There I am, absent-mindedly scrolling through the archives of The Character Therapist when I found an article on Balanced Parenting. I'm reading along and thinking about some of the other books and topics on the subject that I've read during my psychology degree, as I often do while reading her blog, when I suddenly have a minor epiphany.
The main character in one of my novels has two fathers. One is stern and distant; the other is moody and irritable. Neither of them are good fathers ... in fact, they've only been trying to be fathers for the past few months. For years they had both ignored the opportunity for one reason or another. So I got to thinking, why not give them distinctive parenting styles? One can be an authoritarian task-master while the other is the permissive diplomat. Badda bing! Genuine conflict.
Of course, originally I thought my stern accountant would be the authoritarian one. He fits the profile. He's very self-restrained and finds it difficult to express himself. Naturally he'd be over-controlling as he overly controls himself. The moody and irritable artist is used to a chaotic existence so he'd be permissive. I mean, he already lets the boy talk about whatever it is he wants to talk about.
But then I thought: why not go against the obvious? And the moment I did that, the idea made more sense. Why would a moody artist who's used to getting his own way, who's never had anyone to watch over him, and who manages to form some meaning out of his day-to-day life by clinging to certain structures around him, be permissive? Why would someone like that trust that an individual can grow into a wonderful young man just by being allowed to thrive in a safe environment? He's seen the debauchery and the excesses. He's also seen how much the lad is like him. Why wouldn't he over-controlling?
On the other hand, the self-restrained account knows that a person can find the strength they need within themselves to do what needs to be done. He also knows that he finds it difficult to be emotionally available and is wracked by guilt for it. Surely he should want to do anything he can to help the boy bloom without crippling the child with his own issues?
So there you have it. Sometimes turning norms and expectations on their head actually makes more sense. Perhaps the reason why so many stereotypes seem shallow in novels is that the author forces certain expectations onto characters in ways that just don't many any sense.