Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Letter to my daughter

Who did a double take at that subject line? It is a letter I would like to write to my daughter, if I had one. I adore many women, more women than men, and one who is very high on my list is Wendy Harmer, who wrote this letter to her daughter.

I think it is worth your while to read it. It is in response to a US woman suggesting to her daughter that while she was attending Harvard, it was a good place to find a husband. The letter below was published at The Hoopla. I am sure something similar could be written for sons.

If you ever do find yourself at University (er…could you put down that copy of “Pretty Little Liars” and listen to me?) I hope that looking for a husband is waaaay down on your priorities.
Right down there somewhere below gathering signatures to kick Lord Monckton off campus because I imagine that, by then, Gina Rinehart will have bought your uni and installed her resident climate change denier nutter as Vice-Chancellor.
This “Princeton Mom”, Susan Patton, reckons it’s not a bad idea to scope out the talent and look for a future husband in between lectures.
She figures you will be surrounded by men with prospects more than any other time in your life. Men who are intelligent, even smarter than you and wealthy, to boot.
I think it comes down to that old adage: “It’s just as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor one”.
It’s not a new idea. In fact William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863) wrote in the novel The History of Pendennis (1848-1850): “Remember, it is as easy to marry a rich woman as a poor woman.”
I’m not that clever. I Googled it.
I got married when I was at Uni. Remember I told you?
Funnily enough, it was also for economic reasons. I married my then boyfriend, Michael Harmer, because the infamous “Razor Gang” of the 70s was cutting living away from home allowances for uni students.
The only way I could fund my education, (because your Grandpa Brown didn’t have the money) was to accede to Michael’s fervent wish that we marry.
That way he’d support me and I’d get an education. So I did marry him one morning after Uni, at the Registry Office. I didn’t even tell Grandpa.
God forbid you ever have to strike that bargain, but millions of young women around the world do it, every day.
That’s why I hope you always think about women worse off than yourself. Fight for them so they have the same privileges you do. It’s important.
It’s not just luck that my first husband was a wonderful young man who believed in me. Even though he was working as a fitter and turner in a factory and would come home covered in burns from molten metal, he did support me… until I could support myself. I knew, even as a teenager, that he was a fine person. Whether he was “worthy” of me never crossed my mind.
But things changed. Like they do in marriages. All the time. We parted. We both have now made good, long, loving partnerships and have children we are proud of.
The one thing I hope you learn from your father and me is that judging people on how “intelligent” you perceive them to be is not going to get you anywhere in this life. 
Nor is trying to find someone who you imagine is your “equal” or someone who is “worthy” of your affection.
You see, Maeve, despite what the Princeton Mom imagines, “smart” is not a “soaring intellect”.
The two are not to be equated – in any way. At all.
If you think bringing home Albert Einstein the Younger will impress your father and me, think again.
Old Albert made a terrible husband – he was unfaithful, a bad speller, smoked like a chimney, was crap at the violin, dressed like a slob and said: “All marriages are dangerous”.
Likewise, bringing home a member of the Packer or Waterhouse dynasty.  They maybe “smart operators”, but your father loathes gambling and the fortunes built on others’ suffering.
Marriage to a billionaire won’t impress us. Nor will becoming a billionairess yourself.
So, you may ask, what’s “smart”? What’s “clever”?  What’s “erudition” mean?
Especially when we all have Google.
And who’s worthy of an intelligent young woman like you?
I’ll tell you.
A person who is worthy of you is one who recognises and honours your own good heart. Supports you in your determination to make your own way in the world and to leave it a better place than you found it, come what may.
That takes courage, sacrifice and loyalty, Maeve. Look out for these qualities that will make life sweeter in tough times. The price of admission to a fancy college won’t be your guide.
Men (or women) with “prospects”, or no prospects at all, can just as easily leave you, or you can just as easily leave them. Our fortunes change. That’s a given.
I imagine, Maeve, that you will fall in (and out of) love with a lock of hair that falls fetchingly across a forehead, an intricate tattoo on a forearm, a fine turn of phrase or a violin, expertly handled.
Fall in love with all that. I did.
Then, when you’re older and wiser, fall in love with a man like your father who has supported me, your mother, in all my endeavours.
Most of all, by leaving me love notes on the kitchen bench to discover in that time before the sun came up when I, reluctantly, left you and your baby bother sleeping while I went off to work. Thousands of notes that sought to address all the frustrations and regrets of a person pursuing “a career” for what often seemed no good reason.
Don’t try to predict life’s meandering path, Maeve.
And don’t try to imagine how you’ll travel it – in first class style or trudging along at the back. Despite what they say, the view’s not that different. The triumphs and heartaches don’t spare any of us.
Don’t bank on a thing called a “career” and hope it will save you from life’s vicissitudes. It won’t. (Sorry, “vicissitudes”. Google it.)
Your great-grandmother, Nanna Brown always said to me: “Love many, trust a few, always paddle your own canoe.” 
Maeve, you come from a long line of spud farmers, horse trainers, nurses, school teachers, union officials, house painters, publicans, priests and farmers.
All good people.
Do us proud.  That’s enough for us.
We don’t need “better”. Because in our family, you have already exceeded our expectations.
Your Mum. Mumma.  xxxx


  1. Not quite the same thing, but I did write little notes to my older daughter, and leave them on her pillow. "clean up this messy room or I'm moving you back in with your sister".
    It was amazing how fast that bedroom could get squared away.
    And yes, I did the double take at your title.

    1. River, no not quite the same thing, but nice in bigger picture of life.

  2. aaw I do like me some Wendy.
    I really miss that show she did on the wireless with Ange, I miss hearing those two chuckling away like two dears.

    1. Fen, they were on air on digital one day at easter. I was a bit too busy to listen properly.

  3. Wise advice indeed Andrew, I haven't had to write any letters to Aimee yet, she's still here, asleep in her room down the corridor :) she's looking to buy her own place this year, I'm dreading it! Might have to send her a few letters then haha !

    1. Grace, my sister wrote one to my step father when he was terminally ill and it is the only time anyone had ever seen him cry.

      You really will miss Aimee. I hope she will be not too far away from you.

  4. Lovely piece of writing from Wendy.

    1. It is James. I think it deserved to be shared around a bit more.

  5. My father gave me a letter as a present for my 21st birthday. He (and my mother) no doubt gave me some other more traditional present as well but I no longer remember what. However, I have never forgotten the letter.

    It was a beautiful letter filled with love and emotion such as I never imagined was in my father's capacity.

    Forty-two years later I still have that letter, deteriorating somewhat within its frame but it still moves me to this day.

    1. That's lovely Victor. It really is something to treasure, as you are.