No relationship is more fraught than the one between father and son; the son is always trying to please his father, and the father is feeling guilty about whether he loves his son enough. Now imagine that your dad is a gonzo journalist who has famously hung out with Hell’s Angels and loved his booze, drugs and guns. In Stories I Tell Myself: Growing Up with Hunter S. Thompson, Juan F. Thompson lucidly and longingly tells us just what it was like being the only child of the notorious writer.
Born in California, Juan moved to D.C. with his parents when his father was writing a book about the 1972 presidential campaign. The family eventually moved back to Aspen, where Juan grew up and watched his parents’ marriage fall down around him. Hunter Thompson was never a loving man, and Juan admits that as a child he feared his father and had very little respect for him.
Eventually, father and son developed rituals, such as cleaning Hunter’s many guns, that cemented their tentative bond. Even so, Juan declares that in spite of his father’s talents as a writer, “in his daily life he was simply crazy . . . unpredictable, unreliable, unreasonable, given to sudden fits of rage.”
After Hunter’s death, Juan still wonders what his father wanted from him, and he still tries not to let him down. It’s a heavy burden to carry, even as the young Thompson ponders the ageless questions: “What do fathers want most from their sons? Do we only want them to be happy? Do we want them to be like us? Do we want forgiveness? Do we want to be loved by our sons?”
Juan never finds the answers to these questions, but his stories of searching for them are powerfully affecting.