Brightside Booklist: A Father’s Story by Lionel Dahmer
I read this book in just a few hours over two nights. I could’ve finished it in one night, but my eyes were burning (WHERE ARE MY EYE DROPS?) out of my head and I had to put it down. The stories that Lionel told about Jeffrey as he was growing up were filled with hope and promise that Jeffrey would change. There was also much regret that Jeffrey’s life was void of love, connection and understanding.
Lionel makes no excuses for his son. On the contrary, he tries to find any meaning in the things that Jeffrey did as a baby, a toddler, or as an isolated teenager that could’ve forewarned him of what was coming. He acknowledges his shortcomings as a father and is traumatized by the pain that his son caused to the 17 men he killed and their families. Ultimately, there are no answers, but his reflection on Jeffrey’s childhood was fascinating and heartbreaking.
I’ve included a couple of excerpts to illustrate the despair that Lionel felt watching Jeffrey turn into someone he didn’t know:
“I often think of him in that inital innocence. I imagine the shapes he must have seen, the blur of moving colors, and as I recall him in his infancy, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of helpless dread. I consider his eyes, blinking softly, and then I remember all of the horrors they will later see. I dwell on the small, pink hands, and in my mind I watch them grow larger and darker as I think about all that they will later do, of how stained they will become with the blood of others. It is impossible to reconcile these visions, or to escape their sadness. They are like scenes from separate worlds, pages from different books, so that it is impossible to imagine how the end of my son’s life could have sprung from the beginning.”
Because of Jeffrey’s apparent aimlessness and alcoholism, Lionel tried numerous times to compel Jeffrey to pursue college or to get a job. Lionel later recognized how ridiculous these conversations must have seemed to Jeffrey considering the fact that he, as a teenager, had already murdered a man:
“For him, a sudden, uncontrollable act of violence and sexual mutilation had thrust any hope for an ordinary life into a work that was utterly beyond his grasp. How odd and unrealizable all my talk of college and careers must have struck him after that. My ambitions for him, the little strategies I suggested for getting his life on track, must have seemed like constructs from another planet; my system of values, built as it was on notions of work and family, like quaint, but incomprehensible artifacts from a vanished civilization.”
Through the book, Lionel describes the similarities between him and his son and wonders what sent Jeffrey down this murderous path, instead of him. He also spoke of turmoil in the home and Lionel’s inability to connect with Jeffrey (or anyone else, for that matter).
Several theories about Jeffrey’s monstrous behavior are proposed: delinquent traits passed down through generations or medication his mother took while pregnant with him. Jeffrey also had an overwhelming need to be close to someone else, but was unable to do so. He was simply incapable of making meaningful human connections and resorted to creating death in order to feel ANYTHING.
Sadly, there appear to be no concrete reasons for his behavior. Whether it be mental illness, insanity, or sociopathic behavior, no explanation can assuage this father’s conscience.
I should mention that this book is, apparently, really difficult to find. I really lucked out when I found it recently (there are copies on Amazon going for $55-180!). SO, if you see one, grab it, jump up and down and scream and BUY IT.
Has anyone else read this book? Who can I talk to about this?? Scroll down and leave me a comment!