Oddly I’ve read two books this weekend that are extremely appropriate for Father’s Day. Or, maybe, it’s not a coincidence. Perhaps fatherhood is a major theme in literature because it’s such a weighty topic.
Earlier this weekend I read When We Were the Kennedys by one of my favorite authors, Monica Wood. No one stitches together sentences like she does. It is a memoir about her father’s untimely death and the big, gaping hole he left behind. For another deeply moving memoir about father/daughter relationships check out The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan. (Hmmm… both deal with Irish-Catholic fathers. Is there a particular tenor there that makes it a touching bond to read about?)
I’m about halfway through Elizabeth Berg’s beautiful Once Upon a Time, There was You. The book has three narrators: 18 year old Sadie and each of her (now divorced) parents. Oh my gosh does Berg perfectly capture the complicated triangle between a teenage girl and her parents. The character Sadie is so hard on her mother, so very hard, while giving her dad all kinds of passes. Teen girls are infinitely tougher on the moms, aren’t they? And perhaps vice versa.
The clichés are “daddy’s girl” and “mama’s boy.” I once read that the reason fathers often have better relationships with a daughter versus a son is because the dad has no expectations for the daughter. He just appreciates her for who she is while for the boy he wants him to be a very specific kind of person (athlete, student, etc.). I first saw this as egregiously sexist. I mean, why not expect your daughter to dominate in the classroom and on the field (court, gymnasium, what have you)? Indeed my husband once said “they’re students; that’s their thing” about our girls to which I thought, “yes, they will be good students but also good athletes and good friends and leaders and dominating in ALL THINGS.” (Or, you know, whatever you want to do sweetheart!) It made me think. Perhaps it’s not a boy/girl thing. Maybe we’re a bit tougher on the kids we see as closer to ourselves. You are better (smarter, kinder, funnier, sportier) than I was, so be better.
I didn’t even realize until today, Father’s Day, that my novel deals with the father-daughter relationship as well. The eponymous April from has a father who is emotionally remote and she therefore makes herself physically remote. It’s funny, I didn’t even plan this. It’s one of those magical aspects to writing: when the characters take off and start acting without your permission.
My own dad is brilliant and driven and hilarious. He can be a little “stern” at times (like all good dads, I suppose), as well as blunt and non-PC. There is one Friends episode where Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel is trying to teach her friends to boat. (Side note: at what point did all young professionals in sit coms go from being older than me to being like, “hey I was born in 1990!” It is most disconcerting. DO YOUR PARENTS KNOW YOU’RE LIVING IN AN APARTMENT WITH BOYS MISSY???) Anyway Rachel gets super uptight, starts yelling at her friends and then realizes how awful she’s being, causing her to wail: “All this time I was worried about turning into my mother, I didn’t realize I’d turned into my dad!” I laughed (while grimacing) because OMG, holy crap, I’d become my dad, too. Of course, in the end, being like him is a great thing.
I hope you have a “dad” in your life (doesn’t have to be your actual dad) who you’d gladly take after. And, if you’re a dad, strive be the kind where someone might say to your grown daughter “you’re exactly like your father!” and she will smile and say thanks.
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY!