Notes & Essays

A Letter to My Daughter: The Things in Life You Shouldn't Forget

Clinton Palanca reminds his daughter about odious people, letting go, and the importance of learning how to cook.
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To my dearest daughter,

If you are reading this letter it means that I am gone; either that, or that Esquire has decided to publish it. I wanted to write to tell you that the world is a horrible place, full of dangers: sharp corners, slippery floors, men who want to rape you, or at the very least treat you badly, and I might not be there to bludgeon them to a pulp if they ever cause you to shed a tear on their behalf.

But I shan’t. I think that a father’s job is to do the modern-day equivalent of fighting off dragons with one hand while making shadow puppets with the other. The horrors and evils of the world will make themselves manifest of their own accord; what I can give you while I am still here is a sunny spot in which to play, to be innocent, and the enjoy the dappled golden innocence of childhood when you can invent fictitious countries, speak imaginary languages, and conjure up a fantastic restaurant with its own menu and teddy bear waiters who are always asleep.

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Eventually though, you will grow up, and you’ll no longer listen to me, or I might be too old, or the alternative of being old, which is not. So we must address some practicalities. Wherever you go in life, there will be odious people, male and female, gay and straight, who believe that looks are the most important thing in the world. They can be very fun to hang out with; they throw great parties, with other good-looking people, with lovely frocks and bubbly drinks. It doesn’t mean that they aren’t odious inside. In their world you will never be tall enough, or have a nose that’s dainty enough, or legs that are long enough, or hair that’s shiny enough. And you can only be the ingenue for fifteen minutes; after that you will always be looking over your shoulder because there will be someone younger and prettier.

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Romance is a wonderful thing, and nothing feels quite like it, except heroin (which you shouldn’t take, need I remind you again), and I hope you have the thrills and highs of falling in love—although heartbreak is also hard. Your mother can help you with this. What I hope you don’t forget is that men and women can be great friends as well. If you see men only as potential mates or not then the opportunities for wonderful companionship become very thin and narrow. Friendships last longer than most marriages. Even most dogs survive longer than the average marriage, in the west. In this country our society is obsessed with romance, and all things amorous, to the detriment of friendship between men and women. It is a nasty bug in the culture that deprecates all the other myriad and wonderful ways men and women can interact with one another.

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What I hope you don’t forget is that men and women can be great friends as well. If you see men only as potential mates or not then the opportunities for wonderful companionship become very thin and narrow. Friendships last longer than most marriages.

It pains me to even imagine this, but it is part of letting go as a parent, that you must explore your sexuality when the time is right. Keep it is on a short leash, by which I don’t mean that you should rein it in; by all means follow it to where it leads you, even to unexpected places. Know that we we will always accept you, even if we might struggle to understand. Follow it and enjoy the wonderful and weird feelings of wanting and lusting and aching, and savor the pleasures while remembering that they are precious because they are momentary. When you are about to participate in a BDSM foursome or something like that, remember two things: always be safe, and that most people don’t wash their armpits enough.

Freeze your eggs. Or whatever the technology is when you reach adulthood, because it is all beyond imagining from this point in time, when artificial insemination is still awe-inspiring for me. But then your dad has always been easily amazed. That you can take pictures without film, using the same device with which you send electronic messages that go out into space, still fills me with wonder every day. But the life cycle of a woman has changed very little since the time of the ancients, of the first men and woman who stood upright and began to use tools. A woman reaches her prime child-bearing age in her late teens and early twenties, a time when you should be travelling and discovering the world and reading and meeting people, because the world is never as wondrous as it first see it on your own and explore it without any hand to guide you.

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The way our species evolved has made it such that women bear the majority of the physical difficulties of reproduction; and the way our society has evolved has made it such that she has the most to lose in terms of her freedom to live the way she wants, to continue to work, to see children as a blessing and not a burden. So if science has any remedy to this terribly unfair situation, then use it—as long as it is not at the expense of another woman, usually an underprivileged one. Get married, or don’t get married; it’s your choice. Have children, or don’t have children; it’s up to you. Humanity went for thousands of years believing that raising children was solely the woman’s responsibility; they also spent most of that time believing that the sun went around the earth.

Learn to cook. Because whether you spend most of your days in a boardroom (shudder) or singing on a stage, or exploring Antarctica, there will always come a time when you need to cook.

Learn to cook. Because whether you spend most of your days in a boardroom (shudder) or singing on a stage, or exploring Antarctica, there will always come a time when you need to cook. Especially if there’s a zombie apocalypse it will be a useful skill to have. Cook for the people you love, —and let those who love you cook for you. It’s not a contest, it’s a dance. Never stop learning how to appreciate food—this is one of the few pleasures that you can take with you into old age. As long as you’re eating, you’re living.

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Call your father often—he’s needy. As long as I’m alive, of course; if I’m not that’s just weird. Come home whenever you want to. Come home whenever you have to. Whether I’ll have written a bestseller and we will have bought a castle in Scotland, as I planned, with a whole bunch of springer spaniels; or living in penury, which is more likely, you’ll always have a place to stay.

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About The Author
Clinton Palanca
Clinton Palanca has won awards for his fiction and in 1998, came out with Landscapes, a book compiling his short stories and earlier works for children. Today, he ventures into food writing with his regular column on Inquirer Lifestyle, and with restaurant reviews for other publications.
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