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Nicki Richesin

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Fatherhood for Romantics

Posted: 06/17/10 12:39 PM ET

My daughter peeps her head around the corner and asks, "When can we celebrate Child's Day?"
"Child's Day?" I say.

She rolls her eyes. "You know, like Mother's Day and Father's Day?" She reminds me of her request to have a day devoted entirely to her. So we choose a date on the calendar to celebrate this important holiday annually. For now, we'll water the lily bulb she tucked in a pot at school and has carefully hidden on the veranda from her dad. She can't wait to present it to him on Father's Day.

For the past few years, I've devoted my working life to editing anthologies on women's issues. My first collection The May Queen explored the challenges of coming into your own as a woman in one's thirties today. Last year, my mother-daughter anthology Because I Love Her proved a remarkable tribute to this complicated bond.

Having worked almost exclusively with women for the past six years, it came as something of a surprise to work with men for the first time. This year for Father's Day, I'm extremely proud to unveil What I Would Tell Her a collection of fathers' essays of such tenderness and passion for their daughters.

The primary difference I found in working with men is the entitled power with which they wield their pens. For women, I believe expressing their innermost feelings about their families, their children, and their livelihood is a privilege they don't take for granted. When editing their work, I felt their relief like an exhausted sigh of release when they unburdened themselves about a dark family secret or a dream curtailed. For men, I felt little release because they're much more in the habit of telling others exactly what they think rather than what they feel.

Perhaps I didn't recognize fathers were capable of such a deep level of intimacy and self-expression. I was floored by this emotional outpouring of love for their daughters. This is not a natural state for most men who I believe fear being mocked for sharing their feelings. I would venture to guess despite their male bravado, they usually keep their feelings to themselves as a result.

At a reading in Los Angeles last weekend, contributor Michael Kearns remarked that he thought a collection like What I Would Tell Her could not have been published fifty years ago because men wouldn't have been willing to openly express their emotions about their daughters.

It's not easy being a family man in a post-feminist world. The expectations are immense: they must earn a living, cook, clean, help put the kids to bed and give back rubs to their long-suffering partners. A recent study indicates men are just as likely to experience postpartum depression as women. Unlike women who have the support of a group of friends to connect with after their children are born, men often feel isolated and alone. A campaign like Robert Bly's men's movement seems in order. How do you help a man express his feelings? You could start by asking him to talk about his daughter.

Jim Griffioen's essay "El Corazon" is a testament to his emotional honesty and bravery. It seems particularly difficult for fathers to connect and reach out to their daughters during their adolescence. It's a topic he passionately explores in his essay. Why should grown men be so conflicted about their daughters' sexuality? Their fears eventually push their daughters away and can sometimes sever the bond they've formed with them. Dads have to respect and love them enough to trust they can make their own decisions without instilling fear of their sexual awakening. I felt that Jim's piece in particular exposed the heart of this clichéd notion of shotgun fathers over-protecting their daughters. In Robert Wilder's "The Man on the Stairs" he believes, "A father's love for his daughter is borne out of weakness and that's the way it should be, if he only lets it."

I wept when I first read T. Colin Dodd's essay, "A Story for my Daughter." He exposed himself in such a raw way, all of his self-doubts about fatherhood and how he conquered them. He writes of how he came to terms with the difference between his expectations and the reality of fatherhood. His essay not only touched me, I found it hugely inspiring as a parent. I admired the humor and tenderness in "What Next, Papa?" by Steve Almond. When his daughter Josie says, "I'm growing up, Papa!" he experiences "a thrilling, terrifying moment, feeling the weight of her, breathing in her hair, and it's all so fleeting, the chance to love her with such uncomplicated fervor and uncensored declaration."

One of the many things I found so beautiful about this anthology is that the essays are full of moments preserved like time capsules for the contributors to always remember. Fathers of young daughters, like Mike Adamick, Dean Bakopoulos, and Laird Hunt, have recorded memories of pure tenderness for their daughters to read and cherish when they're older. As parents, we all know the dailiness of caring for a child and all that this entails, but honoring these small moments somehow transforms the experience. It passes too quickly this opportunity to live with and really know our children. It's such a short yet precious time to treasure. So next year, we'll celebrate a brand new holiday, Child's Day.

Andrea N. Richesin is the editor of the new anthology What I Would Tell Her: 28 Devoted Dads on Bringing Up, Holding On To, and Letting Go of Their Daughters. It's available in bookstores everywhere. Amen.

 
 
 

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