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Thomas Jefferson, Single Parent

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Thomas Jefferson, writer of the Declaration of Independence and 3rd President may have also been our nation’s 1st hot dad (DILF?). When his young wife died; the grief-stricken man had infant Lucy, four-year old Polly, and 10-year old Patsy to raise. Due to a deathbed promise to never remarry, he remained a single parent. Lucy died in childhood. Jefferson, Polly, and Patsy clung tenaciously to each other and, though more often separated than not, remained in constant contact through letters. Jefferson set standards for his girls in education and deportment that were unusual in his day and appear impossible and unhealthy in ours. I give you a few parenting rules from Thomas Jefferson, with tongue in cheek:

No Casual Friday: Jefferson instructed Patsy in one letter, “Be you from the moment you rise till you go to bed as cleanly and properly dressed as at the hours of dinner or tea. A lady who has been seen as a sloven or slut in the morning, will never efface that impression …” Ouch!

Sources Cited Below Post

No Downtime: Here’s a typical study schedule:

  • From 8. to 10 o’clock practice music.
  • From 10. to 1 dance one day and draw another
  • From 1. to 2. draw on the day you dance, and write a letter the next day.
  • From 3. to 4. read French.
  • From 4. to 5. exercise yourself in music.
  • From 5. till bedtime read English, write & c.

 

Of Course, I’ll Always Love You, If Jefferson’s instructions were at times given as a road map to his heart. In a letter to Patsy, he wrote, “I have placed my happiness on seeing you good and accomplished, and no distress which this world can now bring on me can equal that of your disappointing my hopes …Keep my letters and read them at times that you may always have present in your mind those things which will endear you to me.”

It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt: What illegitimate children? What mistress? When Patsy and Polly lived at Monticello as young adults, it can’t have gone unnoticed that his unmarried slave woman, Sally Hemings, only got pregnant when their father was home from Washington. The illicit relationship was never acknowledged. When it became a national scandal, the Queens of Denial visited Jefferson in Washington to provide a united family front.

As women, each developed her own way of resisting their father’s demands. Patsy blamed kids and a troublesome husband for her lack of free time, and pointed to Lucy as being way more behind than she in keeping the pace. Polly seems to have adopted the slacker role to her advantage, basically throwing up her hands and saying, ‘I know, I’m so lazy!’ But there can be no doubt that the three of them were crazy about each other.

I thought it would be fun to create a similar relationship between The Bad Death’s Julian Mouret and his much younger sister, Charlotte. She was three years old when their father died and left the fifteen year old Julian as man of the house (and therefore, its legal head). Raising a child to be the Ideal requires you to embody that Ideal, yourself. By the time we meet them in The Bad Death, Julian has achieved this. But what happens when the Ideal “parent” falls from grace? We’ll see in the next novel, House of the Apparently Dead.

Sources: The Women Jefferson Loved by Virginia Scharff; The Family Letters of Thomas Jefferson edited by Edwin Betts and James Bear, Jr.; Thomas Jefferson, An Intimate History by Fawn Brodie.


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