I dedicated my newly released novel Penelope’s Daughter to “all the children left behind when fathers and mothers go off to war.” While I was writing the book,I spent a lot of time thinking about the impact of Odysseus’ absence not just on my main character, Xanthe, but on her older brother, Telemachus.
Of the two, I think Telemachus had it the worst. In those days, gender roles were clearly defined, and most of the schooling a child got was from the parent of the same sex. Xanthe has Penelope to teach her how to weave, how to worship the gods, and how to be gracious; and she has her surrogate mother, Helen, to teach her how to fulfill herself as a woman.
What does Telemachus have? He has no real peers. A few men remain on Ithaca who were too old or infirm to go to Troy, and otherwise he is surrounded by a group of young men, perhaps ten to twelve years older than he is. These young men were too young to go to war, but became adults in the two decades Odysseus is gone.
The young men grew up much as Telemachus did, without strong role models to help shape them into strong, productive, appropriately behaving adults. Anyone who could have done that sailed off with Odysseus. A kingdom whose males are almost all young boys and old men does not bode well for the future, and indeed what happens is that the young men grow up to be either the bullies or the bullied.
The dedication of the book came about because as I wrote, my country was at war. I thought about how important parents are as teachers, and how every deployment takes that away from a child. From the time I made the decision to dedicate Penelope’s Daughter in that fashion, I knew I needed to put something behind it so it wouldn’t just be a glib little nicety that meant nothing.
I decided to create a blog called Xanthe’s World, and dedicate it to all the children left behind by our current wars. I have posted every day since August. I don’t know how many people are aware that only 2 percent of American families are directly impacted by this war. I am in the other 98 percent, as are most of the viewers of this website. I hope you will take the time to check out Xanthe’s World, and mark it as a favorite, so you can explore the world of military children with me.