Wednesday, July 20, 2011

daddy issues

We've been sharing our work in writing class. A lot of our characters have dead and/or absent fathers. One classmate suggested we just don't want to have to write the dads in. Mmm, maybe. Our mothers aren't a happy bunch either, on the whole. It's curious. We laugh about how so many children's books get rid of the parents in the first chapter, leaving the main character free to have adventures and fun. We're writing young adult fiction - and I notice in the books I read that the teenage protagonists often play the role of the parent, or have loopy parents, or neglectful ones. And now I want to pop a dad back in, because I'm sad I took him away. Hey - maybe I should add step-parents and godparents and grandparents!

But this musing also came about because I've been listening to a lot of Wainwright lately. Rufus, Martha, Lucy and the great patriarch Loudon Wainwright III. What spectacular voices! What a fascinating family! Surviving Twin is a bittersweet song, by Loudon, about his relationship with his dad. It's from the album Last Man On Earth. He just gets right to the heart of the matter and it seems so honest.

Surviving Twin

Last week I attended a family affair
and a few remarked upon my recent growth of facial hair.
"You look just like your father did, with that beard," someone said.
I answered back "I am him" even though my old man's dead.
I didn't want to be him. Well, at first I did.
When I loved and looked up to him as a little kid.

He sent me to his old school, I was a numeral with his name.
And he gave me this gold signet ring and he wore one just the same.
And I guess that I believed him, and probably it was true,
when he told me I was just like him, that's what some fathers do.

But a father's always older and my dad was rather tall.
Who says size doesn't matter? He was big and I was small.
I needed to be big enough to be someone someday
and I learned I had to beat him and that was the only way

I learned I had to fight him, my own flesh, blood, bone and kin.
But I felt I was just like him - can a man's son be his twin?

First we fought for my mother, that afforded little joy.
When he left she was heart broken, and I was still their little boy.
But I started to get bigger and to win the ugly game,
when I made a little money and I got a bit of fame.

And I saw how this could wound him, yes this could do the trick
and if I made it big enough I could kill him off quick.
But how can you murder someone in a way that they don't die?
I didn't want to kill him...that would be suicide.

I got frightened and I backed off, I let up and i was through.
And in the end he did himself in, usually that's what we do.
A man becomes immortal through his daughter or his son.
But when he fears his legacy, a man can come undone.

And the beard is a reminder of a living part of him -
for though my father's dead and gone, I'm his surviving twin.


  1. Very good point about parents in YA...see my favorite series of all time, Sweet Valley High. Ned and Alice Wakefield are the most neglectful parents of ALL TIME. I mean, I know there's supposed to be a suspension of disbelief--nobody's junior year lasts two decades--but at the same time, the parents' cluelessness is super outre.

    Love the song!

  2. bahaha. thanks constance.

    i never read sweet valley - i'm so behind the times. i shall have to rectify this, because people seem so attached. (i was a babysitters club girl).


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