Daddy Issues and Allison Joseph’s “My Father’s Kites”

My Father's Kites Cover Page

Allison Joseph’s My Father’s Kites is an intensely intimate collection of poems that dissects the poet’s relationship with her father. The opening piece “Bio Note” suggests, by repeating the line “Tell me about the poet,” that the speaker has lost a bit of herself with her father’s passing. The collection therefore  seeks to restore the poets identity by analyzing and scrutinizing every aspect of her relationship with her father. Art and the creative process become therapeutic and by the end of the collection the poet has reconnected with herself and is able to assert her right to speak on what she has not been able to speak when her father was alive. In “A Daughter’s Villanelle” she states:

Allison Joseph (image compliments dancingpoetry.com)

If you could read these words, I’m sure you’d damn

the talent that I waste trying to scan

the junk of memory for what I need.

I write about your life because I can, (lines12-15)

The collection does indeed scan the poet’s memory, revisiting her childhood, her college graduation and the dreamlike moments directly following her father’s passing. The poems reveal a strained father-daughter relationship, as the poet remembers and recreates, in metered verse, the significant moments of her life, moments when her father was absent or fell short of acting as she thinks a father should. Through the act of writing, the poet comes to realize how these moments have influenced the way she views and presents herself in the roles of daughter and artist. In revisiting moments when her father had failed her, causing silence, distance and resistance on her part, Joseph manages to show how her father’s story is inseparable from her own. Presenting a dynamic image of her father, we get to see him as neglected son, “black man fighting for his dignity (Defrerred, line 3),” widower and diabetic.

At once her father is the kite-maker whose contraptions would “grab ahold of the wind to sail/ into the sky like nothing in our neighborhood” only to end in a “collapse of grocery bags.” Her father, the man who would “sing/a made-up tune to show the world how proud he was of [her],” the man who called her sister “stupid” and her “clumsy,” the same man who was “the advertising man,” “the real estate exec,” “insurance man,” and “nurse for hire.” The man who lost a part of himself when his patient, “a boy with sickle cell, kidney disease” died.

Fallen Kite (Image compliments Rajasthan Jaipur)

Even as daughter paints a picture of father, the poet demonstrates that she is aware that she can only share her version of the story. She reminds us that the vision of the man we’ve encountered in these pages is heavily colored by a daughter’s subjective perspective, by her emotions. She admits that she may failed to play the perfect role in their relationship. In “On Not Wanting to Write a Memoir” Joseph states, “My memory is insecure. I have no proof/ that what I claim is true. There’s always doubt” (Lines 4-5), and in “Dereliction” she states “I wasn’t there to help you when you fell (line 1).” Then, in ” My Father’s Hand Mirror,” she even identifies with her father saying, ” I hold the mirror as my father did,/ see imperfections, blemishes, and lines…now I glimpse the lines under my eyes,/ can feel that doubt he knew begin to rise (lines 1-14).” In acknowledging her limited perspective, Joseph allows herself to note the similarities between herself and her father. She is finally able to erase the distance, seeing his reflection in hers, knowing that they share a story. She is now able to reveal what she couldn’t when her father was alive ( I suggest you read the collection to find out).

Sprinkled throughout the text however, is the underlying fact that her father was from the Caribbean, the island of Grenada to be exact, and by the third section of the book we learn that her father’s own father, her grandfather, might have had a hand to play in who her father was.

My grandmother remained behind as he

departed to make money in the States.

She later learned my grandfather begot

A secret shame: another family. (“Father’s Lineage “Lines 11-14)

This aspect of the work is what stuck me as most poignant, for I too have a complicated relationship with my father. My father left my mother in her sixth month of pregnancy with me. He went to the States in search of a better life, promising to return to us or send for us to join him. As so often happens however, he begot another family, and the two of us still don’t have the kind of relationship I always imagined we could. This absent parent is not an uncommon occurrence in the West-Indies though. It is rather common for one parent, or sometimes both parents, to migrate to the States leaving children to grow up in single parent homes, with grandparents, or sometimes with other, more distant relatives. To grow up in the shadow of this absence is not easy, it affects one’s self-image, for as a child it is difficult to understand how a parent can choose to leave one behind.

