Cameron Conaway wants to tell his father: “You’ve provided me with everything I’ll need to be curious, grateful, humble, and successful in this world. For that, I love you.”
Cameron Conaway was barely a teenager when last he spoke with his father. That final day, as Conaway depicts in his book, Caged: Memoirs of a Cage-Fighting Poet, was a brutal one that ended with a backhand, blood and F-bombs. Now, Conaway is a 26-year-old man living in Bangkok, Thailand. He hasn’t heard from his father since, though he’s heard enough from his father’s wife.
The letter to his father that appears in Caged:
We live in a small town so I’m sure you’ve heard about my accomplishments, but you don’t know how influential your absence has been on me. That’s why I decided to write this letter. Let me be honest, most memories I have of you are negative. But, this has been good for me. I’ve used those experiences to shape the kind of man, husband and father that I hope to be. I will make many mistakes, but I will accept and value the lessons those mistakes offer. I will be upset when I am let down, but I will give second chances. I will embrace the sacrifice necessary to sustain a long, loving marriage and a positive relationship with my children. I will first seek to understand and then will thoughtfully communicate my emotions with those I love. I will continue developing as an individual so I can best provide emotional, physical, and mental support as a partner.
When I trained for fights, studied lines for a play, equations for a statistics class or even when I began teaching in Arizona, I constantly thought of how I felt you turned your back on me and this drove me to tap into deeper levels of motivation—levels that propelled me above my peers in nearly everything I attempted. Though you haven’t been around, the negative influence you’ve had on me turned out to be incredibly positive, leading to the most rewarding moments of my life. Though I haven’t seen you in over twelve years, you’ve continued to raise me, continued to be a father. And though I will never forget the times you belittled me, the havoc your anger caused and the times you simply weren’t there, I forgive you. I understand part of how you raised me was a result of how you were raised. I understand humans are inherently fallible. I sure am. But I know you are a good man, and I forgive you.
I cannot forget though. I’ve learned too much from our past to ever want to forget. I’m currently writing a memoir in which I’ve extracted many lessons and much self-understanding from our experiences or lack of experiences.
I’m writing to tell you everything that has happened between us has been like fighting—the short-term pain of training is excruciating—but the feeling of achieving dreams, of learning the practicality of hard work, consistency, and overcoming fears is priceless. I do not know what I’d be without the pain you caused, but I know I wouldn’t be nearly as happy as I am right now. I’m as confident and strong as I’ve ever been. I hope that brings you happiness.
In continuing with honesty, I don’t want to see you and I don’t want a relationship with you right now. Nab is the father I want the relationship with. I’m surrounded by wonderful families, friends, and have the toughest, most beautiful, most inspiring woman I’ve ever met in my life as a fiancée.
My purpose of writing is twofold:
(1) If you feel a load on your shoulders from “failing” your first-born son, I want to remove that load. Promise me you’ll not judge yourself too harshly.
(2) I’ve felt over the years I’ve been the one to blame for your unhappiness at work, in your current marriage, in your life. Courtney tells me you cry sometimes over thoughts of me. I want you to know I’m happy and that I’m balanced and conditioned enough to remain this way. That’s all a father should want. Please let that bring a calming energy to your soul. You’ve provided me with everything I’ll ever need to be curious, grateful, humble, and successful in this world. For that, I love you.
Other quotes in the book about Conaway’s father:
“…but it was the exposure to the brilliant and open-minded faculty and staff at Penn State Altoona that lit the fuse to change my life for the better. I realized most incarcerated people weren’t screw-ups, they screwed-up. A big difference. Stories began to matter to me. And these realizations applied directly to my thoughts about my father. He wasn’t the terrible, evil man I once thought he was. He wasn’t even a screw-up. He was a good man who wasn’t dealt a great hand of cards by his own family, a good man who simply didn’t have the tools, a good man who made mistakes, a good man who had screwed-up and lost a relationship with his son. At his core, he was and is a good man.”
“Even though I was mostly a benchwarmer, my father came to many of my basketball games–even if it meant he sat by himself because of the awkwardness between he and my mom. As a young dude, I loved seeing him there but also took it for granted. He was supposed to be there. As an adult, I see it was yet another example of his quiet love for me, another example of how he’s a good man…”