Adult Daughters and Their Fathers
The long shadow of trust.
Posted February 18, 2019 | Reviewed by Ekua Hagan
Research shows that a daughter’s relationship with her father casts a long shadow on her academic performance, career success, relationships, and emotional well-being. As you might imagine, daughters whose fathers have been actively engaged throughout childhood have a powerful impact on them well into adulthood. But what if you’re faced with the possibility that everything a father has said and done has been veiled in mistruths? How does a young woman make her own life choices when she can no longer trust her own instincts, her own memories?
My dear friend, author Katrin Schumann, explores these and other questions about adult daughters and fathers in her new novel, The Forgotten Hours. In this #MeToo narrative about best friends and how they’re shaped by first experiences of love, in all its incarnations, Schumann grapples with these and other questions of identity, parenting, and love.
Lynne: A woman’s early relationship with her dad, who is her first male object of love, shapes her consciously and unconsciously, showing her what she can expect and what is acceptable in a romantic partner. How did you use your main character Katie’s relationships with boys and men in high school, college, and present-day to examine this?
Katrin: I wanted to explore how very badly a girl can be knocked off track when her idea of what it means to be a good man, a father, a husband, a lover is turned on its head. I tell the story in two timelines—the present day when Katie’s father is getting out of jail (for a crime she doesn’t think he committed), and the past, when she and her best friend Lulu are 15 and things go awry—to capture and contrast the before and after moments. Before, in youth, when you’re hopeful and naïve; when romantic love seems both pure and available to you. And then after, when you’ve started to question your perspective and perceptions when you become sidetracked by confusion and guilt.
At 15, Katie has an innocent flirtation with a boy called Jack and she never forgets that—for her, it represents all that is positive and healthy in a relationship, but she comes to discover that her desire for simplicity and clarity actually distorts reality. Even Jack isn’t really who she thinks he is. In college, after her father has been imprisoned, she’s experimenting: She’s been damaged, and she’s trying to figure out who she wants to be now, and who she can become. It’s a moment for her when she’s incapable of taking control, of choosing the right person. Then, as a young woman, she stumbles into a relationship with an older man, Zev, and as they get closer and more intimate and committed, she is scared of making herself vulnerable. Can she trust him, and herself? It’s hard to have a mature romantic relationship when the model you have in mind has been twisted out of shape.
Lynne: Katie’s father is accused of a criminal sexual offense when she is a teenager. How does her family handle the feelings of shame and betrayal? What are the downsides to these choices that ripple well into Katie’s adulthood?
Katrin: Katie has grown up in a culture of silence. In her family, people pull themselves up by the bootstraps; they get on with life, moving forward without looking backward. This has the advantage of looking pretty good from the outside—Katie throws herself into school, her studies, and then work. She appears to be a “successful” young woman. But her own reality is very different: Not talking about the trauma she experienced doesn’t make it go away. It’s still there, unprocessed. So her relationships with everyone are compromised—she can’t be honest with her new boyfriend, though she yearns for the intimacy and trust he offers her. She’s estranged from her mother because she can’t understand her choices. She loves her brother but there is so much that has gone unsaid between them that they’re not close. Bessel van Der Kolk wrote an important book called The Body Keeps the Score in which he explains that trauma victims are often stuck in a narrative that they can’t adapt, so they can’t move on in a healthy way. This is what happens to Katie.
Lynne: In discussions and interviews about The Forgotten Hours, writers and reviewers comment that this is a novel about the complexities of consent in the #MeToo era. Yet it’s also a story about how children choose (or choose not to) understand their parents’ needs and desires, especially when it comes to relationships and sexuality. What do you hope readers come away with when it comes to Katie’s adult understanding of her father, her mother, and their relationship with each other?
Katrin: We probably all remember the moment when we realized for the first time that our parents are only human, that they don’t know the answer to everything, or that they are perhaps less honorable than we believed. But we never stop being our parent’s children, no matter how old we are; we yearn to love and trust them no matter what. When that relationship has been broken or undermined, it’s hard to move forward into adulthood ourselves.
In this story, I catch Katie at just that moment in her life when she’s on the cusp of being an adult, and the question is: What kind of person will she become? One who is open and trusting (and trustworthy), or one who retreats and pretends? In facing up to the reality of her parents and understanding for the first time their full complexity—as individuals, but also as partners in marriage and parenting—will Katie be released from the past and find a way to move forward in a healthy way?
For me this is a hopeful book, one that shines a light on some uncomfortable truths but also says, we are resilient, we continue to seek out fellowship and love in spite of it all, and ultimately we have the strength to overcome trauma and disappointment, and find agency again.
Lynne: You’re a mother and a partner. Has the journey of writing and publishing this novel led to any meaningful conversations within your family? In what ways do you encourage parents to have tough conversations with their children about the topics explored in the novel?
Katrin: I’m someone who openly shares my struggles, my hopes, and disappointments, so my husband and kids have been with me on that journey. And yes, I talked a lot with my family about the themes in this book. I didn’t find it hard to talk with my children about sex, as such—the mechanics—but it’s awfully hard to talk with people about the gray areas. What does consent mean and what does it look like, in reality, in the heat of the moment? Why do people rely on alcohol when they’re trying to make connections with other humans? What happens when you discover you’re wrong about someone? How can you protect yourself from someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart? Is loyalty always a good trait?
There aren’t easy answers to a lot of these questions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth asking.