Newman, Leslea. “I Wish My Father”, Headmistress Press, 2021.
A Gorgeous Tribute
I always look forward to a new poetry collection from Leslea Newman and now she writes about her father in a companion volume to her earlier “I Carry My Mother”. Newman knows how to awaken emotions which makes her poetry not just personal for her but for her readers as well. If you have lost a parent, you know how difficult it is to put words about him or her down on paper and with Leslea, we feel her loss with every verse she writes. She begins with the death of her mother and the separation between her parents and goes through the death of her father which brings them back together again but this is also a tremendous loss for her. During the five-year period that her father was without his wife, he went through difficult times and through the poet’s voice we feel his sense of loss (as well as her own), his anger and his longing. The couple had been together for sixty-plus years and with his wife gone, Newman became a caretaker for him. She learned so much about the man who raised and loved her. At the same time, she learned more about her mother and herself.
I was so reminded of my own father who was like Leslea’s— both were strong Jewish stubborn men for whom the word “compromise” was foreign and acceptance was difficult. Both of our fathers lost their wives before their own deaths and had difficulties being lonely and separated from the mates upon whom they doted. We really see that changes of time and loneliness bring. The strength they held as married men evolved to something else as widowers. Because of the similarities between our fathers, this was a rough and highly emotional read and I often had to stop and dry my eyes. At the same time, I found that as I wept, I better understood the man who had been something of a stranger in my life; a man who had no idea of how to deal with a son who was “different”.
Many of you may know Leslea Newman as an author of children’s books and not as a poet. If that is the case, you have missed some of her best writing. Pick up this book and its companion. “I Carry My Mother” and sit back and enjoy the profundity of her wonderful poetry.
“I Wish My Father” looks at the relationship between a daughter and a father in gorgeous ways. Grief is a rough emotion to deal with and an even rougher emotion to write about. Here we see grief from two sides— the grief of a man losing his wife and the grief of a daughter losing her mother. While their grief is often shared, it is also very personal and hurts. It is a feeling that we all will face one day and have to deal with. Newman here has done so with grace and beauty. We are introduced to Newman’s father through those that he loved and we feel his pain at their loss.
Choosing to concentrate on her father’s last few years. Newman does not avoid the man who he once was when he was a vibrant attorney and together with the sad feelings of loss, we also get bits of humor and what it means to be a father as well as what it means to be a daughter.
There are things we do not realize about the ones we love when they are still alive and this is perhaps the most difficult thing to deal with when they are gone. I certainly felt this having moved away from my folks and not seeing my father for thirty years when he died. The memories I had about him were usually negative until he was no longer here. To this day, it has been a very long time since I saw him last, I have trouble remembering what he looked like. With Newman, it was very different as she took care of her father during his final days but it is important to remember that near the end, our parents are not what we once thought them to be. It is very hard to reconcile what was with what is yet Newman has done so with such beauty that she provides a lesson for all of us.