Jack Underwood and the Love of Sons and Daughters

Mr Underwood’s feels that becoming a father made him more insular. The intensity of his passion for his daughter distracts him from his former concern for humanity. but then, he probably started with a far greater capacity for philanthropy than my shrivelled walnut of a heart would ever allow me. 

I think, over time, fatherhood enormously expanded my capacity to care, not just in how I responded to my own kids, but how I felt towards all young children and their parents. My immediate reaction on the birth of my first child, though, was blank bewilderment. I held in my arms a dense little package of preciousness, but I felt no unique or special connection with it, no sense of authorship or ownership, no particular responsibility. I guess I had never experienced anything like this before and so didn’t know how to respond. I wasn’t even particularly worried about my blankness: I assumed this was a fairly normal reaction and that love would grow over time. 

Then my hard-nosed, unsentimental friend had a baby. He told me that the first time he looked into his daughter’s eyes he formed an instant, thrilling and unbreakable bond with her. I was horrified.

Now I feared my own reaction showed an inability to love, that I was some sort of psychopath. I hoped it was numbness. I hoped I just couldn’t access that subterranean reservoir of feeling, but that it was still there, somewhere, deep down. My fatherly concern for all small children allowed me to reassure myself that I had the capacity for love, even while I messed up my own attempts at parenting, and thus my children’s psychological and emotional well-being. 

In Not Even This, Jack Underwood’s powerful, intensely felt love constantly reminded me of my own shortcomings. The book is studded with declarations of love: “I want to know you, and to be known by you more and more . I want you to be more arrived … I want you to meet me here, where the words are! (p10)… You have cured me. With hope. You have given me so much hope (p39) … I am learning to live within the fear; it is huge, architectural, orchestral, my fear for you (p60) … It is strange how readily expendable I feel. Not the same as wanting to die, but a total willingness to die should the need arise(p61)” And so on. 

Mr Underwood even celebrates his daughter’s physical body, her little back, against which he leans his loving cheek, even her “shit and piss” because “it reminds me of all your neat little organs in there, working away. (p93)” 

This is a brilliant, impudent bit of writing, and it reminds me of how beautiful, articulate prose can distil emotions and ideas into clean and intensified little pellets: I respond to Jack Underwood’s declarations because, in a vague diluted and distracted way I have felt a watered down version about my own children, but being unable to express it in such a terse and focussed way, I have been unable to feel it so intensely. 

Or so I kid myself. I forgive myself. The truth is, that Jack Underwood’s writing on his daughter makes me feel inadequate[1]. Jo really picked a dud when she chose to have children with me!

[1] Ironically, though, my daughter and I bond over our dysfunctional relationship, and in mutual resentment of these self-congratulatory, wholesome father-daughter relationships. 

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