The First Man in My Life: Daughters Write about Their Fathers

The First Man in My Life by Sandra MartinEdited by Sandra Martin
Penguin 2007, 2009
A national bestseller

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After my father died suddenly from a stroke at 85, I came across a picture of him and my son, who was then 25. Smiling happily into the camera, arms around each other, they share a strong family resemblance. Looking at that picture in my grief, I realized that they were exactly 60 years apart in age, the same gap, the equivalent of two generations, that separated my father from his father, a teetotalling Presbyterian born before Confederation in rural Prince Edward Island. That made me think back to what my father was doing when he was 25—fighting the Germans as a radar officer on secondment to the Royal Navy. Did being raised by a man old enough to be his grandfather and then confronting death and devastation before he had had a chance to explore and relish life explain some of the rougher contours of our relationship, I wondered? My father’s death was the end of shared conversations and a lifelong attempt to make sense of a pivotal and often contrary relationship. And that made me curious about other women and how they felt about their fathers—and whether they too had experienced unbidden revelatory moments? Determined to find out, I commissioned and edited these father/daughter stories from some of Canada’s most accomplished writers, including Camilla Gibb, Lisa Moore, P.K. Page, Emma Richler and Susan Swan.

From the foreword by Margaret Atwood:

Encouraging, malignant or violent, benign and loving, maddening or boring, or simply looming large through their absence—for every daughter there is a father-shaped space that must somehow be dealt with, however well or badly it may have been filled… I haven’t finished my Father story yet, but I did write a poem. Here it is…

Praise for The First Man in My Life

“This is a book for fathers of daughters. Stunning, revealing, heart-warming, chilling and moving, each story packs the unique power that is found only in family. Read it and learn. And then go hug your daughters.”
—Roy MacGregor, author of The Home Team

“The reader is rewarded with a rich trove of essays that are striking for their focus, frankness, and economy. In fact, the writing is so consistently good that it’s hard to single any of it out for special praise…. This is a timely book for a society in the process of reassessing the role of a father.”
Quill & Quire

“What often survives out of the jumble of feelings is love, of course. First Man deftly reveal[s] that bond.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“All in all, excellent dipping material.”
NOW magazine

“…revelatory moments from a diverse set of women, ranges from the tragic to the comic with strong contributions from Eden Robinson, Lisa Moore, Catherine Gildiner, Emily Urquhart, Christie Blatchford, Sarah Murdoch, Susan Swan, P.K. Page and Rachel Manley.”
—Patricia Robertson, The Globe and Mail

“There are countless memorable moments in this anthology of short essays about fathers…. With a foreword by Margaret Atwood, this book gathers an impressive cross-section of talented Canadian women…. To be able to make sense of a complicated relationship is a challenge. To do so in a way that absorbs and enlightens strangers is a gift, and the collection Martin has assembled is just that.”
Edmonton Journal

“The sheer weight of emotion and touching details make the anthology worth reading.”
Toronto Star

The First Man in my Life’s stories are moments in the ever changing process to understand what one single life means, and then what it means in relation to another one.”
Ottawa Citizen

“All 22 pieces are thought provoking, illuminating, although some are still bound by loyalty and propriety.”
Literary Review of Canada

“Powerful women. Powerful stories with resonance and illumination.”
Women’s Post

“Each author’s short chapter is refreshing, as each one has its own style, story and tone…. The entire collection is honest and engaging…. These women’s poignant tales will take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride and open your heart to the significant role fathers play in their daughter’s lives.”
Scene Magazine