Curiosity: forget “Cherchez la femme” (Look for the woman.) “Cherchez l’histoire.” (Look for the story.)
Maybe I’m perceiving a non-existent pattern due to my current preoccupation with letters and diaries my own father left behind. In the past two weeks I’ve encountered media attention on this topic in four separate arenas.
On January 17 , the Oregonian featured Kevin Renner’s column “Fathers launch daughters on their lifelong trajectory.”
I talked briefly with Renner at Wordstock a couple of years ago, as he was launching his book: In Search of Fatherhood: Daughters Praising, Speaking Up, Talking Back. I wish my father had read it. Learn more at http://kevin-renner.com/ .
On January 23, Dear Amy published a letter from a man who wrote to praise Amy’s campaign “A Book on Every Bed.” Her reader said that when his daughter was twelve, each of them agreed to read books that the other one especially liked. As a result, they have “had lively discussions on fifty-plus great books together!” –over the past eighteen years.
Starting when I was about twelve, I read books that my father urged me to read; but we didn’t really talk about them. It never occurred to me to suggest a book to him.
Yesterday afternoon I heard Think Out Loud (http://www.opb.org/thinkoutloud/shows/whitney-ottos-portraits-eight-girls-taking-pictures/) featuring Allison Frost’s conversation with Portland author Whitney Otto, about Otto’s new book Portraits Of Eight Girls Taking Pictures. Otto explained that the fathers of the six actual women photographers whose stories she fictionalized had a fair amount of ability and interest in things mechanical or chemical. All of them built darkrooms for their daughters and encouraged their daughters’ unusual hobbies–while at the same time following convention by urging them to marry and devote themselves to raising families.
It seems to me that my father’s approach to “encouragement” was perversely passive: I remember being allowed to do things, often after determined insistence on my part. I don’t remember being praised or urged to pursue a particular interest or activity.
I went with a friend last night to the staged reading of C. S. Whitcomb’s new play The Seven Wonders of Chipping, part of the Fertile Ground Festival at ART. As Marty Hughley reported in the Oregonian, the play is “a wonderfully old-fashioned romance/ghost story.” Whitcomb has great facility with language and dialogue. Simultaneously amusing and moving, the story tells of a harsh father who, from beyond the grave, gives a wonderful gift to his daughter.
My father, of course, was not a famous poet; still, it reverberated. My father, too, raised my awareness of literature and art. He provided invaluable opportunities–both deliberately and inadvertently, I think–for me to learn that I could figure things out for myself. Like Cordelia, the character in Whitcomb’s play, I wish we’d been able to talk when he was alive.