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'Dear Mr. You' Is A Lifetime In Letters

Mary-Louise Parker says her father loved words; they used to send poems to each other in the mail.
Tina Turnbow
Mary-Louise Parker says her father loved words; they used to send poems to each other in the mail.

A lot of men might like to get a letter from Mary-Louise Parker. She's written more than 30 to some of the men who've been important in her life: The grandfather she never got the chance to know. Her childhood priest. A Hollywood accountant. A man who will one day love her daughter. Her father. And they're all in a new book, Dear Mr. You. She tells NPR's Scott Simon that her father loved words. "We used to send poems back and forth in the mail, and go and sit in book stores together and talk about books and read books. He informs everything I do and everything I say, really. He was my hero. He still is."

Interview Highlights

On hearing her father's voice still

I picture him — when I got the hard copies of this book. I put it in the closet. I just really couldn't bear to open it, because I felt if he can't see it I almost didn't want to see it myself. And I finally opened it and, you know when you're so connected to someone, you just know in your bones exactly what they would say or what they would do, or their face in repose, how it would sort of reflect back at you, what you'd done. And I got to see that and it made me — it really fortified me even though I couldn't physically hand it to him.

On her father's "if-onlys"

He was constantly dreaming and constantly thinking of other people and how he could do things for other people and make them happy. And he thought like a writer, he thought like a poet. He was pretty magical.

And I just found a book, because I got all of his books when he died, there was a letter that I'd written to him inside the book. And so I got to open it and see it, because he kept every little letter, every little — he kept all the ticket stubs for my plays on Broadway and I never felt like I had to seek the attention of other people because I was so fulfilled by both my parents, especially my father. And understood by him.

On being an unhappy child

It's funny because I have a sense of shame in admitting that. Because I feel certainly I was provided for and so much luckier than most people will ever be. And it's just, I think there's certain people who are just a little bit more sorrowful and I was just a darker child. And, I wanted to be a sunny child but I just wasn't. Some of it was from keeping watch over my father and his moods and things like that -– but it certainly isn't for want of love or being provided for, because I've seen enough of life to know how lucky I am and how bountiful my childhood was.

On a loving letter to Abe, an accountant who gave her bad news

He told me I was broke. I had no idea. I was so out of it, I had no idea. And I was so hungry that I came into his office and he asked me if I wanted anything to eat and I was too embarrassed to say yes. And I ended up sleeping on his couch which everyone in the office to this day remembers. Someone told me the other day "I was the person who brought you the pillow." Yeah, I was 22 years old or something like that ... and newly broke, because I had no idea. I was so blithely unaware before that.

He had such affection for me and I for him. He would come on his day off with me when I lost my passport. And he would talk to me when I was lost about what I was going to do next. And he was very, very attentive to my parents. He just looked after me. He'd throw a box of Kleenex at me and tell me to shut up. He's just hilarious. There's not really anyone like him. And I told him the other day, I said, "Abe, people read your letter. They really like it. Someone told me they cried." And he went, "Ah, shut up." And he hung up on me. He texted me later and was like, "I love you." It's so great.

On writing letters that are not for publication

I'm so freakishly obsessed with my stationery. Embarrassingly so. I love writing letters, I love receiving letters. And my heart breaks a little bit when I tell my children they got mail and they're sort of nonplussed. But I make them write letters and thank you notes. And now that they've seen their thank you notes — because they're getting to be very good letter writers also — in other people's houses I say, "Look, she hung that up. It meant something to her. They put that on the bulletin board." And so they get it. It does matter to people when you take the time to consider them and put that on to paper. It's certainly the way to win me.

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