Wednesday, September 01, 2021

Where Are The Blustering Dads In Childlit?

I recently finished reading Priestdaddy, Patricia Lockwood's memoir about her experience growing up with a father who is a Catholic priest. If you want to find out how that happened, read the book, which
is very good. Lockwood is a poet with a sense of humor. It makes a great combination. Plus, she grew up in an unusual situation, so she provides us with something unique to read about.

I discovered this book while checking out the Thurber Prize winners. I think there is something Thurberesque about it in a My Life and Hard Times sort of way. Though Lockwood is Thurberesque in her own way. Does anyone even know what Thurberesque means, anymore?

Lockwood's father is complex in the sense that the father at home is extremely over-the-top, shall we say, and dramatically different from what one expects a Catholic Father at work to be. As a family man, he comes across as somewhat self-involved. Since this book is very much about his daughter's experience with him, we don't see that much of him at work in church.

I'm Looking For A Childlit Connection

Well into the book, Lockwood writes about bluster in relation to her father.

"I recognize this as bluster, because my father is a blusterer. If you have a blusterer in your house, you must treat him as the weather, capable of gathering himself in a second and storming...This is more a feature of fathers, I have found."

Early on while reading Priestdaddy I was reminded of Sh*t My Dad Says by Justin Halpern, another memoirish story of an over-the-top dad who works in the kind of job (medicine) where one expects something else. Then I recalled what might be the granddaddy of blustering dad books, Cheaper by the Dozen, by Frank B. Gilbreth Jr and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. This book revolves around Frank and Lillian Gilbreth who had twelve children in the early twentieth century while both worked as management consultants/industrial engineers. The book features another over-the-top father, so much so that few readers realize that Lillian, his wife and the mother of his many, many children, is far more significant historically as a pioneering professional woman in management and engineering. In both Sh*t My Dad Says and Cheaper by the Dozen the blustering fathers are portrayed in a more obviously positive way than in Priestdaddy.

So I'm thinking the blustering dad is a thing, at least in adult memoir.

But Do Blustering Dads Exist In Children's Books?

Off the top of my head, I can't think of any blustering dad stories in children's books. Of course, you don't get a lot of memoir in children's literature, and that's where I recall seeing this kind of father portrayed in adult books.

But why not use this character in fiction?

One reason may be that children's fiction is very problem oriented and not situation oriented, which is something that is more common in adult memoir. Therefore, fathers are often absent in contemporary children's fiction in order to create a problem for child characters to deal with. Or there is something dangerous or tragic about father characters, again to create a problem for child characters to overcome. Examples would be two middle grade novels I read recently, 365 Days to Alaska, in which the father is irresponsible and absent, and All You Knead is Love, in which the dangerous father never even appears. 

A second reason may be that with adult memoir with blustering fathers authors have grown up and away from their childhood and now recognize the blusterer in their lives as a blusterer rather than something else. With children's fiction, the main characters are children who probably shouldn't have the maturity (because they are supposed to be children) to recognize a benign or even loving blusterer versus someone who is loud and demanding or negative in some way.

Nonetheless, it would be interesting to see a children's book with a blustering dad. Or how about a blustering mom? Now that I think of it, I have an unsold middle grade manuscript with a blustering older brother.

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