|F. Scott Fitzgerald With his Daughter, Scottiee|
I was, of late, putting together an article on the letters of Francis Scott Fitzgerald or FSF. I have always been enamored by his writing. Fitzgerald had a daughter, Frances Scott Fitzgerald, whom he lovingly addressed as Scottie or Scottina. Scottie was borne in October, 1921, soon after Fitzgerald married Zelda, the daughter of a Judge, riding on the success of his first book, This Side of the Paradise.
Scott Fitzgerald’s later life was fraught with difficulties, financial and otherwise. He lived apart from Zelda who mostly lived out of hospitals, searching for the cure for her chronic depression. His later work could not replicate the early success of The Tales of the Jazz Age, and The Other Side of Paradise, and his slip into abject poverty could not even be arrested by The Great Gatsby, which could get its due only after his sad death at the age of 44. He lived away Scottie, and wanted to teach her all that he could so that she may, in her own life be spared from all that pain. His letters to Scottie touched me especially, being a father of six years old, wanting to write similar letters, and failing to come around to do that. My “Notes to Nonu” stays a work in mind, not even in progress. I am very sure that while some of his letters are very stern, a worried fathers to his daughter, being raised with parenting in absentia, they still carry a great deal of timeless advice for kids today. While in some of his letters, he tries to part with his skills as a writer to Scottie, seemingly in the search of some kind of legacy; the letters are not about writing. The letters of Scott Fitzgerald to Scottie are letters of father to a daughter and have concerns and affectionate shades which are universal to any father. Let us look at some of the letters and his great advice to his loving daughter.
To Scottie Fitzgerald, Dated August 8th, 1933: Scottie would have been twelve year when this very interesting letter written by her illustrious father first appears. She is still little child to Fitzgerald who writes, “I think of you, and pleasantly always” before entering in a lovely banter threatening her that he will beat the white cat and beats its bottom every time she called him “Pappy”. He then goes on to offer some great advise to her, telling her “Things to worry about:
Worry about Courage
Worry about Cleanliness
Worry about Efficiency
Worry about Horsemanship” (in today’s context, we may replace this with physical activity)
And then he tells her things not to worry about which is a long list, key things of relevance which we can tell our kids today as well not to worry about from his letter are:
Don’t worry about popular opinion
Don’t worry about past
Don’t worry about future
Don’t worry about anyone getting ahead of you
Don’t worry about triumph
Don’t worry about failure unless it comes through your faults.
There is a very interesting letter written on August 8th 1934 where he writes to Rosalind, Zelda’s sister, many things about Scottie with great objectivity and affection. He discusses the inevitability of putting Scottie under the supervision of a Governess, parenting in absentia, and is worried about the weight of a celebrity father that she has to carry when he writes, “It is much easier for Scottie to play being the daughter of a writer that to get down and write something herself.” He is worried about the possibility of Scottie turning into a useless socialite and fearfully writes that, “Scottie can always change from an artistic to a social career but the reverse is very difficult”.
In another letter written to Scottie in 1935, when Scottie was around 14, he refers to typical teenage flings and disappointments. He writes that, “your popularity with two or three dazed adolescent boys would convince you that you were at least queen of Sheba” and then he advises her that “you can think of others as valuing themselves, possibly quite as much as you do yourself.” He doesn’t put himself on a pedestal, he is as honest as only a father can be to his daughter when he writes that, “I didn’t know till 15 that there was anyone in the world except me and it cost me plenty” confessing his own life as a self-centered young man. He wants her to be a writer, asking her to write a one act play. He seems to be a man who had some sense of losing out on life and wants to pass on all the wisdom he had about his art, about his craft, about life to his daughter, in a hurry. In a letter dated October 20th 1936, He tells her not be “discouraged” about her story not coming on the tops, but also tells her that “I am not going to encourage you about it, because after all….you have to have your own fences to jump and learn from experience.” He further adds, “Nobody ever became a writer by wanting to be one. If you have anything to say…..you have got to feel it so desperately that you will find a way to say it that nobody has ever found before, so that the thing you have to say and the way of saying it blend as one matter.” He warns her, “It is an awfully lonesome business, ….I never wanted you to go into it, but if you are going into it all I want you to go into it knowing the sort of things that took me years to learn.” Of all the hallowed reverence of the writer, he, at heart is nothing more than a father. In another letter of November, 17th 1936, he strictly admonishes her not to overlook scientific knowledge, telling her that, “there is no question of you dropping mathematics…I want you to take physics and I want you to take chemistry”. It was the Thirties and Fitzgerald, a man of literature is not looking for so-called ‘feminine’ subjects for his daughter. He even threatens her with all the sternness of a disciplinarian father when he says, “You are an only child, but that doesn’t give you any right to impose on that fact.” In the letter, one year later, October, 8th, 1937, he gives the sense of a drowning man, with the hand of his daughter fast slipping away when he urges her to not to smoke and that, “You have got to devote the best and freshest part of your energies to things that will give you a happy and profitable life. There is no time but now.”
An year later, on 7h July, 1938, he writes to Scottie, “I don’t think I will be writing letters many more years..”. Further he writes, “I never wanted to see again in this world women who were brought up as idlers. And one of my chief desires in life was to keep you from being that kind of person, one who brings ruin to themselves and others. This is one very, very sad letter, a desperate plea seeking understanding from his daughter when he writes, “You don’t realize that what I am doing here is the last tired effort of a man who once did something finer and better.” In the throes of abject sadness, he puts forward a very profound thought about adolescence which I believe, should be read by every adolescent (and their parents). He writes, “You have reached an age when one is of interest to an adult only insofar as one seems to have a future…The mind of child is fascinating, for it looks at the old with new eyes- but at about twelve this changes. The adolescent offers nothing, can do nothing, say nothing that the adult cannot do better.” He is unsparing to his little Scottina, when he writes, “when I do not feel you are ‘going somewhere’, your company tends to depress me for silly waste and triviality involved. On the other hand, when occasionally I see signs of life and intention in you, there is no company in the world I prefer. When Scottie is finally at Princeton, he writes to her, advising her to be unpretentious and friendly, writing, “Nothing is as obnoxious as other people’s luck..Everything you are and do from fifteen to eighteen is what you are and will do through your life.” There are several lists of recommended readings which pass from the father to the daughter, wise words on writing. But this is not about that. What I am writing here about how being a father overwhelms and dominates every aspects of your being. And about timeless advises which from a great father to his daughter and how it holds its shine even in today’s Sun, several decades later. In our own ways, aren’t we as father struggling to share our experiences with our daughters, trying to make them stand on their own, trying to pass on the wisdom we gained through our failures to them, so that they might not have to make them?
Note: F. Scott Fitzgerald, the acclaimed writer of The Other Side of Paradise, The Great Gatsby, The Beautiful and The Doomed and several stories was borne on September, 24th.