Friday, September 20, 2002

Fathers and Daughters

Something in yesterday’s Neil Gaiman blog tore at my heart and left me feeling bereft:

I finished reading “The Snarkout Boys and the Avocado of Death” to Maddy last night, and tonight Maddy volunteered to read to me instead. We lay on the bed and she read me “Second Grade Gorilla” by Daniel Pinkwater. Which was rather wonderful, until sleep caught up with me, and she stopped reading and tiptoed away.

The image of a loving father who reads to his daughter every night — yes, that’s moving, and it’s one of the things I like about Neil Gaiman: he really seems to be a caring, devoted, observant parent. Since I first came to care about his writing through his blog, I don’t have the graphic-novel image of Gaiman as a dangerous Goth god or leather-jacketed fallen angel. What I saw was someone who wrote horror, who explored the dark, without having to pretend he was a warped reflection of Lovecraft.

(Weird but true: Lovecraft patterned his persona on Poe, who was imitating Lord Byron, who was playing the role of a dramatic villain bred of Milton’s Satan and the Mad Monk of Gothic fiction, but was also considerably different in person than on the page, by all accounts. So a modern-day imitation Lovecraft would be a fourth-string copy.)

But that isn’t what gave me a pang in this. It’s the idea of a daughter feeling safe with her father in her room — even on her bed, next to her. A daughter who feels safe reading to her father. I can’t even imagine it, not for myself. The word father conjures up such horror, loathing, fear, and sorrow in me that I can scarcely summon words for it.

Yet I looked all those years for substitute fathers, ideal images combining what was best in my own father and the qualities I wished for in a parent. There’s a reason Abraham Lincoln became my hero.

In some ways the homicidal clarity of my relationship with my father made things easier for me. I could readily separate Men as a group from Daddy — something that can be much more difficult with an ambivalent relationship. And I found good male role models in books and history. But something this tender, this kind of gentle affection and unthinking trust — that reminds me of how very different things were for me, and that’s bound to hurt.

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