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Robin Schulte

Robin Schulte

The concept of home is often synonymous with security. Dutiful Daughter is a memoir which traces the experience and impact of growing up with an alcoholic mother and an abusive father. Mothering plays a large part in these pieces: my complicated love for my alcoholic mother, the ways in which our roles sometimes reversed, my search for an alternative mother figure growing up, and my attempts to mother myself. I also explore the shifting concept of home—from the home my parents created to the many homes I found after they divorced. As an adult, I searched and found my brother Christopher, whom I had not seen in thirty years, and discovered he was homeless, schizophrenic and an alcoholic. This memoir details my search and the complex struggle to get him into a stable situation. Throughout, I attempt to address the dissonance between the dream of a home and the reality.

Dad snapped a Polaroid picture of our modest, West Texas ranch style house from the front sidewalk the day we moved to Odessa. The gears hummed inside, and the instant camera spit out the picture like a chemically treated tongue.  

“If you kids want to see this, you better get over here.” 

He took a long drag on a cigarette and stood squinting in a swirl of smoke, holding the corner of the picture between his thumb and index finger and waved it, waiting for it to process. Dad wore a heavy turquoise ring on a quick, thick calloused hand. I had learned early to keep quiet and stay out of the way. But this was a rare moment of unexpected kindness. Andrea, Christopher, Jonathan, and I dodged and elbowed into position. At first the frame contained only a milky white square but then, slowly, a ghostly geometric outline began to form, followed by the yellow and brown smears which became the defined shape of our new home.