Daddy and I at the wedding

As I participated in my father’s wedding last Saturday, the day when he finally made “his other family” official, I couldn’t help but remember Joseph and My Father’s Kites. In telling her story Joseph made it easier for me to share my own. I dare say that we share this story with countless other children who were “left behind” by West- Indian parents, who promised to return, may have wanted to return, but never did, or did too late. I still have hopes of cultivating a closer relationship with my father, and  My Father’s Kites has played a role in helping me understand that he is only human, as I am human. I accept that one only evolves as one has experiences and that one works through the process as Joseph demonstrates with this collection. My father may never be able to reveal his full story, but I can see a bit of it in my story. I think I can understand him better through analyzing myself.

Works like My Father’s Kites make me aware that the perfect relationship may never be a reality, but sadly, or not so sadly, I am okay with letting things run their course. I admire Joseph’s courage in speaking out on such an intimate issue and look forward to hearing her read on Tuesday Nov.4th  as the final guest reader for Tabula Poetica’s annual poetry reading series.

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11 Comments

  1. Trace said,

    October 25, 2010 at 12:27 AM

    Another awe-inspiring post!!! Looking forward to the reading on Tuesday–hope I can make it :D
    t.

    • AphroditeAres said,

      October 28, 2010 at 1:29 AM

      Thanks, Tracey. I think you’ll enjoy hearing her read.

    • Alex said,

      May 14, 2017 at 8:37 AM

      Wow! Great to find a post with such a clear megeass!

  2. October 25, 2010 at 10:04 PM

    Wow! what an idea ! What a concept ! Beautiful .. Amazing …

    • AphroditeAres said,

      October 28, 2010 at 1:30 AM

      Thanks, Sichere.

  3. Loverly Jn Paul said,

    October 27, 2010 at 1:12 AM

    Beautiful reflections, which i am sure many Caribbean women including myself could empathize with. Your maturity and outlook on the situation is the epitome of the art of forgiveness, and how much we all can learn, grow and heal from ecahother. I don´t have any animosity towards my father for his past choices, i think it is something he has to deal with everyday, and i can´t imagine it being easy. I don´t see any need to rub it in. That´s the beauty of education, it frees you from those chains and the whole “victim” mentality, because you are able to gain a greater understanding of others and know that they too have a story, although it does not make their choices right, one is able to understand how much circumstances has a part to play in most things. I can go on and on, but just wanted to thank you for sharing, and as always, keep up the great work!:)

    • AphroditeAres said,

      October 28, 2010 at 1:43 AM

      You’re right, Loverly, it really is empowering to let go of the victim mentality.
      I think its a natural reaction for any child, but as you pointed out, education and a real desire to understand goes a long way.
      Thanks for reading and commenting. It’s always nice to hear from someone who has been there and managed step out of the shadow.

  4. I Am Cepha said,

    October 31, 2010 at 7:04 PM

    People make bad decisions in the name of selfishness, which puts them in bad situations, which forces them to make difficult decisions. At the end of the day; we’re only human, so the selfishness persists and dictates our choosing in the difficult decision making. Usually, what you get are that the products of infidelity are cast into the darkness so that the man can continue with his life, going unprosecuted and unpunished and an innocent life is deprived. Very rare is there a man who stands up and puts the child’s life 1st. Our survival instinct and our will to survive are our strongest of all, which means we were designed to survive, regardless of the storm. So what you constantly find are the deprived triumphing, sometimes even doing better than the rest of us. Champions of champions!

    • Natalie said,

      October 31, 2010 at 8:35 PM

      I agree, Cepha! I was motivated to do better partly because I wanted to make him proud, but also to show him that I could do whatever I set my heart to without him.

  5. November 24, 2010 at 7:32 PM

    Natalie,

    What a beautiful post. It’s interesting and, of course, disheartening to learn how many of us were left behind as children by one or both parents and how it has stayed with us and impacted our lives in so many ways. As adults, we usually come to understand and forgive, but some scar tissue always remains. I love that you participated in your father’s wedding and have discovered another part of yourself in the process.

    Michelle


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