I wonder whether there’s anything more influential in life than the imprint a father can make upon a child. As the backgrounds of my Milford-Haven Novels characters begin to surface, fathers loom like tall shadows. Protagonist Miranda tries to please her demanding father; Sally misses the protective kindness of a father she lost too soon; Zack enjoys a rare comradery with his colleague-father, yet feels a disconnect he can’t yet voice, even to himself. In What the Heart Knows, we get undertones and overtones.
My own childhood was filled with hero-worship for an imaginative, supportive father who built me treehouses and brought home a collection of marionettes I quickly turned into a repertory company. Early teen years were filled with magical travel—literally around the world, from our home in Tokyo to the States via the most fascinating routes possible. So Pere (as my sister and I call him) expanded our hearts and minds inward into creativity and outward into curiosity, and these qualities are even now at the core of what we do and who we are.
My dad seemed to walk a tightrope as I started to leave the nest. He wanted me to stand on my own . . . but made sure I had a safety net; he didn’t want to give relationship advice . . . but was quick to come to my defense. I watched with greater understanding when my husband walked that same line with his kids.
As you can tell, I have a life-long rapport with my dad that I would wish for everyone to enjoy. We did have one dissonant chapter. When I transitioned from journalist back to performer, he didn’t get it. It just made no sense to him that I’d toss away a huge, secure opportunity (staff job at the Associated Press) in favor of the uncertain life of an actress (he’d graduated from Yale Drama School, then switched gears to enter a business life.) I understood his logic, but was frustrated that he didn’t seem to trust me or my process. But really, it’s not that he didn’t trust me. He was on that highwire—balancing between showing strength and revealing vulnerability.
Then one day he called, having received the first few episodes of my radio drama Milford-Haven. “I see what you’re up to,” he said. “I think it’s going to work. In fact, I think you’ve got a tiger by the tail.” I was thrilled at the unexpected restoration of his understanding. And it has never wavered since. No one has been a more staunch supporter of the Milford-Haven story (other than my mother). He later performed in the radio drama, and directed a few episodes brilliantly.
My husband sometimes participates in Men’s Work seminars and discussion groups. He’s generous in sharing some of the secrets of how men find their balance. This year on Father’s Day, Pere admitted he was nervous about memorizing his lines for an upcoming performance; my husband admitted he was nervous about a talk he was giving at his church; my step-son could barely accept our compliments about his good fathering; our son-in-law confessed he worries about his baby daughters. The men in our lives may worry about wearing their hearts on their sleeves. But really, the qualities that make someone a good father are so often the very qualities that make him a good man.
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