I firmly believe that literature  can exist only if it is precisely an open proposal to investigate the truth.

 

 And I’d like to add: and to search for beauty.

 

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The great underpriviledged

 

The father’s role and the father-son relationship in Greek literature for children and young adults.

 

Manos Kondoleon

 

 

In the Greek literature for children and young adults, women authors outnumber men, same as in many other countries. One could allege that children’s literature constitutes a branch of what has occasionally been referred to as «Women’s literature». Therefore, just as those works placed under the rubrique «Women’s literature» express their authors’ intension to express their female concerns, so do the works of juvenile literature written by women. They often deal with various subjects concerning family roles that a woman is asked to play. In other words, it could be supported that women authors, primarily of children’s literature, but also of young adult’s literature, are motivated mainly from their feminine identity and their gender roles in society and in their family. Women authors write as mothers, daughters, grandmothers, houswives or friends. Most of the times then, theirs is a female voice and not a “gender neutral” voice. Thus, relations such as mother-daughter, mother-son, daughter-father, sister-brother and so on, frequently spark off developments in novels for children and young adults.

On the other hand, one rarely encounters a father-son relationship, the masculinity of which may not be easy perhaps for a woman to grasp. Yet it is a catalytic relationship both from the father’s as well of from the son’s point of view. It is a lifetime bond which is often more intense than the famous mother-son relationship

This intriguing and dynamic link has rarely been explored even by those men who write for children and young adults. The examples found in fiction are mostly based on biographical elements than on gender inner conflicts. Would it be far fetched to claim that the few men authors of children’s and young adults’ literature rarely dare to touch upon sensitive gender issues?

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These thoughts are expressed at a time when the Greek literature for children and young adults has indeed entered into a golden era of  maturity. Undoubtedly, the topics dealt with are multipled and ample; the techniques used for their literary incarnation are innovative and imaginative. Yet, few are the books attempting a more substantial exploration of the father-son relationship, seeking passages that bring the two men closer or at times lead them apart, one being the other’s future and the other being the former’s past.

A large number of the books I have written form part of children’s and young adults’ literature. Most of them have dealt with intra-family relationships. But I had to spend twenty years of writing (during which I very often wrote about the father-daughter, son-mother and other relationships) before I dared to confront the writing of a novel based on the relationship between father-son. I used the words «dared to» referring not to the author’s risk, but to the personal risk of exposing my views on these two roles, both of which I have played in my lifetime.

Who would I choose between Markellos the father, and Linos the son, heroes of my novel Rock Refrain (Athens: Patakis, 1999)? Who have I identified with? And when I revealed their stands and conflicts, whom did I have in my mind and in my heart? My father or my son, myself as a son or as a father?

This novel is based on the bond that linked these two men, who never saw much of each other, since the father died when the son was still a little boy. Besides, Markellos was a rock music idol and was totally devoted to his art, neglecting his parental obligations. Linos heard a lot about his father but saw little of him. When his father died, he continued to feel the shadow of the parental absence, but also the burden of the perpetual presence of a popular artist. His feeling about him were mixed and contradictory, ranging from hatred to pursuit, from deprivation to liberation. As he grew up, he felt the need to identify with his lost father, perhaps as an effort to achieve the closeness he never had. So, not only he became a rock singer, but he utterly imitated his father’s artistic style. This total identification would have led him to perish as an individual, if Linos had not realized  this on time, and attempted to break off. His effort to individuate leads him to a reassessment of the innermost expression of self - his artistic creation.

It may be the son’s inner need to walk on the steps of the father. If in the case of my hero-son such a need proved traumatic, in other cases it may take the form of an almost sacred duty. The son seeks to complete what the father left incomplete, as an opportunity to provide a moral – though delayed – recognition to parental convictions.

For instance, in the novel Wrong, Mr. Neuger! by Loty Petrovits (Athens: Patakis, 1989) the principle character Alex Neuger, of Austrian origin, comes to Greece, to his mother’s homeland, to fulfil his father’s duty. The latter, a soldier of the Nazi troops in Greece during the Second World War, had objected to the death of unarmed people. He had rescued women and children and had fled to escape from the Nazis.

A woman sheltered him and helped him survive. He had promised her saviour to return when peace would be restored, but died without fulfilling his promise. After nearly fifty years, he returns to express his father’s gratitude.

Loty Petrovits, one of the most prominent figures in modern Greek literature for young people, does not belong to that category of women authors who write based only on personal experiences. She very often draws from historical events and social issues. This way, she approaches one aspect of the father-son relationship and develops it to the full. Avoiding complicated psychological analysis, she clearly illustrates persons’ loyalty to parental moral values. Neuger seems to have had a genuine relationship with his father.

However, genuine relationships are also based on the principles of mutual understanding, respect of other people’s rights and admittance to personal responsibility. Such is the father-son relationship portrayed by another Greek writer, Pandelis Kaliotsos, in his novel Father and son (Athens: Patakis, 1995).

Kaliotsos - vigorous and innovative - often uses humour to put certain social situations in question. After all, Kaliotsos’s position is that even the most interpersonal relationships are determined by the general social conditions that govern people as society members. Thus, in his novel Father and son he describes the primary conflict between an illiterate father and his son. He uses humor to point out some strong social implications present. The father presses - almost oppresses - his son to get an education. Later, the whole structure of the conflict is reversed. Soon it will be the son who will press - almost oppresse - his father to make use of and attend a continuing education program to the general public to acquire basic knowledge. The whole situation will guide the heroes to acknowledge not only each other’s rights, but also their own responsibilities. And they will come to realize that all these rights and responsibilities lie beyond their immediate interpersonal relationship.

Clearly then, Kaliotsos holds the view that the relations between parents and children extend beyond the familial boundaries affecting persons’ attitudes as members of sound groups.

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Surely, the three novels presented here are not the only ones in modern Greek literature that deal with the father-son relations. Nevertheless, I believe that they are almost unique in illuminating this relationship in an effective literary way.

In the Greek literature for young people, same as in the literatures of many other countries, the father is frequently present in the plot. However, his role is often stereotypical and constitutes no cornerstone in the developing narrative. The father is placed in mother’s shadow or is substituted by the grandfather’s presence.

It is an odd though explicable phenomenon, I believe. It is not only the fact that the greatest number of novels for young people are written by women. Our male-governed society has imposed the view of men as less emotional than women. Man possesses a crucial role outside the family. He attends to its needs for economic survival, but nobody asks him, nor teaches him to be emotionally present within it. Man is more of an agent than a communal. The father’s stereotypical role is that of the breadwinner, and fatherhood is not traditionally related to sentimentality and emotional pleasures.

In that light, the father’s presence in novels is obviously restricted and does him no justice. The father-son relationship needs to find its place in novels, as does the feeling in the life of a family. After all, social convictions are changing rapidly and all of us have come to acknowledge to crucial role that the father’s presence has in shaping the child’s personality – the son’s even more.

Writers, I believe, should allow themselves the freedom to treat and even radically reconsider the role of the father as one which his of central importance and to place him among the principle characters in their novels.

Gender equality, novel economic conditions, work relations, sexual preferences, the re-determination of male identity, are all factors shaping new family types. Fathers are discovering a new position in their home. Children’s literature is bound to surpass its conservatism, still present in some countries more than others do, and reflect modern trends.

Through the books that today’s or tomorrow’s children will read, they will form an idea of what roles to play as adults. And it is significant to aid them to see the most humane, even vulnerable face of the father - the father they have got, or the father boys will become, or the companion that young girls will choose to father their children.

(Magazine Bookbird/IBBY)

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