Reviewer James Broderick, Ph.D: James is an associate professor of English and journalism at New Jersey City University. A former newspaper reporter and editor, he is the author of six non-fiction books, and the novel Stalked. His latest book is Greatness Thrust Upon Them, a collection of interviews with Shakespearean actors across America. Follow Here To Listen To An Interview With James Broderick.
Author: Kevin RennerPublisher: Inkwater Press
Author: Kevin RennerPublisher: Inkwater Press
In 1802, the poet William Wordsworth, in his poem “My Heart Leaps Up When I Behold,” wrote a line that was destined to become a favorite among poetry lovers and therapists: “The Child is the Father to the Man.” In our post-Freudian world, such a concept doesn’t seem so shocking, but to Wordsworth’s contemporaries the notion that those things that happen to us in childhood shape us, or scar us, was pretty radical. To the 18th century mind, childhood was seen almost as a separate phase of existence, with its own particular rules and requirements, completely apart from the psychological necessities of adulthood.
We now know that it’s those formative years that play a huge part in forging who we become. The child is the father (or mother) to us all. Or put another way: you can never really escape your childhood.
Such an understanding makes it not only useful but also necessary to explore the influences that resonate throughout our lives, and for most people the critical relationship in their early lives involves their parents.
The dynamic between mothers-sons, father-sons, and mother-daughters has been thoroughly anatomized by countless researchers and theorists. No less important, some would say, is the father-daughter bond, a critical relationship in the lives of most adult women and the subject of a thoroughly unscientific but genuinely heartfelt book In Search of Fatherhood: A Mother Lode of Wisdom from the World of Daughterhood.
In the introduction to the book, author Kevin Renner explains how he found himself in what is no-doubt an increasingly common position: working harder and longer, but at the cost of his relationship with his family, and especially his two young daughters. “My girls were nine and thirteen,” he writes. “How had that happened so fast? I realized I had been living in my private cocoon of work and stress, semi-conscious much of the time. At 52, I was thirteen years into fatherhood and felt like I was stumbling in the dark while my daughters had blown through childhood.”
Those thoughts will likely resonate with many of this book’s readers. The tug of war between career and family is one of the main storylines of life in the 21st century, and there are countless mothers and fathers who pack a generous helping of guilt along with their lunches every day as they head out to make a living, often at the cost of their family life.
Although Renner offers occasional asides, borne of his own experience and feelings, the majority of the book consists of interviews he’s done with dozens of women, ranging widely in age and cultural background, about their memories of their fathers, the respondents slowly teasing out the strands that bind father to daughter. There are heartwarming stories of caring and committed fathers, lots of stories of physically present but emotionally absent fathers, and heartbreaking stories of emotionally cold, or even abusive, fathers.
The interviews are often touching in their emotional rawness and the crystalline clarity with which many women – decades removed from their childhood – recall poignant moments with their fathers. As the book makes clear, it’s the small, special moments in daily life, rather than the grand, dramatic gestures, that seem to stick: “[During the winter], my dad would wrap me all up and he’d carry me out, and we’d go walk out on the pier. And he’d hold me really tight. And the wind would just rock us. Oh, he’d laugh! It was so good and it was so scary and it was so fun. We shared adventures like that.”
There are not a lot of surprises to be unearthed in the book (though most readers will likely smile to themselves at the litany of such warm-hearted reflections, as well as wince at the catalog of horrific behaviors exhibited by some fathers). It turns out that daughters who had caring, supportive fathers tend to have better self-esteem and more stable relationships than daughters whose fathers were absent or abusive. I can’t imagine this will be news to any of Renner’s readers. But the point of such books isn’t to break new psychological ground.
Renner himself admits to having been deeply affected by the stories he solicited, which he admits “forever changed my life.” I’m guessing that really was the case, not just authorial hyperbole. This is that kind of book where the epiphanies of the author tend to be greater than the epiphanies experienced by the reader (e.g. stories of triumphing over alcoholism, spiritual awakenings, memoirs of mid-life reinventions). Nonetheless, most readers will find something of value to take away from the dozens of stories. You might not find your life significantly changed, but for a brief period in your tumultuous daily life, like Wordsworth, your heart too may leap up.
Click Here To Purchase In Search of Fatherhood: A Mother Lode of Wisdom From the World of Daughterhood