Wednesday, September 30, 2009


There's an article in the September issue of The Monthly magazine by Drusilla Modjeska called 'The Death of The Good Father', which discusses Granta magazine's issue number 104: Fathers.

I was particularly interested in the piece by Siri Hustvedt, 'My Father Myself'. In it, Siri describes sending her parents a copy of her third novel, What I Loved. Usually her father didn't ring her; she and her mother spoke on the phone and then her mother put her father on. This time, however, her father rang. He loved her novel, he told her. She'd attempted something difficult and pulled it off.

Hustvedt sobbed, she said, at receiving this recognition from her father. I sobbed too when I read this story. I cried for her and I cried for myself because this was never going to happen to me.

Except that this morning it did.

I have been so anxious about showing my father my book. He knew I'd received my author copies and he kept asking when he could see one. As it happened he was in Perth visiting family the day I took delivery, and then the day he returned I went to Tasmania. So last Monday was the day.

Why was I so nervous? Well, the book is scrupulously honest about my mother's condition. It describes my mother (by which I mean I describe her) at her very worst. I was sure my father would see this as a betrayal: that I was humiliating an unprotected woman.

This wasn't my intention. In fact I wanted to honour my mother, but to do that I needed to tell the truth, unprettified and unembellished. I didn't think my father in his grief and loyalty would understand that.

On Monday night we were all at Dad's for a family dinner, and when I left I told him I'd put his copy of the book on his bed. By Tuesday morning he'd read almost half. 'It's very good,' he said, but he hadn't finished and I thought he sounded a bit uncertain.

This morning he rang again. His voice was hoarse from crying. He'd finished my memoir, he said, and he loved it. He thought it was beautiful. His only criticism was that I'd given him too much credit and been unnecessarily harsh on myself. I could tell he was proud of me, though he didn't say those words. We spoke about the book for nearly an hour.

I didn't cry. I smiled all day, though I'm crying now as I write this. One of the unasked-for blessings Alzheimer's bestowed on me is a closeness with my father that we never had before. As with many other daughters, and perhaps like Siri Hustvedt, my relationship was with my mother and through her with my father.

The epigraph for Siri Hustvedt's latest novel, The Sorrows of an American, is from the poet Rumi: 'Keep looking at the bandaged place. That's where the light enters you.' That applies to my book too, I think.


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  2. Darling Viv
    Catherine Therese here, so so thrilled to hear about your book, congratulations, I cant wait to read it; I remember well our chats about your beautiful daughter oseas, & your Mum and Dad. Marvellous that you've received family support xx wish I could say its been the same for me...after publishing my memoir in May,I'm still living through the nightmare of their shame. Sending love and admiration for truth x Catherine
    Oh Granta 88, Winter 04 had a marvellous edition called 'Mothers'

    October 2, 2009 10:41 AM

  3. I cried too reading your post.
    Congratulations. A wonderful achievement. And support just where you needed it.

  4. Catherine Therese, so nice to hear from you. I'm so sorry about your family's reaction to your truly original and beautifully written book. It took a lot of courage to write, I know. And thanks for the tip about that Granta. I'll get hold of it.
    Saskia'sMama, thanks so much. Isn't it interesting that however old we are we still want our parents' approval and support. It means so much to me that I have my dad's now.

  5. typing through my tears..a lovely poignant post that is so close to my heart right now.
    I found my way here via your very creative daughter's post.

    Thanks for sharing.