In Honor of the Dads
June 5, 2014 § 2 Comments
This month marks 20 years since I lost my father: my hero, my biggest supporter, the first Big Love of my life. I find that, as my own children get older, and I get to share in their many milestones (just this spring, JP learned to ride a two wheeler, scored his first soccer goal, and passed his deep water test), I am filled with a new kind of sadness over how much my Dad has missed out on as a parent himself.
As graduations wrap up around the country, I think about how my Dad never got to watch me go off to his own beloved Alma Mater. I think about how he never got to hear me rant and rave about my first job at an advertising firm. He never got to step foot into my first apartment, the first space I ever decorated completely on my own. He never got to walk me down the aisle, or get to know the man with whom I would choose to spend my adult life. He never got to parade around photos of his grandkids at work, or show off Manhattan to my daughter, as my Mom did just this past weekend. He never got to read these blog posts, which I know he would have done, because he always, always, made time for my writing.
Following Papa’s Song (Ages 3-6), a new picture book by Gianna Marino, is a stunning and poetic tribute to the father-child relationship. At its simplest, it is about a young whale, who embarks on his first summer migration alongside his Papa, a journey that will take him “farther than [he] has ever gone before.” Little Blue has all sorts of questions, like whether his tail will ever allow him to swim as fast as his father, or whether he’ll still be able to hear his Papa’s song, even when he’s big. It’s when Papa answers this last question that we realize that this story is as much metaphor as it is migration: “Yes, Little Blue. If you listen closely, you will always hear my song.” In parenthood, finding the balance between letting go and welcoming back is itself a dance that never stops playing out from the moment we bring a child into the world.
In the book’s beautifully paced dramatic arc, we watch as Little Blue’s curiosity about the unimaginable beauty beneath the sea leads him off course, landing him at the bottom of the ocean, alone and scared. Marino doesn’t gloss over Little Blue’s fear, but instead devotes several poignant pages to the dark, mysterious sea, filled only with the young whale’s plaintive cry and his strain to hear his father’s song. When the two do finally reunite, the page explodes in a rainbow of color, as father and son soar and splash together on the ocean’s surface.
Marino first won me over with her illustrations in Too Tall Houses, another book with a lovely message, where an owl and a hare inadvertently sacrifice their friendship in a competition for who can build the tallest house. As an artist, Marino has a knack for playing with perspective as a way to heighten drama; and that same talent shines through in Following Papa’s Song, with arresting close-ups of the whales’ expression-filled eyes, as well as affectionate arcs of backs and noses as the duo swims together. But what really elevates this picture book is the color that Marino employs in her richly layered, mixed-media paintings—hues of aqua and jade and pink and yellow that are so deep, so luminescent, so passionate, that we feel utterly entwined in the love of father and son. Not to mention the majesty of the ocean.
Dads are the best. They just are. No one’s arms make you feel safer. No one greets you with as much joy. I love watching my children leap into their own father’s arms when he comes home in the evening, or argue over whose turn it is to have Daddy put them to bed. I remember how my Dad used to crawl into my younger sister’s bed in the morning before he left for work, how he’d get under the covers and hold her tight and they’d talk about their plans for the day. Each time my children manage to sweet talk my husband into one more story, one more round of catch in the backyard, I smile in remembrance of all that my father did for me. I still hear his song, and I’ll be following it until the end of my days.
Other Favorite Picture Books That Celebrate Dad:
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me, by Eric Carle (Ages 1-5)
My Dad, by Anthony Browne (Ages 3-6)
My Dad is Big and Strong, But…A Bedtime Story, by Coralie Saudo & Kris DiGiacomo (Ages 3-6, reviewed by me here)
My Father Knows the Names of Things, by Jane Yolen & Stephanie Jorisch (Ages 4-8)
Every Friday, by Dan Yacarino (Ages 4-8)
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one copy of this book free of charge from Penguin Group (USA). I was not required to write a positive review in exchange for receipt of the book; rather, the opinions expressed in this review are my own.