Fathers and Daughters: A Fiction
On this Father’s Day, I think inevitably of my broken birth family. My father is still alive–I think–but I haven’t seen him since I was fifteen years old. The details of this estrangement are probably as dull and dirty as most individual biographies, but the notion of a father is something that all daughters share.
My father, as I recall him, was quick to anger and quick to lash out. Sometimes it was verbal, like “Everything in this house has been kidded to death.” Once, he taped a cartoon he’d cut from a newspaper that featured a farmer overseeing a bunch of pigs in a mud-hole and labeled the farmer “Dad.” Of course, each of the pigs had a child’s name over it. Sometimes it was physical: a punch or a slap or a complete beating.
And yet, I also recall the two weeks I spent in bed with a horrible case of the flu when I was in the second grade. I was feverish, nauseous, too ill to rise from the bed. And who sat beside me, spooning tea into my mouth and adjusting the radio so that I would heal to soft music? My father, whose hands could be as gentle as any nurse’s.
It was my father who insisted that I brush my teeth correctly. It was my father who watched my grades and went over my spelling with me. It was also my father who inspected my bedroom with white gloves, checking even the tops of doorsills for dust.
Do I resent my father’s tyrannical, brutal control? Yes. And do I value the love of education, of reading, and of the natural world that he offered me? Yes and always.
When I started writing fiction, creating a father for my main character was a terror and a joy. John Bridle is not my father: he’s indulgent (and self-indulgent), demonstrative, and loving. But he is also hot-tempered and abusive when he thinks that those he loves may get hurt–or hurt themselves. He may be a corrective to my own father, but he is only mine by accident, really. He is Catherine’s father, and she needs him as all daughters need their fathers.
I have no recent pictures of my father, and sometimes I wonder if I would even recognize him if I encountered him. But I’ve been told, in the past, that I look just like him, so perhaps it doesn’t matter. I carry him into the world, for good and ill, and see him in my garden (when it is neatly weeded) as well in my mirror. I hope he is content and well.