told him I would do my best to explain the situation and see if Daniel would be interested in talking to him,” said Gen, softly. “But now you see…it’s insane, isn’t it? But all the pieces fit together. Daniel told me about what happened to his father - or about what he
happened to his father, and I know if I came to him with this, he’d just reject it out of hand. But I thought you might…” she sighed. “I don’t know what I thought, exactly. It could just as easily be a horrible prank or a ploy or something, but he hasn’t actually made any claims about his identity. I’m just putting the pieces together, as improbable as the outcome is.”
“Is it even possible?” I said, without thinking. I had no idea how Daniel’s father had actually died. The conversation simply hadn’t come up.
“It is,” said Gen. “It’s possible. Mr. Thorne was supposed to have drowned, on a fishing trip. In the ocean, no less. It’s almost too convenient. They never found a body.”
I shook my head. “I can’t believe I’m even considering this.”
“I couldn’t either,” said Gen. “But I just can’t shake this feeling that it’s important. I had to tell someone. And something told me you’d be a little more receptive to it, and could maybe pass it along if you think it’s worthwhile.”
“Sure,” I said, faintly. “Thanks for…all of that.”
I spent a long time sitting there after Gen left, just lost in thought. There was so much about this scenario that I didn’t know, or understand. Daniel’s father had died, or rather disappeared, just a few years after Daniel graduated college. At that point Daniel had already sold a few patents, and he and Lindsey were essentially supporting Mr. Thorne. He’d won the jackpot at a local casino during a fit of depression after his wife passed away, but he spent all of the money on college tuition for his kids.
What little I knew about old Mr. Thorne’s personality indicated he was a misanthrope, intensely difficult to be around, but completely without malice. He only ever wanted the best for Daniel and Lindsey; the problem was that he wanted to define their “best” for them. Once he became what he saw as “a burden” to them, maybe he just couldn’t take it anymore - maybe all he could think to do was quietly fade away, and become a ghost.
But now -
- he was back.
I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do.
I had the perfect opportunity, of course, to bring up the subject without it seeming out of place. I almost didn’t, but I couldn’t help myself.
“Describe your father in three words.”
Daniel looked up at me, slowly. We’d just sat down to another biography-note-taking session, and I don’t think he expected me to be so direct.
“Right down to business,” he said, at last, quietly.
“Take your time.” I smiled, encouragingly. I was pretty sure that I wasn’t letting any of the craziness swirling inside my head show.
He tapped his index finger against his upper lip for a while, in silence.
“Sad,” he said, at last. “Sad. Arrogant. Stubborn.”
“Why do you say ‘sad?’” I was writing gibberish on the paper.
He exhaled. “Even before my mother…got so sick, before she passed away, he was never happy. You could see it in his eyes. He wasn’t faithful to her either, and that tore him up after she was dead - she never found out, as far as I know. But he hated himself for doing it, and I think part of the reason why he hated himself so much was that he had no real reason for doing it. She wasn’t cruel, or neglectful, or withholding. But he couldn’t make himself love her. And he went everywhere he could, to find something that would make him feel all right.”
“Why do you say he didn’t love her?”
Daniel shrugged. “He might have said something along those lines once. I don’t remember.”
I could feel my brows knitting of their own accord. “Your father told you that he
“You make it sound so horrible.” He shifted in his chair. “I think one night he drank too much and he might have said something. About how he only stayed around for us kids. Something along those lines. Not that he particularly liked
, I don’t think, but he was legally obligated to love us.”
He smiled, but there wasn’t any humor behind it.
I considered my next move carefully. “Do you think he regretted it?”
Daniel ran his fingers through his hair. “If he did, he never made any attempt to apologize to us. He never tried to make it right.”
I hesitated for a moment. “Would you say that you and your father have different personalities?”
He smiled faintly. “I see what you’re driving at.”
Well, I seriously doubt that.
“Subtlety is a fine art,” he went on. “But not one you’ve ever quite mastered.”
“I don’t really think I’d describe you as ‘arrogant,’ I said. “Well - maybe. Sometimes. But sad? Stubborn? It was like you were looking in a mirror.”
“I don’t pretend that my father’s attitude and personality didn’t shape who I am today,” he said. “But we’re not the same. For one, I’m capable of understanding that people might have divergent points of view, and the ones who see things differently than I do aren’t automatically ‘wrong.’ And more than that, I think in larger terms than he was ever capable of.”
“Sometimes people get in a rut,” I said.
“I won’t argue that,” he replied. “But a twenty-year rut is at least worth examining, don’t you think? He never seemed to even think about the possibility of…” He stopped, looking at me. “You’re making a face.”
I shrugged, shaking my head.
“Look” he said, taking a distinctly patronizing tone that I didn’t like at all. “I know he stayed because he cared. I know he spent all that money on college for me and Lindsey so we’d have a better life. But if I sat you down and tried to tell you about what a saint your father was despite the way he treats you, you’d get defensive. It’s a natural reaction. I don’t know what you want me to do, or say. I love my father, and I miss him, but he was nothing but a source of stress and anxiety for me. I won’t say I’m glad he’s gone. But every time I make a decision, I hear his voice in my head telling me I’m going to fail. I know I don’t have to tell you what that feels like.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to…” I was inwardly kicking myself. This whole conversation had gone way off track.
