Saturday, June 15, 2013

Fatherhood in Romance Fiction by Alison Henderson

Tomorrow is Father's Day, and I've been thinking about it a lot lately. This will be my first Father's Day without my own father, who passed away in February at the age of 85. I miss him every day and expect tomorrow to be bittersweet, at best. However, I will also be celebrating my husband's fatherhood, which has been an ongoing source of joy to me.

The upcoming holiday has also got me thinking about the place of fatherhood in romance fiction. According to anthropologists, women are genetically predisposed to select mates with characteristics that will make them good providers and fathers (i.e. a strong, healthy male will be more likely to produce strong, healthy children, as well as being better able to provide for and protect them). Apparently, potential fatherhood is always on our minds, consciously or sub-consciously.

We may not like it, but we haven't come very far from our prehistoric ancestors in that regard. Look at some of the most popular tropes in romance novels today: secret babies, divorced or widowed mothers, ticking biological clocks. All involve choosing a mate who will also be a good father. And how many traditional historical romances end with an epilogue announcing the birth of the couple's first child?

Fatherhood was a major theme in my first book, Harvest of Dreams. Here's the blurb:

Alone on her farm in the middle of a blizzard, young widow Lisa McAllister labors to give birth to her first child.  Help arrives in the strong hands of a stranger wearing a six-gun.  Lisa has no reason to trust this man who makes a living by violence, even if he is on the right side of the law.  Men and their guns have already claimed the lives of her father, brother, and husband, and she’s determined to protect her son at any cost. 

Jared Tanner, a security agent for the stagecoach, has been on his own since he was twelve.  Against his better judgment, his feelings of protectiveness toward Lisa and her baby turn to something deeper, and he is tempted by the possibility of a family of his own. Can their tender new love survive when an act of ultimate violence threatens to tear them apart?

Their mutual attachment to Lisa's son is part of the glue that ultimately binds Jared and Lisa together. Their first kiss occurs after they've been up all night caring for the sick baby.

She heard the bed ropes creak and sensed Jared’s presence behind her, but she didn’t turn. His arms came around her from behind and crossed loosely against her ribs, cradling her in an undemanding embrace. She went still for a moment, then relaxed against him, and his arms tightened to hold her there.
“He’s better,” he said in a low voice over the top of her head.
“Yes.” She turned in his arms and leaned back to look up into his face. “He’s better, because of you. Thank you.”
“You don’t have to thank me.” He stroked her cheek with rough fingers, continuing to hold her close with the other hand. “I care about him, too.”
“I know.”
For a long moment, they gazed into each other’s eyes.
“Lisa.” The word was so low and deep it sounded more like a rumble in his chest than her name. “There’s something I want, badly.”
Her eyes asked the question, but she already sensed the answer.
“I want to kiss you. I’ve wanted to all day...for weeks really. Please don’t pull away.”
The plea in his voice tore at her. That a man like Jared, who could take whatever he wanted, was asking for permission touched her. He was giving her the power to grant or refuse. He would never force her. But she couldn’t deny his need. It mirrored
her own. She couldn’t help herself; she nodded without looking away.
Fierce satisfaction swept across his face before he lowered his mouth to hers. His lips were firm and deliberate as he worked to coax a response from her.
Lisa moved her mouth, but she wasn’t sure exactly what she was supposed to do. Before he’d left for war, Dan’s kisses had been the tentative caresses of
a teenage boy. This was completely different. Jared was a man, and beyond her experience.
“Open for me. Please.” He nudged at her lips to show her what he wanted.
She was dizzy with the new sensations and did what he asked without hesitation. Immediately, his grip tightened and one hand slid up her back and buried itself in her unbound hair. He used that hand to hold her head steady as he slid his tongue into her
The action shocked her, and she started to draw back, but his hand tightened.
“No,” he murmured raggedly.
She was overcome by a longing to give this man what he needed. She stopped struggling and forced herself to relax in his embrace. Soon the novelty of the kiss wore off, and a fire began to burn deep inside her. She discovered her arms had wound
themselves around his broad, bare back and her hands were every bit as busy as his. Her tongue refused to remain passive and wove itself around his in an ancient mating dance.
Jared made a low noise deep in his throat and slid his right hand slowly down her back. Then, as if he could stand it no longer, he pulled her hard against him. A breathless excitement gripped her. The sensations were so thrilling and so new she lost herself in the pleasure of it. Finally, he dragged his mouth away. She collapsed
against his chest, and they stood, holding each other until their heartbeats slowed and their breathing returned to normal.
Jared was the first to speak. “I’m not sorry.”
She remained silent.
“This doesn’t change anything,” he said.
Lisa pulled back and looked up, shaking her head. “It changes everything.”
“No, it doesn’t. The feelings were there before, and they’ll still be there whether we act on them or not.”
She didn’t try to deny it. “But we can’t, and it will be so much harder now.”
“That’s true. Now you know how much I want you, and I know you want me, too. I don’t know where this is going, but we have to find out.”
“I don’t want to find out.” But a small voice inside denied the words. Part of her had to know.
“I think you do, and I know I do. I’m not going to offer to leave, even though it might make some things easier, not unless you can convince me you really want me to go.” He cupped her face in both hands and searched her eyes. “Do you?”
Lisa knew she should say yes and remove the unbearable temptation of his presence, but she couldn’t bring herself to speak the lie. She shook her
head. “No.”
Jared’s lips moved in a tiny smile, then his serious expression returned. “I can’t tell you I’ll never kiss you again, or touch you, or that I won’t want to get even closer to you, but I promise I won’t press you for anything you don’t want to give. I’d never do anything to hurt you. You know that, don’t you?”
She nodded.
“Good. Now it’s time for you to get some sleep.”
He led her to the bed and tucked her in, his hands lingering as he smoothed the quilt across her. Then he leaned over her, his expression rigid and deadly serious. “I want you to know leaving you tonight is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But I want
more from you than one night in your bed.”
He closed the remaining gap between them and captured Lisa’s lips in a kiss filled with frustrated desire and a promise of things to come.
Then he was gone. 

How do you feel about fatherhood in romance novels? Do you like stories that show the hero to be good potential father material, or do you prefer the dashing, unattached, alpha heroes? Maybe your choice depends on your mood. One of the best things about our genre is the variety. We have stories to suit every time and every taste.

Alison Henderson


Jannine Gallant said...

Enjoy Father's Day with your husband. I know it's tough those first few holidays after losing your dad. As for fathers in books, several of my heroes are dads. I think it makes them more real and human.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Sorry about your dad. Keep him alive in memories. My first hero was a single dad doing his best for a teenaged daughter. The hero in my next book couldn't have children of his own and ultimately adopted. Guess I carry the hero and father theme too.

Mary Ricksen said...

This sound right up my alley! Good luck!

Alison Henderson said...

Thanks, Jannine and Margo. I'm doing well with the approaching holiday. Actually, I feel my dad with me much more now than I did when he was suffering so terribly, and it's very comforting.

Alison Henderson said...

Glad you think so, Mary! Thanks for stopping by.

Christine Elaine Black said...

Hi Alison,
My first one without my dad, too.
My novels all seems to have children involved in them. Maybe its because I'm a mom and I love being a mom that it compels me to write about family. :)

Alison Henderson said...

Hi Christine, this seems to have been a tough year for so many people I know. My condolences for the loss of your dad.

Miss Snark said...

Hi Alison,
Great post. I'm so sorry about your father.

I like variety. Sometimes a child in the mix works, other times it would just muck up the story.

Alison Henderson said...

Hi Melissa,
I agree. It all depends on the characters and the story. Thanks for stopping by.