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Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Treatment Tuesday - Consequences of an Absent Father

This week's assessment is brought to you by Australian author Maree Giles. I'm always a bit stunned when published authors write in about their current works in progress. Well, that any person would trust me with their characters--their story--is humbling and amazing. Thank you, Maree. :)

Maree's working on a historical set in Sydney, Australia, in 1946. Maree's heroine is a famous fashion model, raised by her governess mother, who opens an etiquette school for young ladies with her mom and socializes in all the influential circles. She finds out that a widowed man with 7 children stole a frock in the department store where she works for his eldest daughter's job interview, and this opens the heroine's eyes to the human side of the petty thefts plaguing Sydney. She has the idea to make jam and pickles using the chokos that grow in the man's garden. But someone steals all the products from the man's shed. Meanwhile the man's daughter is taken in for being "exposed to moral danger" when the Sydney police found her in a bar. The girl stays in her father's custody, but is warned she may be sent to a brutal reform school. The heroine offers to enroll the girl in her etiquette school free of charge as a way to help. In addition, she expands her school in a time of high unemployment and low morale to include etiquette for Sydney's roughest, unemployed men.

Maree wants to know the following: Considering my heroine's background, what sort of personality-type would she be? She was abandoned by her father, she's a country girl with old-fashioned values, dedicated to her mother who wants her to make the most of her looks and talents, a bit of a snob and intolerant of bad manners, but caring, intelligent and deep-thinking.

At first glance, it looks like you've got her personality all figured out, Maree. But there are some places where digging a bit deeper might help you flesh her out even further.

Let's start with being abandoned by her father. From what you wrote, your heroine's father left her mother when she was born, so she had no chance to get to know him. This is going to leave a young girl wondering why her father left, and upon discovering the time frame of his departure from their family, she will likely reason that his leaving has something to do with her birth--or otherwise, her very existence. Young children are so quick to blame themselves for issues in the marital relationship. They might never say it out loud, but they internalize this untruth in various ways...from outward behaviors to inward depressions and isolation.

I'd also bet that almost to a child, children from divorced homes envy children from intact homes. They know that something is missing from their single-parent home, and can see--even from a very early age--that their home life isn't the same as Marci's or Peter's or Sarah's. Your heroine will find fathers fascinating as a result. This fascination could transfer to men in general, making her very vulnerable to influences of men.

Mary DeMuth's memoir, Thin Places, is a great book to understand the tender psyche of a girl who essentially grew up without a father. There is a yearning to have a deep connection with a male--and this desire should be initially met for a girl by a father. Without the need being met, the girl usually will seek love and acceptance anywhere she can find it. This could be from other boy peers, or other adult men. She'll crave relationship but be scared of it at the same time, as she had no role model for what that would look like.

That said, likely your heroine transferred her desire to be loved and accepted into an unhealthy relationship with her mother. You wrote that the mother "sees potential in her daughter as a fashion model." This takes quite an enterprising and scrutinizing eye to determine this. Anyone can see that a girl is beautiful, but not just any mother would look at their child and think, "Hmm. Future fashion model." There's a difference.

To think one is beautiful is just stating a present fact, enjoying God's creation. To think one could be a fashion model is to assume a future, planning for power and influence. And it worked for this mother. The heroine becomes successful, blooming in her mother's affirmation, although it's somewhat like the difference between a rose grown inside a greenhouse to a rose found on hillside. One is natural, the other is groomed for optimal perfection.

If this girl is not constantly minding her Ps and Qs, looking flawlessly turned out at every function, then she will likely feel that her relationship with her mother will suffer, that her mother won't be proud of her, might not give her her blessing. Who's she really dressing up for? Her mom or herself? Who's she being a model for? Opening an etiquette school for?

Children want to be blessed by their parents. We all crave our parents approval and acceptance. (FYI, John Trent and Gary Smalley wrote a book about this very thing called The Blessing. Fanstastic read, especially for those individuals who can't receive a blessing from their parent, either due to death or a parent's unwillingness to give it.) So this fatherless girl, left only with an enterprising mother (who might very well love her daughter), will seek after whatever blessing and approval she can. So she will turn heads at parties. She will speak with grace and never interrupt. These actions are the currency she uses to buy love.

So YES! She's dedicated to her mother. Probably overly so. You intimated that problems will arise later when her mother begins to depend too heavily on the heroine for company. I think that will be spot on. Eventually this girl will realize there is a world out mentioned having her traveling around to Paris and London and New York. That should do it. Meeting the father of 7 children will definitely expand her horizons. She might even be in awe of a man who would willingly risk getting caught by the police just to steal a dress for his daughter. She won't understand that kind of love and devotion, as her own father wouldn't even stick around to watch her grow up, much less sacrifice so much for her. And the love and devotion from her mother is more one-sided on the heroine's part. In all honesty, what has the mother given up for the heroine? What has she done, other than nudge her daughter into the spotlight while riding her coattails, so to speak?

I hope I haven't wrongly characterized your heroin's mother. I would have liked to email you back and forth a bit about her role, but that's what I get for having a 4-day Valentine's weekend and a 2-year-old birthday party, as well. Let's correspond in the comment section if I read the mom wrong. I gathered that your heroine's snobbery and intolerance of bad manners could stem directly from her mother's influence.

From what I read in your email, it looks like you've got a nice internal arc for her...coming down off the mountain a bit to fraternize with people of lower socioeconomic status, seeing their humanity. This will change her, and perhaps she'll find more in common with them than her influential circles. People are people, the only difference is that wealth aids in wearing masks more efficiently that poverty does. She'll probably be drawn to the "real" side of the rough and tumble men who take her etiquette courses, although initially she might show disdain for it--simply because that's what will be expected of her and it's something she's unfamiliar with. But she'll be drawn to it, as well. You can see the great potential for internal conflict here.

I guess that's enough for this assessment! Sometimes I get carried away, imagining talking to this person in my office. Let your heroine speak to you from that wounded place in her past...the place where a father left a vacuum. Hope this helps!

This service is for fictional characters only, so any resemblance to real life examples is entirely coincidental. Any other fictional character assessment questions can be directed to charactertherapist (at) hotmail (dot) com.

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Angie Ledbetter said...

These sketches are fascinating. Loved that this one highlights the importance of being a stable and present parent vs. absentee. Write on!

Maree Giles said...

Your analysis and insights are wonderful, Jeannie, thank you so much for this! When I thought of the characters and the story these were my feelings but in a more vague way. You have helped to consolidate and clear my thoughts and also confirm that I'm on the right track! You are right about the mother, although I do think she only has her daughter's best interests at heart, and of course her daughter would never, ever do anything to disappoint her mother in public, or criticise her, but perhaps at home it would be a different story. On the other hand, perhaps the daughter would keep any negative thoughts to herself as she is, after all, an etiquette teacher! This could lead to health problems later on.

Mary Aalgaard said...

This is so wonderful and helpful. Thanks, also, for the book recommendations. I have an absent mother in my novel. Have you done an analysis on that type, yet?

Kate Mosher said...

Love it Jeannie, that is a great assessment and totally fascinating reading!

Christine Hammar said...

Love these analyses! I was wondering about a young boy whose father is absent. What ramifications would ensue?

Regards from Finland

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Both comments and questions are welcome. I hope you enjoyed your time on the couch today.