“It’s fine,” he said. “Really. Don’t worry about it.”
Perhaps it was better to just be honest with him. But how on earth would I broach the subject? Gen was right - he’d reject the idea out of hand if it was presented to him as “some guy who might be your dad is trying to get in touch with you.” After all, his father was dead. Whether he was really dead or not didn’t seem to matter. He was dead to
I couldn’t blame him, really. I did know what it was like, and I understood the strange paradox of both loving your parents, and wishing they’d never speak to you again. Daniel’s father being gone - permanently - was simply the best thing for his mental health.
Then again, was it?
Every time I make a decision, I hear his voice in my head telling me I’m going to fail.
If this man was indeed his father, and if they could somehow reconcile…
These were awfully lofty thoughts, considering I didn’t even know the reality of the situation yet. I forced myself to come back down to earth.
“I understand you just want to get something interesting for the book,” Daniel was saying. “And you don’t want me to come across as a cold-hearted psychopath who doesn’t appreciate his own father. You can make something up, if it suits. Say I looked misty-eyed when I was talking about him.” He was smiling again.
“I’m sure people will understand,” I said. “I could also just avoid the topic entirely, if you want.”
“That might look odd.”
“Well, yeah.” I tucked the pen behind my ear. “It might.”
Excerpted from Daniel Thorne: A Life.
Christmas in the Thorne household was, in Daniel’s words, “surprisingly lavish.” Although it seemed the monthly bills would just keep piling up during the rest of the year, the holiday season always seemed like a small respite from all of it. There were fresh-baked gingerbread and sugar cookies, spiced cider, and even a tiny tree crammed into the corner of the their seven-foot-wide living room. Daniel remembers, with a smile on his face, sitting on his dad’s shoulders to pull the box of decorations down from the loft storage, and spending a whole day with his sister, decking out every corner of their home in tinsel and snowflakes.
One year, which Daniel places in time solely by “before my mother got sick,” all he wanted was a remote control car. His father grumbled, insisting they didn’t even have enough floor space for him to drive it around, insisting again and again that it was a silly, useless gift and that he wouldn’t waste his money on it. Rather than begging or crying, he diplomatically offered to forfeit his next few birthdays and Christmases if he could have what he wanted. But his father was firm, and his mother just shook her head while she pressed her palm down on the cookie cutters.
“I’m sorry, Danny. If Dad says no, the answer is no.”
Daniel recalls this being a common refrain. But his father’s whims were capricious; if he was caught in a good mood he might just as easily relent. At such a young age, he hadn’t yet learned to read his father’s moods and pick the best times to approach him with requests. Or, as Mr. Thorne would be more likely to describe them, “demands.”
On Christmas morning, Daniel was, of course, holding out hope. He didn’t believe in Santa - his father didn’t go in for that sort of thing - but a small part of him still thought maybe, somehow, there was a chance.
After opening endless packages of socks, sweaters, and underwear, he was beginning to feel that true sense of disappointment seeping in. Halfway through the gift opening, Daniel’s mother took a tray of sticky cinnamon buns out of the oven, but not even their sweet allure could pull Daniel away from his presents. He insisted on tearing into them all, one by one, until nothing was left.
There was no car.
Other boys his age might have thrown a tantrum, or cried on the kitchen floor while the rest of the family ate their breakfast in awkward silence. But instead, he lifted his chin high, thanked his parents for the gifts, and sat down to his plate of cinnamon rolls and glass of frosty milk without so much as a tear.
Later, after all the gifts had been put away, Daniel flopped down on his bed, having resigned himself to the idea that this was going to be a disappointing Christmas.
And that’s when he heard the whirring of a tiny, battery-operated engine.
He saw the car first. It was the exact model he’d asked for, the exact color, with a little bow on top. He leapt out of bed, shouting joyfully, while his mother watched from the kitchen, smiling.
His father walked into the room a moment later, grinning, with the remote control in hand.
He gave it to his son, saying, “this is for you, because you were such a good boy and you didn’t cry.”
Daniel remembers it, word for word, to this day.
Clearly, this was going to be harder than I thought.
It was odd. If I didn’t know that there was a possibility that Daniel’s father might still be out there somewhere, I’d have absolutely no compunctions about pulling out the hypothetical question: “what would you say to your dad if you could see him again?” But knowing what I knew, it just felt horribly wrong. I tried, on more than one occasion - I did - but the words turned to dust in my mouth.
The problem was that there was absolutely no way to be sure. Did he really never want to see his father again? Or was there some part of him that wanted reconciliation? There had to be, didn’t there?
At the same time, I knew better than anyone that a parental relationship can be absolutely toxic. My own father was so set in his ways, and so firmly convinced of his wrongheaded ideas about me, that there was seemingly no way I could communicate with him. Maybe it would be the same between Daniel and his father. All I could do was guess. I’d never met the man.
What I knew secondhand wasn’t terribly flattering. But he’d been gone for so long. Maybe he’d changed.
Then again, he seemed to have only come out of the woodwork because he thought I was pregnant. If he really cared about Daniel, wouldn’t be have surfaced sooner?