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Father Image
by Sharon Tbesen

GERMAINE GREER's contribution to the old and worthy tradition of quest, literature is wildly original and personal. Daddy We Hardly Knew You is a remarkable story, fuelled by passions so elemental that we whose fathers and mothers are more or less known to us, can scarcely comprehend them. But we are led by Greer's efforts to something deeper, to a kind of complicity in this awful journey, full of every possible inflation and deflation of hope, lucky and unlucky breaks, stubborn and ridiculous perseverance. The quest was to find out more about her charming, elusive father: it would no doubt have been easier to yank the Very Sword from the Stone. However, the story does, have a happy ending insofar as Greer's search for her father's true identity was finally successful (she does not reveal her father's secret until the end of the book); but it is a cruel one as well, for, as Greer puts it, "In finding him I lost him."

One of the losses Greer suffered in this process was her belief (her fantasy) that her father loved her despite all appearances to the contrary. Even more unnerving was the discovery that the father who did not love her was not the man she and everyone else, including her mother, thought he was. Even "Reg Greer" himself never knew as much of his own early history as his daughter eventually learned.

Greer's search began with her father's death and her unappeased sense of both his lifelong estrangement from her and the puzzling lacunae in his life story. No one, least of all Reg Greer's wife, seemed to know or even to care very much who he was or where he came from. There was of course the official story: born in Durban, South Africa, son of Robert Greer, journalist. This story was eventually demolished, but not until almost every Greer, Grier, Grierson, and MacGregor in the world was accounted for. Every other sparse detail of Reg Greer's life was also accounted for, followed up, speculated upon. He, signed up for the war when his daughter was three years old; when he returned he was a shadow even of his former shadowy self, suffering something the army doctors called "anxiety neurosis." It seemed that Reg Greer was shattered by his war experience deciphering enemy codes underground at Malta, and that he withdrew almost completely from his eldest child. Two younger children born after the war apparently had a much closer relationship with their father than Germaine Greer did. Perhaps her own diagnosis of this imbalance of affection is correct: that her father Was afraid of her because he sensed only she had the power to unmask him. Reg Greer's, "charade," his "'heap of cheap props" consisted of a dandified appearance and manner, concealing near illiteracy, vanity, lust, ingratitude, hypochondria, imposture: not such a terrible list of sins, really. The worst of it is that the maintenance of his self?invention kept him a stranger all his life to those who were closest to him. He must have been terribly lonely.

Daddy is rich in detail and eloquence, inhabiting a large and generous world of its own. Its subject matter is profoundly intimate and yet there is fascinating information to be gleaned from the margins where that intimacy and the' wide 'indifferent world of plane trips, car rentals, hotel rooms, and bureaucracies intersect. As usual, Greer is perfectly solid in. the vocabulary of whatever discursive environment she inhabits. Thus we are apprised of the dreadful realities of the siege of Malta; of the ecology of various parts of Australia; of Indian goddess worship; of the methods of Australia's Neglected Children's Department. As a travelogue alone, or as a document in social history, botany, or genealogy the book is worth reading. It also raises some urgent questions about adoption practices, about the callousness that would part a mother and child forever, to the enduring heartache of both. Greer has recommended, in fact, that adoptive parents be encouraged to adopt both mother and child, as a way of avoiding some of the grosser abuses of the practice. Greer has an eye for the precariousness of human situations and arrangements, and the literary scholar's sense, of levels of meaning. That she persisted to the degree that she did in this search is astonishing; that she did it alone even more so.

In The Wounded Woman, an examination of the fatherdaughter "wound" (in which the absent/ authoritarian/ seductive father represents the collective father, the patriarchy ?that overpowers a woman's life and spirit), Linda Schierse Leonard writes about the various ways in which the wound is inflicted, the destructive effect it has on the adult woman's life, and the ways that destruction can be redeemed, invariably through rage and sorrow and some sort of creative expression. For Leonard, as for Greer, writing is the process by which the redemption is achieved, or by which at least the psychic wound is better understood, made sharper and clearer in its outlines. In her writing Greer displays courage, tenacity, and resourcefulness, even if she sometimes tries the reader's patience ? early in the book she likens herself to the black ant who will crawl with her heavy burden up one side and down the other of a blade of grass, rather than go around it. In her book, Leonard refers to the worker ants that help Psyche sort out an enormous pile of seeds. A woman's sorting out "what part of the rage is the unresolved anger of the father, and what belongs to the woman herself and to the situation" is a lifelong task and an essential one for any woman who wishes to know, even remotely, who she really is. Greer's acceptance of this enormous task is both admirable and inspiring.


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