DADDY ISSUES: Love and Hate in the Time of Patriarchy, by Katherine Angel
It’s not that I want to date my dad, I just want him to want to date me. He thinks I’m the most beautiful girl in the world. He also told me, when I was 15, that I’d never have a boyfriend who would not cheat on me. If I cheated first? “Deny! Deny! Deny! ” advised my dad, and I listened because he kind of reminded me of Winston Churchill when he slammed his hand down on the table like that.
“Daddy Issues,” Katherine Angel’s third collection of essays, presents the sexual nature of a daddy-daughter dynamic so matter-of-factly that at first I could not help seeing it as a self-help manual: the dummy’s guide that I had long been waiting for. Instead, this is an examination of our often prurient fascination with the dynamic, and that fascination’s inherent misogyny. It’s also something of a reclamation. “You can, at least in principle, leave a husband, but you can not leave a father,” Angel says. Unless, she suggests, you write about him.
Her thought-provoking approach is to argue that our society has overlooked the place of daddies in “daddy issues.” To prove the point, she dexterously analyzes a variety of literary works, historical figures like Virginia Woolf’s father, Leslie Stephen, and contemporary tabloid examples, like Meghan Markle and Ivanka Trump. “A father’s love is revealed in jealousy,” she writes. “But if there is a romance between father and daughter, however repressed, and however culturally determined, why are we so intent on it being the daughter’s romance? We are alert to the daughter’s daddy issues; what of the father’s daughter issues? ”
Angel – who directs the master’s program in writing at Birkbeck College of the University of London – can be a clever interpreter of art and, when she lets us see it, a sensitive thinker in her own right. I wanted to rip off Angel’s (sometimes overlong) discussions and try out her best one-liners at dinner parties. (“Do not you think that ‘abuse is partly about seducing someone, making them feel special and loved’?”) She succeeds admirably in her ambitious project to emphasize the father figure and as a result diminish the historical scrutiny of the daughter. Yet I found myself missing the daughter’s point of view – that is, Angel’s own.
I want to know what caused Angel to write about “daddy issues,” especially given her highly personal claim that “writing is how I experience my experience.” I would not expect a writer as accomplished as Angel to dole out personal information if the topic in question were, say, astrophysics. But to truly “create a parent” out of writing that, as Angel puts it, “does not demand my false self,” she creates a need for disclosure in the reader and then withholds it; yes, we are fixated on this dynamic – but what drew her to the subject?
One of the best, most personal moments is her account of a trip to Tate Modern to see Anthea Hamilton’s “Squash. ” The exhibit revolved around a “human figure” dressed in a loud, “floaty” costume, head covered by a “bulbous, obscene, squash-like structure.” Angel can not look away. She stares unashamedly, which fills her with both power and relief. “How wonderful it would be to not have to see people’s faces, with all their needs and longings and projections!”
But we women do have to look at men, and we must endure our excited terror when they look at us. It is impossible to rid ourselves of our fathers, and they are, inevitably, forever stamped to our insides. The title of Angel’s book gestures not only at our dismissive cultural shorthand, but at its universality. Is an issue inherently bad? Comparing my own father to Winston Churchill felt good, if only at the moment.
Annie Hamilton is a writer and performer from New York.
DADDY ISSUES: Love and Hate in the Time of Patriarchy, by Katherine Angel | 81 pp. | Verso | Paper, $ 12.95