Wednesday, August 4, 2010

What this Daughter did when her Daddy was in Jail

I've heard the jokes about the children's movies that feature child protagonists with single parents. I don't think it's all that funny, though. I'm forever grateful for that.

While some creators may not have had completely sincere motives, what they've done is made relatable character for my daughters.

Even though we live in a time where divorce is pretty common, most divorced families they know spend equal time with both parents. My girls still don't feel like they know a lot of kids with their experiences. I've often joked that someone needs to write a book about what to do when Daddy's in jail.

While not a parenting book, one author has written about that experience. Tracy McMillan, author of I Love You and I'm Leaving You Anyway: A Memoir, is an adult daughter of a father that was in prison for most of her childhood. Unfortunately, she did not have the stability of a mother, either. She went from foster homes to a stepmother that would rival the worst of the step-villains in movies. Ironic as it might be, the parent she had the most connection with was her father.

Her book explores how that dysfunctional relationship affected all of her relationships. Like most female-oriented books, it concentrates more on romantic love, and while I agree with that premise, I was at first dismayed by the insinuation that this is the only kind of relationship that matters. McMillan is a successful writer, most recently for the AMC hit series, Mad Men and her life story, to me, is more about success than failure.

Yet, this isn't a story of defying the odds, either. The more engrossed I got in her story, told with a gripping narrative that takes the reader from the far past to the more recent past that highlights the parallels from there to here, the more I saw that the bigger picture is about the lack of real learning any of us get in how to couple.

Yes, McMillan's relationships with men were deeply affected by the abandonment she felt through her father's choices. Without ever seeing, knowing or having a successful long-term relationship to model, she was lost. Still, I think that not having anyone to share her deepest thoughts, fears and longings with were just as responsible.

We don't talk to our kids about love. Not without reason, we don't want them thinking about that too soon. Yet, how many children grow up without having a real grasp of coupling to know how to do it later? Even children who grow up in the nuclear family where Mom and Dad love each other to no end don't actually know how to do it. (Like, ahem, ME, for example.) Parents, all parents, hide some personal details of their lives.

So children grow up talking to their peers about this - who are just as clueless. Some get lucky, some do seek real education on the matter from therapists or clergymen, but most of us learn these lessons from experience, and some of those experiences can be life-altering. And not in a good way.

McMillan doesn't preach, doesn't claim to speak for anyone but herself, and does so with honesty, wit, and an inspiring spirit. That spirit, to be sure, is responsible for all of her successes in her bio. McMillan teaches (in the best possible way, by showing) that the only way we can overcome our challenges is if we are willing to put in the work.

When there are so many books to choose from, McMillan's I Love You and I'm Leaving Anyway offers something fresh, something new, and with fodder for thought and introspection long after the last page is read.

This post is part of TLC's Book Tour. While I was given the book for free to review, I have not been compensated for this post and the views and opinions expressed are completely my own. The link to the book is connected to my Amazon Associates account, and any purchase made from it will generate a small referral fee for me.


MindyMom said...

Thoughtful review. Wish I had more time to read!

Danielle said...

This sounds like something that i would like to or should read.

jenn said...

I may try to read that sometime. I guess it interests me because Shiloh's dad is in jail also.

Heather J. @ TLC Books said...

You are so very right that even happy-go-lucky nuclear families don't necessarily teach their children how to choose the right mate and keep that relationship healthy and successful.

I'm glad that you were able to connect with this book - it sounds like one that will definitely stick with you for a long time. Thanks for being a part of the tour!