|You shoot yourself with your son, daughter-in-law, and six-year old grandson in the next room? With a gun that you had your son clean for you the night before? You're an a-hole.|
The American Scholar
A shy, sensitive boy, Juan [Thompson, son of writer Hunter Thompson] lived in terror of his father’s unpredictable rages. As Hunter’s marriage to his first wife, Sandy, foundered, Juan would listen to torrid screaming matches between his parents and wake up in the morning to find his mother picking up broken bits of furniture. As a prepubescent boy, helpless in the face of Hunter’s verbal assaults, Juan hated his father “deeply and completely,” so much that he “would have destroyed him if I could have, for my sake and for my mother’s.”
But wait, you’re protesting. I thought you said this book was an expression of love and connection. Amazingly, it is. Juan’s terror and hatred of his father eventually gave way, after decades of estrangement, to forgiveness and reconciliation. To be sure, their relationship was rarely easy, but Juan treasured moments with his father during his later years. Among other things, these included the ritualistic maintenance of Hunter’s collection of firearms. On each visit to Owl Farm (the name of the ranch in Woody Creek), Hunter would select weapons for Juan to clean and then present for his father’s inspection.
In February 2005, Juan, his wife, and their six-year-old son visited Owl Farm for the weekend. Hunter handed him a .45 semiautomatic pistol. “It was no big deal, just another gun that needed cleaning,” Juan writes. The next morning, as Juan’s wife and son played 20 Questions in the living room, Juan “heard a weird cry and a crack,” which he initially thought was the sound of a book falling on the floor. It wasn’t; it was Hunter shooting himself in the head with the same .45 Juan had cleaned the night before.
One could reasonably interpret this scenario as Hunter’s final act of paternal aggression. But Juan doesn’t see it that way. [But Juan is wrong.] Hunter simply wanted to go out on his own terms. After all, his father “was tapped out,” Juan says. Since his glory days in the ’60s and early ’70s, Hunter’s output had consisted mostly of correspondence, or hackwork, or pieced-together anthologies of his earlier writings. Which means he spent the final 30 years of his life not as the productive writer he’d once been but as the Hunter S. Thompson caricature he’d created—a burden that, along with massive amounts of alcohol and cocaine, sapped his writerly powers.
Moreover, Juan believes that his father’s decision to kill himself during what otherwise would have been a pleasant weekend with his family was a cockeyed act of love—and, though Juan doesn’t explicitly say this, there’s an implication that Hunter’s giving him the job of (unwittingly) preparing the suicide implement was intended to deepen the father-son bond. Some readers may naturally resist this conclusion."