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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

How Priscilla Gilman Found Her Daddy and Herself

By Allan Shedlin

Grampsy, DCG Founder, and Director of the Daddying Film Festival & Forum (D3F)

Have you ever read a book and wished it wouldn't end? I have.

I just finished reading Priscilla Gilman's The Critic’s Daughter – A Memoir, and as I worked my way through each exquisite page, I felt blessed by my ADD – the kind of disability that slows my reading progress to a glacial pace. Yes, it was a blessing to read this book slowly because it enabled me not only to savor Priscilla's words and unique storytelling ability, but also her self-awareness and ability to process and understand the complex relationship she had with her father (and her mother).

This book should be required reading for everyone who has been touched by divorce and who may have struggled to come to grips with a complex father relationship (and vice versa).

Prior to the prologue, Priscilla (we've now communicated via email on a first-name basis, so it feels OK to refer to her by her first name here) notes:

"I lost my father for the first time when I was ten years old. In the months and years that followed, I lost him over and over, many times and in many different ways. This book is my attempt to find him."

And so, she has found him. In so doing, she also has found herself in all the complexity we each embody – the stuff that makes us human – but rarely do the work necessary to understand ourselves individually, on the deepest level.

Priscilla is a gifted storyteller and brilliant writer. Her memoir is filled with a richness of literary and theatrical references. The inter-connectedness of her family members' stories is told without apology and in the kind of detail that allows one to "see" the primary players even though there were no photos. Although the absence of family photos forced me to create some in my mind's eye, I think the book would have been enriched by them.

As she describes her father, Richard Gilman, a well-known literary and theater critic, Priscilla quotes a sentence from his own writing:

"An unparalleled joy was the birth of my daughters…their childhoods were a renewal and replenishment for me."

Perhaps because I identify with so many of the ways she describes aspects of his daddying, it's easy for me to take this book to heart.

father standing with his two young daughters
Richard Gilman at home with his daughters, Claire, left, and Priscilla

She notes that "When we were little girls, Claire [her slightly younger sister] and Daddy and I invented a term we used only with each other: streaks of love. I don’t remember who came up with the phrase, but for all three of us it meant a sudden piercing jolt or bolt or sudden rush of overwhelming love that stabbed us at our core."

As I read that term, it rang true to me as a dad and granddad on a personal level. And it reminded me of something a dad said to me during his daddying interview: "Once you become a dad, you will never be alone in your heart."

This concept was echoed in so many of my daddying interviews with fathers noting that once they became dads, they felt a love unlike any other. A love they didn’t know they were capable of.

Another theme that rang true from what I’ve learned from my many hours of qualitative daddying research listening to kids and youth in focus groups was Priscilla noting that her "moral passion…refused to reduce my father to his worst self." Again, I have an incomplete understanding about how so many of us are willing to give their fathers a "pass" on so many transgressions and still struggle to earn their love.

This book should be required reading for everyone who has been touched by divorce and who may have struggled to come to grips with a complex father relationship (and vice versa).

After her dad's death, Priscilla comes to believe that "I knew that wherever I was, my father would always be in my deep heart's core."

We have been blessed by a number of guest blogs by gifted authors, and I had the honor of writing the introduction to literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller's 20th anniversary reprinting of his amazing book Fathering Words: The Making of an African American Writer. I'm now happy to have finally written the Daddying blog's first book review. That alone should signal something special. And Priscilla Gilman's book, The Critic’s Daughter, truly is special. I highly recommend you treat yourself to reading it slowly.


Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, and five grandchildren, as well as numerous "bonus" sons/daughters and grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, school leadership, parenting coaching, policy development, and advising at the local, state, and national levels. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019, he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He has conducted daddying workshops in such diverse settings as Native American pueblos, veterans groups, nursery schools, penitentiaries, Head Start centers, corporate boardrooms, and various elementary schools, signifying the widespread interest in men in becoming the best possible dad. In 2022, Allan founded and co-directed the Daddying Film Festival & Forum to enable students, dads, and other indie filmmakers to use film as a vehicle to communicate the importance of fathers or father figures in each others' lives. Allan earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D and GRAND D-A-D the most important “degrees” of all.


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