Father Daughter Relationships Are Not Always Easy
by Pamela Cowan
I began writing because a friend showed me I could. I kept writing because of my father. Thanks, Dad!
When I was thirteen, I wrote my first short story. My father read it and began to cry. “This is amazing,” he said. “This is really good.” I had made my career military, six foot two, not-to-be-messed-with father, cry.
Words were powerful.
On top of that, my father seemed proud of me. Most kids want their father’s to be proud of them, and I was no exception. Though my dad was gone a lot—deployed for long periods of time—when he was home, he was the center of my universe.
It wasn’t always easy to please him. Our relationship was complicated, confused by his increasing alcoholism and mental health issues. He’d caught a form of meningitis while stationed in Japan; and he suffered from PTSD as a result of time spent in the Korean conflict and the Vietnam war. As an Army medic my father went in with the Marines who, at that time, did not have their own medics. He saw a lot of bad things and for years used alcohol to numb those memories.
When he drank my father became a raging, violent, frightening man. When he was sober, he was funny, creative and kind. The effort to reconcile how one person can exhibit two personalities is one of the themes that continues to show up in my writing.
Looking at my novels I can certainly see a progression, not too different from the progression I made as an adult, as I tried to understand the good and bad of the father I loved—and sometimes hated.
In my first novel, a thriller titled, Something in the Dark, the main character starts as a child living in Army housing. Her mother is there, but her father is absent. When the book shifts to the same character as an adult, her father has passed away.
In my second novel, Yetzirah, a fantasy for young adults, my main character has an abusive father. He is so abusive that she and her twin seek refuge in a portal world with elements like those in Alice in Wonderland, The Narnia Chronicles, or The Magicians. He, too, disappears from the story, dying when his daughters are still in high school.
My next novel, Storm Justice, the first of the Storm McKenzie Vigilante series, also deals with a damaged father/daughter relationship. Storm McKenzie, set on fire by her drunken father when she was thirteen, still bears the physical and emotional scars of that event. Is that why it’s possible for her to ignore the social contract that says we won’t kill each other?
In the series, Storm, a probation officer, becomes partners with one of her clients. In book two she partners with a woman who is not who she pretends to be. In book three her unexpected partner is her father.
Storm’s husband, the father of her children, is the antithesis of her father. He is the perfect man, funny, caring and stable. Risking that relationship makes the stakes huge. The third book, and the complicated relationship between Storm, her husband, and her father brings a sense of closure and even redemption to the series.
The inherent conflict in our relationships is one of the most interesting components in any good book of fiction. Learning to see my father as a flawed human being with elements of good and bad has helped me—I think—write characters that are more than cardboard cutouts or stereotypes. I hope those characters are relatable to my readers.
Whether they are good or bad, fathers play a role in every child’s life that cannot be filled by anyone else. Father’s influence who we become. Mine influenced me to love humor, to take on challenges like changing a tire or building a bookcase, to appreciate books, and believe I could write.
Love them or hate them, our fathers are a part of us.
Pamela Cowan is an award-winning, Pacific Northwest author, best known for her psychological thrillers. She has degrees in Communication and Organizational Psychology but is most proud of being selected to take a class from Ursula K. Le Guinn. An army brat who was born in Germany, she moved with her family 17 times before her father retired to Oregon, where she has stubbornly remained. She has two grown children, a remarkably patient and supportive husband, an unruly flock of quail, and a killer view of the lake. Learn more at her website.