Shining a light on fatherhood
The despair doesn’t last. Marie-Laure is too young and her father is too patient.”
Anthony Doerr, All the Light We Cannot See
Since I am focusing on fathers in literature this week – yesterday I spoke about William from Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl – I’d like to introduce Daniel LeBlanc from Anthony Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See.
I have to be honest, I didn’t love the entire book, but I did love this father. As the head locksmith of the National Museum of Natural History in Paris, he is a practical man, like my own father, in fact. His daughter, Marie becomes blind from congenital cataracts, and rather than plumping her in pillows and forcing her to a life indoors, he brings the world indoors to her, so one day she can go out on her own.
Firstly, he helps her to learn how to read:
For an hour each morning – even Sundays – he makes her sit over a Braille workbook.
Then he takes her on rounds of the museum, where she is able to hold the seashells in Dr. Geffard’s lab.
Her hands move ceaselessly , gathering, probing, testing.
Daniel stows their shoes in the same cubby at home, he hangs their coats on the same hooks. He tells her where food in the kitchen is by the hands of a clock. And he builds her wooden puzzle boxes for her birthday that she solves with her hands.
But it is his construction of a model of her own neighbourhood that “smells of glue and sawdust” that is his true introduction to her of finding her way outside.
‘I want you to think of the model, Marie,… You have your cane. You know where you are.’
The relationship between this father and daughter is absolutely beautiful, all the more so as the book hints at another reality that is about to descend on them – World War II – the same war I depict in my own novel The Punishment, although my book occurs in the south on the border with Spain, not in Paris or Saint Malo.
As I reflect this week on what fatherhood is, I think of Daniel’s ability to enrich his daughter’s life, and to be her guide. He does not pretend he will always be her eyes but he does help her rediscover a different kind of sight.
And there are not many fathers who can achieve that.