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Writers and artists pay plenty of attention to motherhood, says Charles Sullivan, associate dean of Georgetown’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. But “fathers have been neglected, especially their feelings toward their children.” To remedy this situation, Sullivan sought out books and paintings that celebrated the love between fathers and their progeny, then created the coffee-table anthology Fathers and Children in Literature and Art.
Fathers and Children takes an all-inclusive approach to fatherhood, from the homespun cover portrait by Mary Cassatt (Portrait of Mr. Alexander Cassatt and His Son) to the passage on DNA from James Watson’s The Double Helix. One of Sullivan’s favorite excerpts comes from a Christopher Tilghman short story: “It’s a passage about a single father, and as a divorced parent I really identify with the mixture of feeling,” he explains. He also feels strongly about a fictional piece by John Casey, whose description of Irish industrial workers “touches upon my imaginings of what my grandfather, who was a mechanical blacksmith, was like.”
Among Sullivan’s luckier finds was an 1860 letter written to presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln by 11-year-old Grace Bedell. “If you will let your whiskers grow,” she wrote, “I will try and get [my brothers] to vote for you. [Y]ou would look a great deal better for your face is so thin.” Sullivan pairs this daughterly note with pictures of Lincoln, clean-shaven before the election and bearded afterward. “I like to think it was the little girl’s letter that made him grow a beard,” the editor says.