Summary and Analysis
Part 2: The Desert Sections 26-27
Jeannette's father asks her what she wants for her tenth birthday and Jeannette, though a bit nervous about it, speaks from her heart: she wants Dad to stop drinking. Dad, having promised her whatever she wants, agrees and ties himself to his bed for a week of withdrawal. Slowly, he recovers and begins to interact with the family, and he grows more comfortable with his new, sober lifestyle.
To celebrate his sobriety — and to remove himself from temptation — he suggests the family go on a camping trip to the Grand Canyon. They load up the car and zip through the desert. Dad pushes the gas pedal to the floor and finally the rickety car can't handle the speed and breaks down about 80 miles outside Phoenix. Lacking the tools to fix the car, the family starts walking back to Phoenix. A driver pulls over and offers them a ride, having passed them earlier. She offers the kids sandwiches and drinks; and Dad, riled by this act of charity, returns to drinking when they get back home.
After a three-day bender, he returns home and picks a fight with Mom. They make up quickly, but Jeannette and her siblings are disappointed Dad is back to his old ways. Mom talks about moving the family back east to West Virginia, where Dad's family lives, despite Dad's protests. She buys a cheap used car and packs up the family. At the last minute, Dad changes his mind and hops in the car, capitulating to his children's pleas that they needed him.
Jeannette's faith in her father and Dad's drinking problem and his issues with masculinity are the central themes in these sections of The Desert. First, recall that Jeannette has the best relationship with her Dad out of all of her siblings. For instance, he has told her she is his favorite, and she has defended him against Lori and Brian's complaints about his inability to carry his weight in the family. Her decision to ask Dad to sober up, then, is indicative of her growing maturity and more complete perception of Dad — even she has to admit he is not the man he claims to be and that drinking is a large part of that. Dad's decision to return to drinking foreshadows more problems to come — will Jeannette's faith diminish? Or will she continue to believe in her father's dreams?
These sections also illustrate how part of Dad's drinking problem is connected to his issues with masculinity. Earlier in the memoir, Dad is unable to relinquish his role as family breadwinner (and, consequently, head of the household), going so far as to escort Mom to the bank on payday so he can control the finances. Here, Dad feels his masculinity challenged again when a woman offers a ride to him and the family as they walk through the desert outside Phoenix. His belief in self-sufficiency is crushed, and he is unable to face his family after accepting charity in front of them. Only when the kids tell him, "you're the head of the family," as they convince him to join them on their trip to West Virginia, does his faith in himself return. Dad's fluctuating sobriety in this chapter, exemplifies the significance of masculinity in his life and how much he relies on his ability to look like the head of the household to maintain a sense of self — despite his inability to truly fulfill the responsibilities of such a role.