2: Fathers and Husbands

By Kwast-Greff, Chantal | Cross / Cultures, January 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

2: Fathers and Husbands


Kwast-Greff, Chantal, Cross / Cultures


-Of Power and Contempt. Big Bad Wolves and Sex. Virgins. Baddies and Daddies. Mothers. Daughters. Incest

PARENTS HAVE A SOCIALLY VALID POWER over their children. They are an extension of society, and (usually) enforce the laws and sets of beliefs that are accepted among their cultural group. The parents' power is the more direct one because they are generally the first figures of love and authority the children encounter in their lives. Their influence is therefore prevalent in maddening daughters (and wives).

In Western societies and fiction, fathers define the ideal for a girl. Fathers have expectations. One obvious example is that of Albion, in Dark Places and in Lilian's Story. It is better if the child is male; a daughter is less valuable than a son. Still, there are compensations to having a daughter - for the father at least. As Albion puts it,

Once upon a time, there was a man and his daughter, and all was well. There was a man and his daughter, that was a definite fact, and nothing a man need be ashamed of.1

Of course, Albion hints at its not being quite right to have a daughter, something a man might be ashamed of. But at least it was a fact, and Albion therefore finds his existence as a father validated through his daughter. His relation with his daughter is woven around authority, rejection, and possession, and to some extent appropriation. One needs the other to exist or, rather, the father needs the daughter to make him whole, as he sees Lilian as a female version of himself. The daughter needs the father to love her - Lilian sees Albion not only as a figure of authority but also, and first of all, as the person she wants and needs to be loved by. Her daughter-love gives her father power? Quite naturally, a daughter submits to her father's law because she loves him and wants to be loved by him.

The boundary between what is 'natural' and 'normal' and what is not is emphasized in Margaret Coombs's Regards to the Czar where the father has the authority and power to submit his daughter to various practices on her body which range from the rather innocent needles/injections (he being a doctor) to the not so innocent enemas the mother helps inflict on the daughter, whose "bowels hadn't opened since last Wednesday. [...]. Wednesday morning." In "The Pea Princess and the Monsters from Outer Space," Helen, the daughter in love with her doctor/father, is first described as the good girl who submits to injections acting as if they did not hurt - thus integrating her mother's diktats - out of love for her father:

The room was a cold clean room and always smelt of medicine. Or ether - which meant needles. Only Helen had been taught to call them injections - and for goodness sake not to make a fuss, they hardly hurt at all: see, it was all over in a trice. Her mother always said that: they hardly hurt at all. To please Daddy, she pretended it was true.2

But later she is described as less cooperative (and more vocal) when she is given an enema. This is when daughter-love is outweighed by the sense of outrage the girl feels at her body's being thus invaded, and when the father uses his authority and physical strength (helped in this by the mother). That sort of authority, linked to the desire a daughter can have "to please Daddy," can prove to be demeaning and incapacitating for the girl. A girl cannot "fight back" against her father, she can only submit, eventually, sometimes after having put up a battle (or the show of a battle), all the time knowing she is utterly powerless. Another attacker a girl might be able to fight back, but not her father, as Lilian makes clear when her ear is twisted by that "cold man," that "loathsome man" whose face is as "expressionless as a Mask," who stared at her as if she "was something that was not worth spending an expression on," that taxi-driver whose taxi she had jumped into in order to have a (small/captive) audience. She can fight back at him in the violence he does to her body, that physical pain he inflicts on her, and that contempt he shows for her because, "although this man was like Father, he was not father, and I could find it in me to fight back. …

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