Tuesday 24 May 2016

Being Dad - ed Dan Coxon

Being Dad is a crowdfunded anthology which brings together 15 British writers contributing stories relating to fatherhood. Featuring a mixture of established and less-well known authors, the collection manages to present a diverse range of viewpoints, without ever becoming overly sentimental.

Ironically, some of the most memorable stories are those which downplay the child-parent dynamic. In Rodge Glass’s The Jim Hangovers, for example, a father holding his sleeping baby reminisces about a drinking buddy from his early twenties, with a fondness for Bolano and a flair for creating inventive excuses for going on benders – the anniversary of the day the first Hawaiian stamps were issued, for example. Nights out with Jim inevitably led to existential crises the morning after, and there is still a lurking sense of threat attached to the memories of their nights out. The narrator recognises that, deep down, he misses the uninhibited excesses of those days, but fears that even returning to his old ways for one night could bring the rest of his carefully constructed family life crashing down.

Courttia Newland’s excellent Sound Boys spins the narrative perspective around, focussing on a child’s view of his father. Set in Stoke Newington in 1981, the story describes the experience of being a child in an adult’s world, suddenly confronted by the realisation that fathers sometimes tell lies. Newland describes community hall sound system parties with a vivid energy, ensuring that the story lingers in the mind.

In Paddy and K’Den by Toby Litt, once again children are not the focus of the narrative, which concentrates on an academic who is accused of sexual harassment, after some ornaments in his office are rearranged into explicit poses by his son’s school friend. Litt looks at the academic’s outraged reaction, showing the way that parents can react to any perceived threat against their children, the veneer of liberalism turning to over-protective outrage against ‘bad influences’.

Nikesh Shukla’s The Dandhiyas is another parental monologue, with the child as an unseen prompt for the protagonist’s thoughts. Shukla has previously written evocatively about the tie between son and mother in his story The Time Machine (Galley Beggar), in which a man attempted to recreate his recently-deceased mother’s recipes as a way of maintaining her memory. The Dandhiyas deals with similar issues of inheritance, although there is harsher edge to Shukla’s writing, as his character describes the struggle to bring up his child in a way that connects them to their heritage, which he himself had consciously rebelled against. As he shows his character warning his child about how they will be viewed by the people around them as they grow up, alternatively othered and exoticised, Shukla highlights the parent’s constant awareness of the need to teach their child about the world whilst also trying not to become self-conscious about their own actions.

Being Dad is a well-paced collection of modern writing, with a consistently strong level of quality throughout. Sound Boys and Paddy and K’Den were highlights for me, broader narratives which hold an insight into fatherhood whilst also describing a world beyond the parent-child bond, but each of the stories here has something to recommend it. Congratulations to Dan Coxon for his achievement in bringing together this talented group of writers, and successfully raising the funds for the publication.

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