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Featured Poem: A Father Like Me by Emma McGordon

Written by The Reader, 6th February 2012

This week's Featured Poem has been chosen by one of our project workers running Get Into Reading groups within mental health settings. It's a rather special one this week - with accompanying audio as well as text: enjoy.

I've gone for this poem published in Issue 40 of The Reader.

I would’ve said it’s a poem about being a tomboy. But then it seems to want to shake off any labels which support the idea that boys should behave in one way and girls in another.

I’ve read the poem with several groups now and the main talking point was the sense of feeling somehow other. One group member summed it up when she said, ‘When you’re growing up I think everyone feels abnormal in some way.’ We wondered whether you ever lose the feeling of strangeness in yourself.

The father-daughter relationship is a crucial part of the poem’s thinking about where identity comes from. One group member picked out lines referring to the father:

For years I abandoned him
Too busy being my own version of him.

She said she couldn't tell whether the daughter was idolising or rejecting the father. Several people talked about cutting their parents out of their lives and others talked about things the other way round- their father abandoning them.

There was a lot of debate about gender stereotypes – the parents in the groups talked about dressing their sons and daughters differently, even when they were babies. Some people had very traditional views, saying, for example, that girls shouldn’t play rugby or football. But, just as the poem does, one person challenged this by saying ‘As long as my children were happy and healthy, I didn’t mind what they did, it didn’t matter if it was my lad or my girl.’

A Father Like Me

I didn’t want to be daddy’s little girl,
I wanted to be daddy’s son, I wanted a football,
a racing track, a power-car, a gun.

I didn’t want Sindy, Polly Pocket, Barbie, I staged
a late night heist, a hit and run involving Ken
and that white Ferrari, Barbie’s dead and Ken’s
to blame, the Ferrari’s in the car wash,
that was my kind of game.

I’d hold Sindy upside-down swirling her hair
in a puddle. What you doin? I’d hear him shout,
but I’d fight off my father’s offer of a cuddle.

One Easter all trussed up – pink frill dress,
shiny new shoes, straw bonnet hat – I went exploring,
ribbons unravelling in the wind, I went
looking for my reflection in a bucket of oil,
its silky surface I swirled with a stick
never finding the bucket’s bottom
only that pink and black don’t mix,
each fingerprint spread as I tried to wipe the last.

Oil became a thing between him and me,
I grew up, bought old bangers of cars
learning measures made by a dipstick,
that everything with a yellow cap in a Ford
could be filled up; oil, water, washers,
ignoring my mother’s new shade of pale pink lipstick.

I held my body rigid as he taught me to check tyres
and water, levels and tread, my back’s axle aching.
When I pulled out the fuse for the wipers
instead of the flip catch for the bonnet
he made a comment about women and cars
and my heart was punctured.

He took my sister’s boyfriend to the scrap yard
searching for spares, as the car turned the corner
of our road, I was left a part
only a front door key on my fob,
to him I was still his little girl,
he wanted me to meet a nice lad, settle down,
have babies I suppose.

He doesn’t know of the army pants in class 3’s
dressing up box, shoving them over my skirt,
he, my father doesn’t know that I was always the dad
while other girls fought over clip-on earrings and
dragged five-sizes-too-big-heels across the orange
carpet, their toes in the points of 1986 stilettos,
I was busy being like him, rolling paper
pretending it was a cigarette, sitting in the chair
watching the news on a cardboard telly,
he didn’t know I’d spent years basing myself on him.

Suddenly I find I’ve grown up all wrong,
Oedipal instead of Electra, got my wires crossed,
circuit board fused, systems shorted.
I was a physics paper problem where you decide
to close AB or DD to get EE, the lighthouse
to light so the boat can see sea.

My walk his, my talk his,
my voice an echo arguing with his,
for years I abandoned him,
too busy being my own version of him,
until I meet this woman who tells me
I’m not him, I’m me and that’s fine.
For the first time I notice as I change gear
my hand actually does look like a woman’s.

And this woman says having crossed wires
is a good thing – she finds them interesting
and this woman comes to know in me
something I never knew existed
this woman teaches me
to know my father as myself.
So, now each year, as we all grow older,
I find I do want to be my father’s daughter.

Emma McGordon

Click to listen to Emma McGordon reading A Father Like Me

2 thoughts on “Featured Poem: A Father Like Me by Emma McGordon

Jaki says:

That’s heartbreaking – can’t wait to use it in group.
I hope I challenged the idea of being daughter or son for both my daughter and sons – as your person did. Let them be what they will.

jennerous says:

wonderful moving poem, thanks so much for highlighting it here and thank you to the poet for reading it so….beautifully.

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