I saw this picture by Cecile Walton at the Queer Art exhibition at Tate Britain the other week. It's a homage of sorts to Manet's Olympia.
In Romance, Cecile Walton paints herself holding up her baby son Edward like he's an alien, and her other son Gavril is standing sad-eyed at the end of the bed clutching the black cat. And of course the thing is the baby does look like an alien because there is nothing as other-worldly as a newborn baby.
While I was getting feedback on All Quiet on the Home Front, Susan Bright, who curated the Motherhood exhibition a few years back (and did a phd on the subject) told me about maternal ambivalence - which can be expanded to be parental ambivalence. She was also kind enough to write an endorsement for the book, which I absolutely love. This is part of what she said:
All Quiet on the Home Front takes the little explored subject of a father and daughter relationship. It covers the ground of parental ambivalence - a term which legitimizes feelings such as fear, boredom, anger, confusion and other conflicting emotions in relation to having a child. It is usually referenced in terms of the mother, as if the father has none of these emotions at all.
This is because it is usually mothers that do the bulk of child care - especially in the early years - and they have the myth and societal pressure of the selfless mother to contend with. This, of course, does not mean that fathers are immune to such feelings.
There's also paternal ambivalence, something that for me was in particular manifested in the four walls of the home, in the confines of what is suddenly an alien domestic environment (I'll write more on this later. It's a big part of the idea of All Quiet on the Home Front).
The flipside of that ambivalence is an ideal of fatherhood where the ideas of what it is to be a father are limited, confusing and ultimately nauseating, a testosteroned individualisation of a sports team on tour, with a big jaw and a fine line in self-serving justifications of cruelty. Think the Commander in the Handmaid's Tale.The dilemma for men is how to escape all these emotionally illiterate fatherhoods and make life better for everybody, especially if you have a daughter (Robert Webb talked about this in the UK the other day).
And that's what All Quiet on the Home Front is about - how to become the father that you want to be, not one you don't want to be. It's not easy.