From the Introduction
Loving our Dads, Losing our Dads, Writing this Book
This is a book about daughters and their fathers and the bond that exists between them during the arc of life between birth and adulthood. It is also about what happens to that bond when the father dies – how it undergoes transmutation, transformation – with the daughter left to make sense of the complexity of the relationship and face how deep and wide this loss can be, whether the relationship has been a positive or more troubled one. The father-daughter relationship is one that has been neglected in writings about families, women, death and grief, often reduced to simplistic or negative terms; this book is an attempt to focus on the fineness, intensity and richness of that connection, not in some idealized or abstract way, but through real life experiences and real life relationships. It is about how our fathers shaped our lives, and shape us still, even in their physical absence – it is about how we live as fatherless daughters.
The fact that we are “fatherless” also means that this book is about grief – bearing it, feeling it, expressing it and understanding it. We have lived through the sadness, the rage, the questioning, the missing, the disbelief, and the foundering, realizing both the gifts and pains of memory after such a monumental loss as losing a parent. We also know something of the levels of change that occur after a parental loss, and how one’s sense of self is forever altered, even in mid-life when we might have thought that that sense was fairly stable and complete. As a result, this book is an attempt to speak to others dealing with their own grief, particularly if it is the loss of a father, but also for other losses, as well.
We could not talk about our relationships with our fathers without discussing our heritage that has served as the rich context for many of the gifts our fathers have given us – food, family connection, mysticism and spirituality, the sacramental aspects of living a life with passion. Therefore this is also a book about what it means to be Italian American daughters who have lost their fathers. Little has been written about a daughter losing her father in Italian American culture. In fact, even in the wonderful poem at the beginning of this book, the Italians are absent! We have felt, in many ways, that our relationships with our fathers have modeled the Roman adaptation of the Greek myth of Minerva, leaping from the brow of Jupiter – the creation of a special bond that felt warm, important and strong, from an early age. Our culture has also given us particular ways to mourn, for in Italian culture, death is a powerful specter, but so is the afterlife, rebirth and its attendant spirituality. We each have “altars” in our homes, beloved pictures of our own families, little spiritual gifts and tokens that keep us connected to the sacred, to the ways in which Italians honor their dead and hold them close. Though we each have adapted these connections to spirit in different ways (one with closer roots to Catholicism, the other to Buddhism), the result is the same – our Italian connection to all things spiritual remains alive and is a critical piece to defining who we are.
We are telling a textured story here of the father-daughter relationship across the whole developmental lifespan; the loss of the father and the subsequent grieving and reworking; and Italian American culture. Together these three weave the framework of this book, which is then filled with the stories of 52 Italian American women, with fathers they have loved and grieved, whom we have had the honor to interview. We also tell pieces of our own stories that were so influential in the writing of this work. The path of grieving is long—it is really the path of growing, being, relating, loving, losing, and finding someone in a whole different way. It is the path of our lives.
*The material contained on these pages may appear in an edited form in the final publication.