Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Alternadad, Parenting in Literary History

I don't have that much in common with Neal Pollack, except maybe a certain attitude, but I still read about his book Alternadad with great interest. Here's Michael Agger's reading of it in Slate:

What's fallen away from marriage for artist-intellectual-professional types are the traditional genders and gender roles. But, as new moms have been observing for years, the arrival of a child has a nasty way of reinstating the old dynamic. Pollack, who feels the need to make money and provide a safe place to live, is among the first to relate the re-emergence of breadwinner angst among men. (Although he fights this pressure by smoking pot and forming a rock band.) Regina is divided by wanting space for her artistic ambitions and her feelings of being a "bad mother." Parenthood, which looks from the outside like a step into maturity, is actually a descent into a new set of insecurities. Including renewed tension with your parents, who are often willing to overlook a funky wedding ceremony but want to see you step in with tradition and/or religion when a grandchild appears. An infamous chapter in Alternadad details the three-way gunfight among Neal, Regina, and Neal's Jewish parents over whether Eli should be circumcised.


As I said, I don't have that much in common with Pollack (the religion question is a non-issue, for instance), though many of the questions raised in this review of his book in Slate are ones I'm thinking about too: as in, how to rethink conventional gender roles to support slightly non-traditional (in my case) careers. Also of great interest is how to inject a spirit of originality -- one's own idiosyncratic taste -- into parenting in a way that's both "cool" and nurturing.

As a side note, maybe I should follow Pollack's lead, and write an article (or book?) related to parenting sometime: parents and parenting in literary history. James Joyce was an unusual dad, though not a very good one, I gather. Rabindranath Tagore was in many ways a better father -- still highly unconventional -- though there are questions about him marrying off his daughter in a child marriage.

Of course those are only biographical bits -- the "real" question might be, how and whether writers posed characters as parents in their fiction. In some cases, it didn't matter whether they were parents or not: Virginia Woolf, for instance, did not have children, but she created some very memorable mothers in her novels -- Mrs. Dalloway and Mrs. Ramsay.

Other famous parents in fiction?

6 comments:

Ruchira Paul said...

Amardeep:
As a veteran parent, let me suggest that you hold off on writing the book / article on parenting until little Puran (and his possible future siblings) are old enough to provide some feed back on your efforts. Believe me, they will have plenty to say. :-)

As for Tagore's parenting skills, there are many stories. He was probably a good (and perhaps indulgent) father but the offspring suffered in comparison with his own legendary and dazzling reputation. There is a lovely poem about the fear of the dark that his young son expressed when father and son climbed a flight of stairs at night with just a candle for illumination.

Desiknitter said...

One of the most aggravating, and yet lovable mothers of all times, Mrs. Rupa Mehra, with her slightly reddening nose.
(in A Suitable Boy).

Blue said...

And, of course, Mrs. Bennett, whom I think would get along with Mrs. Rupa Mehra quite well.

fari said...

EVEN SYLVIA PLATH TOOK CARE OF HER KIDS TO THE LAST..SOME PARENTS FORCE CHILDREN TO GO ALONG WITH THEIR THINKING, THEIR FEELINGS, THEIR WAY OF LIFE. OTHERS SEE THEIR CHILDREN AS SEPERATE FROM THEM AND ALLOWE THEM THE FREEDOM THAT KAHIL GIBRAN DESCRIBES AS THE BOW THAT SENDS FORTHE THE ARROWS WITHOUT TRYING TO HOLD ONTO THEM.

Anne said...

Neal Pollack is, from what I can tell, a pretty scummy inroad into what, as a parent, I find a really interesting topic: have successful professionals ever also produced happy kids?

Tons of them have, of course, but the list of failures is long and comes to mind long before the successes....

And, until the 20th century, very few women writers were also parents. Mary Wollstonecraft probably would have been a great mom, but she died only 10 days into Mary W. Shelley's life. The Brontes, Christina Rosetti, George Eliot, Jane Austen all were childless as Woolf (also childless) reminds us.

But there has been a flowering of good parents--or good enough parents--who also write and teach in this century. Keep your eye out & you'll find them. One place to begin? Anita Desai.

Vance Maverick said...

I'm coming to this post quite late. But one of my hobbyhorses is "Frost at Midnight". It's a beautiful expression of some of the sentiments and ambitions of parenthood. At the same time, we know now that Coleridge was a hopelessly inadequate father; and what's more, there's a glaring error of logic at the heart of the poem that exposes the inconsistency of the ambitions. And yet I find that both these qualifications only heighten the beauty....