As a character, Alan fell from heaven just as I was beginning to toil on the book many years ago. At that juncture, I had already formulated an impression of who Mark was, which was no stretch of the imagination as I had years of feeling like an inadequate father to draw upon. Mind you, I am not seeking any sympathy when I say this. I know of very few parents who believe they were absolutely exceptional at parenting. The rare few who do perceive themselves as outstanding parents usually have children who turn out to be absolute nightmares as adults.
Honest parents reminisce about all the times they stumbled and every mistake they made. The most candid parent can only say, "Well, I did the best I could."
So, as you can imagine, the character of Alan came to life from a genuine experience of me fumbling as a parent. I was talking with my youngest daughter when she related to me how she concealed her aspiration to be an artist from me for years because I once berated her for getting crayon marks all over her bed sheets.
Every time I recall this, I am always reminded of Louis C.K.'s joke that concludes with "As parents, we are the first assholes our children ever have to deal with.” From my perspective, upon seeing a bedsheet covered in crayon marks, I was most likely reacting to the prospect of having to do more laundry or something equally frivolous. However, from her perspective, it was an unequivocal indication that I did not approve of her pursuing art...ever.
Thus, we went through the next several years with me wishing my daughter was an artist like me so that we could have something in common, and her hiding the fact that she was an artist from the world. My daughter and I had this conversation for the first time as I was outlining "In The Available Light". There is no better example of what I was attempting to convey, and of course, it had to be incorporated as a scene in the book. Nevertheless, every time I read that scene, it stings a little bit because…well…being a parent is tough.