Book Club

“Other times I sat with my book, quietly reading, but secretly waiting and hoping for this special treat. Even if I had already just eaten the same food, or even if it was some dish I did not particularly like, these tastes of my father’s food from his plate in the back room of his office had an enchantment to them that was delicious and magical, and precious. They form the fondest and closest memories I have of warm moments shared with my father. There were not many.”

My relationship with my parents, particularly my father, was always shallow. Reading this section of Zami made me have to look away from the page and breathe. An action that multiple of the texts we have read this year has compelled me to do, but this breath was particularly deep.  It was always the small memories that clung to me the hardest, and especially after his death, it is interesting to examine what remains in my mind.

I feel that every child that has a slightly estranged relationship with their father has a common thread that runs through all of their memories, an immortalized place they travel to where smiles and understanding prevailed over darkness and disconnect. For Audre Lorde, this place was her father’s office at lunch time, and for me, it was Sunday morning, sun streaming in through my mother’s lace curtains, both our feet propped up on the coffee table. My father figured himself to be a blue-collar philosopher and knower of all things important, and unsurprisingly he read voraciously. I, too, read considerably when I was a kid, but this tapered off in high school at the onset of his cancer diagnosis and the increasing severity of my schoolwork, leaving him to always complain on the weekends when I opted to go out with my friends to see a movie or get breakfast, rather than spending the morning with him in contemplative silence. But sometimes, when my plans fell through, or I felt like trying to break through his gnarled and protective exterior, we would sit on the couch and read. He favored historical fiction, Thomas Pynchon or Erik Larson, whether I would usually go for fantasy or poetry. The book itself really didn’t matter, all that did was that we were reading together, a scholar and his protégée. After a certain period of time had passed, he would mark his page, slowly turn to me, and ask, “So Lily, what do ya say?”, with a mischievous grin on his face. Then we would exchange our insights on the morning’s prose, and maybe, if I was lucky and if he was in a good enough mood, some stories. I coveted the times where I managed to squeeze a few details from him about his life before my existence and devoured every word he managed to spit out. I had to harness reading, use it as a bargaining tool in order to get what I wanted, because if he saw me expressing similar interest in the activity, it created a common ground from which to bond.

The term father can be abrasive and impassive, as illustrated by Audre’s relationship with her father and the experiences I’ve had with my own. It prioritizes family power dynamics and superiority, rather than emotional connection. The last time I referred to my father as ‘Dad’ was when I was just leaving childhood, as ‘Dad’ was far too casual for his now adult daughter to call him. Nevertheless, although my negative memories with my father tend to outweigh the positive, when I think of him, it’s always on some sunny Sunday morning as I read my latest literature, the sun pouring in to keep me company.

2 thoughts on “Book Club”

  1. This was a beautiful read that really resonated with me. I agree that every child who has a difficult relationship with their father has an oft-visited place in their memory that speaks to the good side of them. I think there is a significance in the commonality of some of the best memories people have with their estranged fathers being steeped in silence, as communication can often serve as a dividing force. I also think about books in relation to my father. He doesn’t read, but in my early childhood, he stayed home and took care of me while my mother worked during the day. He didn’t quite seem to know what to do with me, and so we ended up going to the library, somewhere free and quiet, where I never got bored. He would choose picture books for me, and go on the library computer while I read. It sparked my love of reading, and it is something I will forever be grateful for; like your memory and Audre Lorde’s, it is something untouchable that exists outside of the bounds of our fractured relationship.

  2. The example you mentioned from Zami shows how Lorde’s father was absent in many regards. However, a cold parent may also reveal the warmth hidden in the other. This might go beyond the length of the assignment, but it may be worthwhile to examine what your father highlighted in your mother. In the early sections of Zami, for instance, Audre Lorde’s distant father is foiled against her ever-present mother. It may also be interesting to expand on your analysis of the term “Father.” On one hand, it is very formal, and that establishes a power dynamic, but on the other, “Father” is a more distant label than “Dad.” In a patriarchal structure, that distance may carry some degree of freedom.

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