Literary fathers. We are not born to them in the blood-and-goo sense, but they have undoubtedly spawned many writers and readers with their subtly-writ humanity, their quiet victories and scars and flaws and inner thoughts drawing us in and drawing us, period. If you love literature, you contain their DNA.
It’s two days before Bloomsday, the only literary holiday made official by an entire country. It’s the day the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses took place, when one of the best-known literary fathers, Leopold Bloom, walked the streets of Dublin, the quintessential Wandering Jew, a modern Odysseus. The father who had just let his grown Milly move off to photography school, where she was met Buck Mulligan’s rowdy brother; the father whose only son Rudy died at eleven days old, whose wool-wrapped dead body still haunts him, and who, if only a little, if only for a night, is replaced by Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan’s roommate. A father without much fathering to do, who finds meaning nursing a drunken Dedalus until the morning of June 17th.
Some Irish citizens—James Joyce lovers, haters, and clueless, alike—take off work, have a Guinness for breakfast, and celebrate by walking Bloom’s steps, reciting his words. I saw it, in Dublin, on the all-important Bloomsday centenary—June 16th, 2004—when I couldn’t fully pull fact apart from fiction. I found myself walking Bloom’s steps, yes, but Bloom didn’t really exist. I looked at my reflection in the Liffey; I got stamps at the GPO. My feet; his feet. I was celebrating the hundredth year after events that never happened.
And few moments in my life have ever made more sense.
This—this—is the power of literature.
And this week at Atticus Review, we will add to your list of fathers-on-pages. We wouldn’t be Atticus Review, however, if we focused on traditional fathers. We are looking at fatherhood a little cockeyed, and with an inclusive eye. Because if Leopold Bloom helped me grow, raised me up, then all the chips are on the table. If my husband read Donald Barthelme’s The Dead Father on the very night our son was born—in a cabin on a former hippie commune—perhaps searching for an inventive way to navigate his new role, then we have to look where others might look away. We are creative enough to see negative reliefs in the trees, and see ourselves in books’ leaves. Aren’t we?
John Abbott’s “Long Division” was a pure pleasure to read when it came through our submissions process. It was—how do I say this?—such an easygoing story. Its autumn setting, its characters so (too?) comfortable with each others’ lives, its suburban setting and unassuming voice. How we look at each other and see what we want to see; how we create entire lives from moments. Fatherhood, this story shows, can be ripped away from a family and returned vibrantly, without skipping so much as a beat, and then can be skipped over again. Men can, with enough incentive and courage, take on an entire family without blinking, will allow their lives to transform if the right pieces are in place.
Hobie Anthony’s “Cooler By the Lake” leaves me with more questions than answers. Did the child go the way of Rudy Bloom? Did life return to normal after summer passed? What is happening now—right now—in the father’s life, after a decision that may or may not have been fateful? And I like this; I like not knowing all the answers, because I feel close to the father in the story, who doesn’t have all the answers either.
A life in a poem? Love and making love and a father (or almost-father) in a few pages of lines? Yes, yes, and yes in Kirk Pinho’s “Where We Bend.” Pinned to a wall and pressed for two adjectives to describe this poem, I’d dumbly spit out “perfect” and “elegant.”
We can make fathers ooze out of pens and keyboards. We listen laterally rather than look up for imposing answers. We listen to each other.
The Writer’s Coin