“I know my last request is the hardest one of all, and I am sorry for asking, but I wish I had a dad who loved me.”
In a word: Don’t read the thing. This one wasn’t really all that good. For a story that had the potential to be very emotional, it was pretty damn bland. The main character, and the narrator, is Steven, who is taking a surprise Christmas trip to the north of England to see the gay son he pretty much cut out of his life years before. This could’ve been so much better than it was. There’s just no emotion in the whole thing. Steven’s son Andy is initially angry when Steven first shows up, but that doesn’t last very long. And the reconciliation between the two of them had them in tears at different points, but it was written very matter of fact. Also a lot of the time it felt like I was reading a condensed version of a longer story. We don’t actually get to know much of Andy, or his partner Peter, and what we do find out is filtered through Steven’s distanced narration and then made uninteresting. If you turn your brain off it’s a nice little redemption story, but it really feels like there’s something missing. Like I said, I don’t think it’s emotional enough for the subject matter, and what emotions were there didn’t really ring true. Also I felt like Andy forgave his father too quickly considering Steven’s behaviour. It’s an interesting premise for a story, but the execution is faulty and I can’t really recommend it.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Premise: This isn’t a romance story. It’s a story about a father reuniting with the son he disowned from the perspective of the father. It’s an interesting idea, and it could play out in many different ways. Unfortunately, the way it played out in this case was with very few obstacles and fairly emotionless for a scenario that should have its characters feeling a lot of strong emotions. The most intriguing part of the story, and what initially got me interested, was that it was told from the perspective of the person who did the abandoning. Usually it’s the other way around. The problem with this is that the narration is totally emotionless and seems less concerned with forgiveness and reconciliation and more concerned with describing a picture-perfect Christmas celebration (a celebration that I felt was fairly unrealistic considering the circumstances). (*Note: I have absolutely no personal experience with dealing with estranged parents, but I’m pretty sure it’s common sense that a 7-year long hostile separation is not something the injured party will just get over in a day, even if it is Christmas.)
The Father: This story is told through the first-person point of view of Steven, a father on a surprise visit with the son he disowned seven years earlier. We don’t actually get that much insight into who Steven is as a person, despite technically being inside his head. We do learn a few things about him, like that his wife has recently died and that he’s quite close to his daughter and her family. He seems really keen on reconnecting with his son, though I don’t remember anything about why he finally decided to stop being homophobic trash. He says a few times that he doesn’t understand gay relationships and that he was disgusted by the idea of his son having gay sex (which, is that even something parents think about in relation to their adult children?). It’s kind of a weak motivation to rationalize ignoring your child for seven years. I was mostly annoyed by Steven the whole time; which was rather unfortunate as the story is being told by him. I also felt like he was taking the situation with his son for granted, like things went his way so he just swept seven years of being a horrible father under the rug.
The Couple: Andy is Steven’s 26-year-old (give or take a year) son, who he hasn’t had any direct contact with in seven years due to his own assholishness. Peter is Andy’s 49-year-old boyfriend and is actually a bit older than Andy’s father (which isn’t necessarily creepy, but in this story it kinda is, which I blame on the writing). We get their backstory diluted through Steven’s narration, which makes them sound a lot less interesting than they probably are. They’ve been dating for two years but they met years before when Andy was in university and Peter was his tutor (or a TA or something? I think things are different in English universities). They’re actually pretty sweet together, in the few scenes that we see through Steven’s eyes. Their life in their tiny English village and their conveniently well-to-do jobs do kinda come off as stupidly perfect, but they do seem like a nice couple. If I have one complaint about them together, it’s Peter’s behaviour concerning Steven. It was originally him that got the ball rolling on the whole reunion. Andy, continuing a childhood tradition, writes a letter to ‘Santa’ wherein one of the things he wants for Christmas is a father who loves him. Peter sends the letter to Steven, not really expecting much, but seems pleasantly surprised when Steven actually shows up. Andy is angry when Steven first shows up (and rightfully so, I feel), but Peter seems happy for the whole situation. I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but Peter comes off a lot like an authority figure to Andy when he’s interacting with Steven. Peter and Andy together look like a normal couple; Peter interacting with Steven has a hint of two people talking about a child.
The Sex: None. Thank fuck. Steven is the first-person narrator for the whole story. His wife died before the story started and he is not currently involved with anyone. The only main characters in a relationship are Andy and Peter, and the only way we’d get a sex scene from them is if Steven was watching them going at it. Thankfully, that does not happen.
The Writing: I hated the writing. It wasn’t that bad at first but it just seemed to get worse and more obvious the more I read. I have no real love for the story. It was an interesting premise with a botched delivery. It was bland and emotionally distant. What emotions were there didn’t really ring true. And I also couldn’t get past the fact that Andy would forgive his father so quickly after being ignored by him for seven years, including on a deathbed visit to his mother. Seriously, Andy is mad when Steven shows up and them seems to be mostly over it later that night and then completely over it the next day. To the point where Steven is invited to stay with them at their house on his unexpected visit. I call bullshit. Outside the story, the writing itself is a chore to read. Like I said, it’s bland and emotionless. It’s also very formal, both in the narration and the dialogue. No one here uses contractions, which is very jarring to read in a story that takes place in the present day. One or the other of these things on its own probably wouldn’t have been so bad, but both together at once just made me so glad that this was a short and quick read.
[Dear Santa, Dear Dad was published November 22, 2013, by Dreamspinner Press, it is only available as an ebook]