Last month, for Mother's Day, I waxed poetic on the three kinds of mothers I happened to have in my fiction writing. Well, turnabout seems fair play, so let me ponder the types of fathers I find in fiction and their source.
Everyone knows that grads are tired of reading. Dads tend to be reading averse, too. So maybe books do not make the best gifts. Job search books for grads, perhaps. A book on dad's current hobby, maybe. But fiction too often falls to the dark, dusty shelf of well-intended gifts. Next to the neckties. My own father would rather read through a stack of history and politics books before he would ever crack the cover of a novel.
So how many books are there that feature Father's Day, anyway? Or about fathers in general? Mothers are easy. Brothers and sisters are common. The sweet aunt and the generous uncle are often seen in literature. In my vast reading, Fathers are generally the bad guys, villainous, cruel, authoritarian, mean, and uncaring. They are more often than not portrayed as abusers. Sometimes they only appear as the bad memory of a protagonist and we get a couple of graphic incidents to showcase dad's unpleasantness. (I had to do that in A BEAUTIFUL CHILL and A GIRL CALLED WOLF because they were based on real people and their lives; however, fathers in my other novels are thankfully less abusive.) It's almost a stereotype. Fathers get a bad rap, I think. We tend to only hear about the bad ones. Think of Darth Vader, a.k.a. "Dark Father", and others of his ilk.
I think about the fathers in my other books. My protagonists seem to relate to their fathers much as I relate to my own. Funny, that coincidence, right? Or am I drawing on the only role model I have? (Curiously, I'm an only child and my protagonists tend not to have siblings, also - or siblings that are throw-away characters, mentioned but not active in the story. In AFTER ILIUM, the young hero dislikes his dentist father's strictness and is glad to be on his own touring Greece and Turkey. In EPIC FANTASY *WITH DRAGONS, our dragonslayer hero's father was a military commander killed in battle, so our hero carries only the memory of a violent, frightening man. In A DRY PATCH OF SKIN, my medically-accurate vampire novel (book 1 of the trilogy), our poor hero is transforming into a vampire. He is angry at his father for not warning him and for sending him away to live with an aunt. Otherwise, that fictional dad sounds an awful lot like my own father: haughty, disinterested, aloof.
In AIKO, our hero discovers he is a father, then struggles to find his child. There is a brief mention of his own father being stationed in Japan after WWII - like my own father was. After the war, my father went to college on the G.I. Bill and became a social studies teacher, then later a librarian. Now he is deep into retirement, having put his books away for poor eyesight and sleepier days, not to mention the devastation of a hurricane.
When I think of my father, the image that comes most readily is of him sitting in his reading chair, reading: reading in such a focused, determined manner that I could get away with literally anything because nothing could disturb him. Thus, he was apart from my everyday activities, always there but on the sidelines, uninvolved in my youthful experiences. And that is what I learned of fatherhood: 1) provide the family income, 2) relax at home after the job, 3) fix things around the house and yard. Also, 4) be master of the castle, 5) enforce the rules, and when necessary (6) represent the family like a knight in shining armor when some authority or institution challenges us. He is the (7) champion, the protector, the lord of the manor. And that is, for better or worse, how I portray the fathers in my books: powerful yet distant. Art imitating life!
If you've been following this blog you probably know I'm a dad. It's a weird feeling knowing there is someone living in the world partly as a result of my actions. Sure, we can imagine clones, or cyborgs, but another human? That's crazy. Like us and yet not like us. And eventually they go their own ways and have their own lives and we scratch our heads and think What just happened? Now my offspring is in college, studying to be something in the medical field. This is after going through Army training to be a combat medic - a course I doubt I could've made it through if I were the same age.
As I think back on the past 22 years, I can pinpoint a few things I did that might have helped raise this baby to adulthood. But there are just as many other things I did about which I have no clue. Maybe they helped, maybe they hurt. Only my grown child can tell, but she calls less and less. But I'm still pleased, even proud, of how this googly little bundle of joy became this awesome adult who vaguely resembles me in appearance and words and behavior.
So for now, I must pass the reins over to my protégé. No longer do I need to concern myself so much with me doing great things and achieving this and that and telling my child about, you know, the things I can boast about. Now it is time for me to boast about my grown child, to note what this new adult is doing, and praise the new things, the new deeds, of this adult - to praise and be proud of what my child has done more than being happy at what I have done. Oh, I'll still write books, of course. That will never change. I must or die trying. But now it's no longer all about me.
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