I’ve often written about fatherhood on this blog, which I’m sure my mother appreciates since she’s one of my steady readers, love you mom, but damn it it’s a recurring theme I keep going back to. Recently I’ve begun seeing a therapist and the other day we had this conversation. Why does the idea of the father keep returning to me. The first answer I had was the most honest: because I’m going to die. Being the man he was he then asked me how I thought the Cowboys were going to do this year. Once I’d reminded him that the Cowboys couldn’t pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the label, he then moved back into the mainline of questions and upon deeper digging we were able to come to a conclusion. You see my father was a working-class hero, an exterminator, and every paycheck he ever earned was bought with his blood and sweat. My grandfather welded oil pipelines in Houston so, like my father, his money was made with his hard labor. Looking at my own life this is a hard model to fill. My father and his father sang a song of hard labor that my book handling, paper fiddling fingers just couldn’t seem to fill.
I recently finished a graphic novel that I read about once a year because it without a doubt one of the most brilliant books ever published. Daytripper is a book about the son a world renowned novelist from Brazil, who writes obituaries for a living and tries to figure out what he wants in life while writing a book, exploring various countries in South America, meeting the love of his life, and ever always trying to figure out how his dreams are pushing him closer to his life, and, just as quickly, his own death.
I bought Daytripper at least three years ago. My ambition to become a college professor is matched by my desire to be the weird eccentric college professor who taught all the weird and unusual stuff. As such comics and graphic novels rose to prominence. I recognized that my love for Batman and Superman (I don’t give a good goddamn for Marvel, except maybe Thor and Young Avengers) wouldn’t be recognized my many, if any, in academia and so I decided to try and find books that were more “reputable” to supplement my hardback All Star Superman. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic entered into my life by serendipity, I found it at the Half Price Bookstore, and preceding that was Persepolis which I found when the animated film version was advertised before a French film my little sister wanted to watch. I think it was Au Revoir Les Enfants, but it’s been too long now to be sure. The only reason I actually found Daytripper was because I googled “Top Ten Graphic Novels” and it had made the list that year. Then again when you win an Eisner (think Oscars for graphic novels accept socially relevant and not a three hour ass-kissing marathon for millionaires).
There’s so much in Daytripper to touch on, but that’s the eternal struggle, and weakness of the writer. It often feels like much more needs to be said that actually needs to be said. Since I can’t sit down and tell you everything I’ll focus on what felt the most important.
I really did want originally to cover the entire book, but these essays are ever always reflective I noticed while I was reading the book this time around how much I noticed the relationship between bras and his father. Looking at a passage later in the book it’s established:
Despite this opening there never seems to be an absence of Bras’s father, nor is there established any real negativity. What comes across is a desire to understand and work with one another; what I mean is, both men seem to be trying to meet one another and understand the relationship that exists between a father and son. I’ll try to develop that idea so it comes across clearer. Give me time reader. The relationship between them is a song that is sung from the first few pages until the very end, and while there are many quotes that could fill the pages of this blog and my word processor, the last letter to Bras is everything:
You’re holding this letter now because this is the most important day of your life. You’re about to have your first child. That means the life you’ve built with such effort, that you’ve conquered, that you’ve earned, has finally reached the point where it no longer belongs to you. This baby is the new master of your life. He is the sole reason for your existence…. You’ll surrender your life to him, give him your heart and soul because you want him to be strong…to be brave enough to make all his decisions without you. So when he finally grows older, he won’t need you. That’s because you know one day you won’t be there for him anymore. Only when you accept that one day you’ll die can you let go…and make the best out of life. And that’s the big secret. That’s the miracle. (242-243)**
This letter isn’t read by Bras until the end of the book when his son finds it in his father’s old study. By then Bras’s Old man (Old man, Old Father, Oh my god I just that expression) is long gone and he himself has just received news he has several inoperable brain tumors so death is knocking. The book ends not with another death, but with a quiet song and memory of the father.
There’s one last page in the graphic novel that, try as I might, I can never find it. In the end I had to photograph it and save it onto my computer. I apologize for the low quality. Bras is having a dream and is standing in a field with his father. The two men both look old as they stand side by side of each other smoking cigarettes.
Bras: I’m not goin to wake up am I?
Benedito: Guess Not.
Bras: Why? What happened?
Benedito: It Doesn’t Matter. The Real question is…Do you want to keep dreaming?
Bras: Do I have a choice?
Benedito: You always have a choice.
Bras: So what now?
Benedito: Well, just picture where you want to be…and read the story until the end. (219-220).
When I re-read Daytripper I recognized that I was going to have to write a review for it for this blog because it’s too much of an inspiration on my life, both socially as well as creatively. While reading I recognized a theme in the book I had always noticed but have only recently begun to digest. The relationship that exists between Bras and his father Benedito becomes almost archetypal without losing its unique characteristic. Benedito is often illustrated is when he is older, and in this way he becomes, as James Joyce so eloquently put it, the “old father, the old artificer.” Benedito becomes the collective father for the collective sons of the world and it’s telling that Benedito’s words are the last lines of the book. Bras is always going back to the figure of his father, either as a source of inspiration or some source of solace and I do believe this a sensation similar to sons.
There are many stories in Daytripper that the reader will find and gravitate to, whether they are a mother, a father, a sister, a son, a daughter, a wife, a friend, or a husband. There are few books in this tired period that really speak to human mortality without become kitsch or pitifully preachy. Daytripper promises me with each reading another chance to wonder if I’ve been a good friend, a good son, most recently a good husband, and ever always I return to the question that seems to be haunting me every year of my life, a good man. Do sons try to become their fathers, inherit their legacy, or is it different? Is the dream just to get on equal footing with the old man, look him in the eye, and know you tried the same as he did?
I’m not sure.
Each year passes, I’m four years away from being thirty
I only have one life, one narrative, one story to tell, but damn it it’s worth it in the end if I can know that stood beside my fathers.
The letter quote is actually taken from another website, The Hooded Utilitarian which transcribed the letter. They were very kind to do this and I hope the reader forgives my laziness. I’ve included a link to their review below.