In the poem "To a Sad Daughter" by Michael Ondaatje, what are the speaker's feelings and attitude toward his daughter?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The author Michael Ondaatje is a native of Sri Lanka, but as a young man, he moved to Canada.  His novel, An English Patient, was made into an Academy Award winning movie.

Ondaatje's poem, "To A Sad Daughter," is written in free verse.  The narration is first person with the poet serving as the narrator.  The poem moves along with the growth of the daughter.

The poem begins with the daughter's obsession with hockey.  As she reads the newspaper, she reports daily on the trading, injuries, and shenanigans of the players.

As the narrator reminiscences about his daughter, he explains that he was surprised by the kind of person that she is.  Actually, he likes her moods, faults, and her individuality. He would use the word love but the daughter is uncomfortable by such a show of affection.

And when I say 'like'

I mean of course 'love'

But that embarrasses you.

Sometimes, she even displays her arrogance. The father decides that she will never change.  That is fine as long as she is not influenced by the wrong people and stays true to herself.

You will never change.

...Just don't be fooled by anyone but yourself.

Admitting that this is their first real father/daughter talk, the poet shares that this is the daughter's sixteenth birthday. Today,  he would rather be her friend than her father.  In that way, he could share more of her life.  He longs for her presence, but she is too busy for him.

The reader learns that the father is actually writing the poem at the desk in her room. His memory takes him back to a time in spring when the outdoors almost coaxed her out of her room.  Yet, she had to do her math. As he thinks about his daughter, he knows that she will soon go out into the world.  She will want everything.  He does not care how the daughter lives her life, but he wants her to know that he would give his life for her.

Apparently, the girl has shared her fear of death with her father.  He tells her there are no answer about death except that the relatives have died. He advises her not to recall their deaths but rather their memories.

What a lovely poem!  A father thinking about his tomboy daughter whom he did not think would grow up as she has.  His memories are clouded with colors of purple and yellow;  her moods, her world, her leaving him.

I like all your faults

even your purple moods

And sometimes I've gone

Into my purple world

And lost you.

He loves her so much that he does care what life choices that she makes as long as they are her decisions.  Like most fathers, he would do anything for her. He is envious of her friends who spend time with her now.  As the daughter goes out in search of her place in the world, he advises her to never be satisfied and always know he is there for her.

...but I'll sell my arms for you

Hold your secrets forever.

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