In a companion essay to her novella, Her Father’s Daughter, author Marie Sizun asks:
What is a father? That’s the real question. A father – even if he’s imperfect or absent – is a mythical, irreplaceable ﬁgure, especially for a girl. If he’s not there during her childhood, she’s likely to spend a long time drifting in vain in search of him.
Having deprived the male narrator of my second novel, Underneath, of a father, I would argue that the gap is equally damaging for a boy, as outlined in my recent guest post The impact of the absent father in Underneath.
Children can’t discern what they lack until they witness the missing element in the lives of others. In the novella, Her Father’s Daughter, a young girl whose father has left the family glimpses through the kitchen window another father playing with his daughter (p141):
What’s most telling, I think, is the deceptively simple next line (p142):
The child closes the window.
She simply cannot bear the sight of another child enjoying what she herself has lost.
In Underneath, Steve expresses a similar sentiment when he feigns derision for his friend’s freedom to play rough with his father (p166-7, written, incidentally, before I read Her Father’s Daughter):
I go to the window and watch a seagull flap across the sky … I glance back as Jaswinder climbs onto the sofa, straddling his daddy like I’d ride the leather pig … downstairs.
I fix my gaze on the hills across the sea.
The sense of longing extends into adulthood. Grappling with infertility, and a lifetime of her mother’s lies, Freya, in The Daughter of Lady Macbeth, is hyperconscious of those who have what she never had (p98):
Little girls and their daddies. You see them everywhere these days. Shampooing hair at the swimming baths, rubbing sore knees in the park, leaning sideways to keep hold of a tiny hand … One day I would be weaving through the crowd and a man’s voice would stir the marrow in my bones.
I knew how little he had in the fridge. I could have eaten it all and still not been satisfied. I felt the same way about him. I was too old to call him Daddy, too old to be sat on his knee and tickled and tossed up in the air, but I needed something.
What other novels have you come across exploring the impact of a father’s absence? I found a Guardian article listing ten such books, but confess I haven’t read any. Have you?
I wanted to schedule this post around Father’s Day (18th June this year in the UK), hoping I’d be able to pair it with a 99-word story based on prompt from Carrot Ranch. When this week’s topic came through, I wasn’t so sure. How could I blend fatherhood with dawn? In the end, I had a lot of fun:
“Let’s spend the night on the tor,” she said. “It must be romantic to watch the sun rise behind the hills.”
He was about to say he liked his sleep too much, when it dawned on him she might have more than the view in mind.
Weeks later, her father collared his father, as the sky bled into the factory’s silhouette. Back home, his father hauled him from his bed. “How could you be so dim?”
Rosy ribbons filtered through the bedroom curtains. The dawn of new life meant a new role for him. No hiding from the light.