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June 18, 2011

Karin Slaughter: A Modern Day “Daddy’s Girl”

Posted by Anonymous
Karin Slaughter may be a New York Times and #1 internationally bestselling author, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t daddy’s little girl. Her latest crime novel, FALLEN, comes out on June 21st, and while Karin jets around the world reading pages and answering questions, she always makes time for her father. Today, she reflects on what she calls “the southern woman’s benediction” --- the “okay, daddy” and “yes, daddy” answers that keeps the world turning as it should. And whether it's fixing toilets or talking crime, Karin can't help but feel she learned it all from her dad. 
KSlaughter3.jpgWhen you think about being a published author, you never consider that one day you'll be sitting outside an old prison in Denmark, waiting to speak to a group of avid readers gathered for the crime festival inside the gates. It's very surreal, especially when there's a Johnny Cash impersonator on the lawn singing “Ring of Fire” in a weird mixture of Danish and English. But, that's exactly what I was doing a few months ago when my father was admitted to the hospital to treat his bacterial pneumonia. 
Not that I had any idea at the time I was blissfully tapping my toe to the music while they rushed my dad into the emergency room. He didn't tell me he'd been ill until a couple of days after I landed back in Atlanta, and then he pitched it to me like this: “Well, the doctor said I could probably sleep it off if I stayed home for a week, or he could put me in the hospital for a few days and knock it out fast.” 
Setting aside the fact that I (1) write thrillers where one of the main characters is a doctor and (2) have a brain in my head and know that even Medicare doesn't let you check into the hospital like it's Club Med, my response to this ridiculous story was, “Okay, Daddy.” 
“Okay, Daddy.” The southern woman's benediction. It absolves our daddies of all blame. It keeps us warm at night. It makes our rose-colored worlds keep turning. 
I like to think of myself as a modern day Daddy's Girl. I know how to jump a car battery and change a tire, but I also know how to flirt with a man to get him to do it for me. I suppose you could say there are no feminists in the breakdown lane, but that sounds like the talk of a woman who has never had to change a tire in the middle of a busy freeway in 100-plus degree temperatures. The simple fact is I know how to perform basic car repair because of my father, and I know how to let a man do it for me because of my father. And while I might see an easier way to change a water filter, or know that my dad is not following the directions as outlined in the owner's manual when he does so, I like letting him do things for me. I think it makes us both feel useful. In a world where I talk to hundreds of readers in Denmark, fly into Singapore for television interviews and appear in the Wall Street Journal talking about where I got my taste for crime writing, watching my father perform a basic household task for me brings us both back to firmer ground. 
While I inherited some good characteristics from my dad (a strong work ethic, an entrepreneurial streak) and some bad (hard-headedness, deplorable posture), the one thing we both share is our love of a good yarn. I have spent a lifetime listening to my father's stories. Usually, there was some cautionary tale attached --- like the one about the little girl who left open the refrigerator door and died. Or the little girl who turned down the air conditioning too low and died --- but sometimes, he tells me tales to protect me. Like that bacterial pneumonia is very much like a springtime cold. Like that he is going to live forever and I never have to worry about being without him. 
My father lives in the North Georgia mountains in a cabin just down the road from the one he built for me. Under the guise of wanting to take a long weekend away from the city, I showed up at his doorstep before I'd even unpacked my bags from Europe. We didn't really talk about his so-called hospital vacation. He looked awful, not like the vibrant, impervious father I've known all of my life. Instead, we joked about the fact that he had lost 12 pounds and was under doctor's orders to eat candy bars to help pack on weight. I ignored the gaunt look in his face, and the sallow color of his skin. I pretended not to notice that he is getting older --- that the spry man of 35 who showed me how to tighten the bolts on a tire in equal turns has a hard time with his back and often groans when he stands.  
fallen.jpgI was back up at the cabin over the Fourth of July weekend, and he was still not feeling up to speed. Food poisoning had laid him low --- or even lower, one might say. I had to call him to bring me some channel locks. I was in the middle of changing out the guts of a toilet, something he taught me how to do because plumbers charge too much. I couldn't get the gasket off with my puny pliers, and I knew he wasn't feeling well so I asked if I could come over and borrow his tool set. There was the usual back-and-forth of my “I'll come get it” versus his “I'll bring it,” and then of course he was on my doorstep before I could put on my shoes.
It was very shortsighted of me not to think he'd come into the bathroom to inspect my work. He stood over the bits of toilet tank on the bathroom floor. “Are you sure you don't need help with that?” he asked. Twice. “No, sir, I'm fine,” I told him. He just stood there, unmoving. “Are you sure you don't need me to help you center the tank?” I shook my head. “No, sir. Just go back and rest.” He grumbled, “I don't need to rest. It'll just take a minute to center that toilet.” I sighed. “I'm okay.” He sighed. “Won't take more than five minutes.” 
Ten minutes later, we'd put the toilet tank back on and were discussing the efficacy of the newly designed flapper (not good). We segued into talk of my nephew, who wants to join the CIA, and other tidbits about the various crimes that have happened in our small town. My father put the lid back on the tank. He cleared his throat a few times and asked me his usual question, “Where you goin' to next?” I know that he marks his calendar when I am traveling so he can keep up with where I am. He never wants me to call him from the road because I'm working, but he likes that I'm seeing more of the country --- and the world --- than he's ever considered. 
I ran down my tour for him, told him that this year I'm only going to libraries. He likes that I support libraries, because --- as he jokes --- if he'd had to buy every book I read when I was a kid, he would've been bankrupt. “Let me know what you're up to,” he told me. “You, too,” I shot back, then to put a finer point on it, “Like, if you're in the hospital or something.” He frowned, irritated. My father has always been like a cat. If you're sick, you go off somewhere private and you either get better or don't come back. “I'll be all right,” he told me. And I answered, “Yes, Daddy.” 
And though I had more questions --- for instance, what, exactly does a "clean" chest X-ray look like on a man who has smoked since he was 13 and why does he still sound like a coal-fueled freight train every time he coughs? --- that was the end of the conversation.   
"Yes, Daddy." The balm that heals all wounds. The acquiescence to a greater power.  I said, "Yes, Daddy," because no matter how many countries I go to or how many books I write, I will always be my father's daughter.