Sunday, January 11, 2009

What I Learned From Daddy

Theresa Laws

The trouble started the moment I was born. Daddy wanted a boy. Being blessed with me instead, he gave me a name with his initials, then retreated into silence. He became a man of few words and me being well, me, I became a person of many, prattling on about everything and nothing, determined to fill all the empty spots in our relationship.
There were no discussions between us about how the world should run while we were together in his work shop. Only grumblings about how I had squashed walnuts in his vice.
We never mused about what women really want while on a fishing trip to the lake. There was only a terse reminder to be quiet because I was scaring the fish.
He never taught me how to drive, shoot a gun, or skin a catfish. What he did teach me was it was OK to break the rules. I know he never intended that with his message, but it worked out that way.
Eventually I gave up on Daddy and moved on to having other men in my life. Before long, I was engaged. Daddy said little about it until, I think, the night before the wedding.
All those years when he would have been imparting the wisdom of the ages to a son, he must have been pondering this worthwhile advice for his daughter.
He gazed up from his recliner, pale blue eyes steely, as usual. The best advice I could never follow came right after the speech about coming home if things didn’t work out, and about how there would be rules if I did…blah, blah, blah. Daddy blurted out all that pent up man to man advice and said:
“Always have meat for dinner and never buy retread tires.”
For once in my life, I was speechless. Always and never are two very tall orders. Being a dutiful daughter, I considered his instructions, and tried very hard to carry them out.
Moral obligations make some “always” and “nevers” easy, but most of life isn’t structured that way. Surprisingly, I’ve found that to be the case in my writing life as well – the one place we’re taught to follow strict rules. Sentence structure must be - just so. Punctuation goes - here. Spell words - this way.
When I first decided to become a writer, all the books I read and the prose I wrote followed the rules. Then, in a rebellious streak, I switched from classic works to popular (read BLOCK BUSTER SALES) and realized that those writers who broke the rules were wonderful.
I also realized that I would have many occasions in my life when I just couldn’t follow Daddy’s advice. By choice, sometimes there wasn’t meat for dinner. By necessity, sometimes retreads would have to do.
So, when I write, by choice I chose fragmented sentences to make a point. You know? Perhaps I use an unusual punctuation to help my reader understand exactly what I want to convey. Pause here, trail away… Maybe it’s necessary to misspell a word to impart personality in a character’s speech. Do ya think? And, I’ve discovered something else. Breaking the rule of always and never has made me a better writer. If that’s what it takes, I’ll do it. Always.


Sheryl Tuttle said...

Enjoyable post!

Gary Denton said...

Nice post Theresa.
So many of us can relate to that distant relationship you had with your father- even some of us guys.
It's refreshing to think of breaking the rules this way, and I think one of my 6 word novels applies here: "He knew which rules to break."
Feel free to eidit the first word with "She" as needed.