YA Guy’s a dad. And YA Guy’s a son too.
My dad turns 84 this year. He’s in very poor shape physically: failing eyesight and hearing, limited mobility (he uses a walker), frail bones, chronic arthritis and other pains. He’s still 100% there mentally--or, okay, maybe 99%. In some ways that makes it harder, since his mind is fully aware of his body’s betrayal.
I wrote about him in an essay I published last year, “Body Parts.” If you’re interested, you can order a copy here.
But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today, on Father’s Day. Instead, I wanted to talk about a book he used to read to me when I was a kid.
It’s called The Man of the House, by Joan Fassler. It’s a picture book--not YA--but you’ll forgive me if I bend the boundaries of genre for a single day.
The Man of the House tells the story of a young boy named David, whose father leaves town for a few days. While he’s gone, David takes over the responsibility of being “the man of the house”--which, to his six-or-seven-year-old mind, means fighting off dragons with his magic sword, stomping white wolves with his magic boots, shrinking monsters with his magic ray-gun, and generally taking care of things with machismo and magic. All goes well while Dad’s away, and when he returns, he assures David that he’ll take over where David left off. Though David is relieved to hear this, the book ends on a bittersweet note:
But somehow, deep down inside himself, David felt just a tiny little bit of sadness. Then David climbed back into his bed and clutched his furry brown teddy bear tightly. And, after a while, David fell fast asleep.
I’m aware that The Man of the House is hopelessly out of date these days. (It’s out of print, too.) The gender roles are so traditional--father/son as protectors of the house, mother as timid housewife, complete with nightgown and nightcap--they’re practically Victorian. The book came out in 1969, when I was four years old; now that I’m forty-eight, I hope I’ve grown beyond its stereotypes about boys and girls, men and women. I wish I could say our society has grown beyond those stereotypes too, but as Erin Albert's guest post pointed out, we're not there yet.
I will say this, though: as a child, it was my favorite book.
Maybe that was because the main character’s name was David (my middle name), or because he looked a bit like I did as a child. Maybe it was because the book was filled with beautiful illustrations of the kinds of fairy-tale creatures I loved in those days, and still love now.
Or maybe it was because I foresaw a time when I’d be a father, and I was grateful to my own father for helping me to imagine myself that way.
Happy Father’s Day, Dad.
COMING UP ON YA GUY:
On Wednesday, a review of ARISTOTLE AND DANTE DISCOVER THE SECRETS OF THE UNIVERSE by Benjamin Alire Sáenz!
On Thursday, a guest post by author ERIC PRICE!
And on a date yet to be determined, my first GIVEAWAY! Stay tuned for details!