Sunday Reflections: Thinking About Dads, in life and in YA lit
I’ve mentioned it before, but The Tween has had some difficulties with a neighborhood girl. For a while they were really close friends, but things fell apart. I recently was having a discussion with her mom when I told her this story:
The other Sunday I came home from work and The Mr. informed me that there had been another incident. The Tween came home crying, she went into her room and apparently drafted an angry letter, and she came stomping out to angrily deliver the letter. There was lots of anger. And tears, lots and lots of tears. So he took a moment and told her that she might want to allow herself a few moments to calm down then re-read the letter to make sure it said what she wanted it to say before delivering it. Maybe she would decide to deliver it as it was, which was fine. Maybe she would choose to re-write it.
I was quite shocked when the mom informed me that was what our problem was, we interfered too much. What some people call interfering, other people call parenting. In the long run, I think his advice to calm down and re-assess the situation is good advice. He didn’t read her letter, he didn’t tell her not to deliver it, he just advised her to wait until she was less ragey to make sure she was saying what she wanted to say in a way that she could later live with how she said it. It’s good advice, we should all do it a little more.
The other day The Mr. forwarded me an article that said that daughters who have involved fathers start their periods a little bit later in life. I know he sent it to me as a self-congratulatory joke – “see, because I am an involved dad my girls will start their periods later, they’ll thank me.”
The truth is they do thank him, because he is a pretty awesome dad. Because of the way life worked out, we work really opposite schedules. I work Sunday, Monday and Tuesday while he works Thursday, Friday and Saturday – at night. The bonus is that we no longer have to pay for childcare, which we couldn’t if we wanted to, and our girls are always home with a parent. The bad news is we get very little family time – it is a well established rule that no one gets to do anything on Wednesdays because it is our only family day. The other bad news is that he and I haven’t been on a date in three years and I really miss it because he is an awesome guy.
Our situation is in no way unique. I know a lot of teens that have parents working hard to try and make ends meet and trying to raise happy, healthy families. Our current economics makes it very hard for families. But despite what you may read in YA literature, which likes to write parents out of the stories, a great deal of parents try.
The Mr wears a ball cap every day. Sometimes, he will look at the girls and go, “This is your Dad.” He will then take the ballcap and put it to the side and barely place it on his head and said, “This is your Dad on Beiber.” He introduced them to Monty Python and Animaniacs. He makes them learn what the various tools are called as they work together to rebuild a moped he picked up somewhere for $50.00. Sometimes he reads to them, all snuggled up in a chair. And my favorite is that he likes to cook (I do not), although he leaves the most horrific messes in his wake.
If I Stay by Gayle Forman is one of my favorite YA novels. (Yes, I know, there was absolutely no transition there). It stands out to me for many reasons, but it is also one of my favorite families ever presented in YA lit. It was refreshing to me after all the absent moms and dads to read about a family that sat around the table together and had real conversations. I finished reading If I Stay one Sunday morning on the way to church, The Mr. driving us all there as I sobbed in the passenger seat flipping through the last few pages, the girls in the back seat asking if I was okay. But as I closed the book I could look around my car and know that although we may not be the perfect family, we were definitely blessed because we really did love each other and we were genuinely trying.
When The Mr. told me that Sunday about the advice he gave our daughter about waiting to re-read the letter, I was reminded once again that out of all the things I have done wrong in this life, I did this one thing right: I chose a man who would be a good father to my daughters. This parenting thing is hard and expensive and challenging and scary. But if you get it basically right a little more than you get it basically wrong, I figure that’s a win.
And you know where else you can find a good dad in YA lit? The Lynburn Legacy series by Sarah Rees Brennan, a great series you should definitely read. (Yes, I know, still horrific transitions.) That dad would totally do things like the Justin Beiber hat trick. And the truth is, for every absent father in YA lit, there are some really great ones. In Sex and Violence by Carrie Mesrobian circumstances force the father to really examine what kind of dad he has been and asks him to change at the same time that the story allows Evan the opportunity to grow and change. And in This Song Will Save Your Life by Leila Sales, which I adore, we see a divorced dad and a stepdad trying really hard to both be good dads to the main character, which a lot of teens are also dealing with. Because that’s part of being a parent, too, sometimes we can start off on the wrong foot and make the conscious decision to turn it around. Parenting is about choosing every day to try and be an active parent; it’s an active choice. It doesn’t matter that we sometimes mess it up, well all do and will, it matters that we keep making that active choice.
Lots of my teens won’t be celebrating Father’s Day today. Some of them don’t know who their fathers are. Some have very legitimate reasons not to want to speak to their dads. These family themed holidays can be very challenging for a lot of people. Some of my friends will be trying to avoid this day as they miss their very good dads who have left this mortal coil. Whatever this day may or may not mean to you, I hope it is a good one.
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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