Friday, July 02, 2010

Killing off dads

No, don't worry, I'm not advocating mass patricide, just pondering a fun little article on the BBC TV blog entitled 'Disappearing Dads'. To put it briefly, the author, Andrew Martin, realised that all his work to date showed fathers as 'mad, bad, just generally useless, or entirely absent' and that lots of other fiction followed the same pattern.

And you know, I think he could be right. A quick trawl round various classics reveals a trail of fathers who are missing, dead, or otherwise incapacitated. In The Railway Children the father is vital, but absent for most of the book. In Lord of the Rings, Frodo was an orphan and brought up by his older cousin Bilbo. Harry Potter's an orphan too, as is Garion in David Eddings' Belgariad series. Even where the hero is a (step)father himself he's absent in mind or body, like Dick in Daphne du Maurier's 'House on the Strand'. And in the two most recent books I've read, firstly the heroine was illegitimate and only discovered at the end of the book that her absentee father was the local lord of the manor; and secondly the hero's future father-in-law drops dead fairly early on. No exceptions to the rule there, then.

I'd love to know why this is. My immediate thought was that perhaps most authors have had terrible relationships with their own fathers and are either seeking revenge or simply have no experience of a good father-child relationship to write about. But Andrew Martin says this isn't the case for him, so it must be something else.

Is fiction simply mirroring the society of the time? In the past, lots of fathers were absent, perhaps because they were away fighting wars or exploring or setting up distant trade routes, and there must have been a good deal of 'seducing and abandoning' going on. These days dads are working away from home, or divorced from their kids' mother and living with someone else. There must always have been millions of fathers who've had a great relationship with their children, of course, but for some reason they don't seem to make it into fiction.

And me? Well, my relationship with my Dad wasn't particularly close and in much of my fiction I've realised to my shame that fathers don't really exist. Characters have doting mothers or bossy mothers or interfering mothers... but they might as well have been brought up in a test tube for all the mention I make of their fathers. Perhaps I should change that before it's too late, and actually write about a kindly, loving father for once.

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