A prayer for my daughter
William Butler Yeats.
"I hope she'll be a fool - that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool," says Daisy Buchanan of her daughter in F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic novel The Great Gatsby.
Though I'd never wish cretinism on my little girl, I won't deny I've said the odd prayer she'll grow up to be an attractive woman. Yes, I've also appealed to fortune she be healthy, intelligent, kind, happy, fulfilled and wise but, my most constant invocation has been she be given beauty.
I'm certainly not the first father moved by this desire. The revered Irish poet William Butler Yeats famously wrote in A Prayer for My Daughter:
May she be granted beauty and yet not,
Beauty to make a stranger's eye distraught,
Or hers before a looking glass, for such,
Being made beautiful overmuch,
Consider beauty a sufficient end.
It's a poem that's been described as "designed deliberately to offend women", yet I wonder how many of us, if given the choice of delivering our child beauty or not, would choose "not"?
We've all heard about the studies suggesting life is easier for the beautiful, that we trust them more, they get paid higher salaries and are invited to better parties ... so why wouldn't you wish that for your offspring?
Well, as Yeats observed, few people (save the cast of The Shire) want a kid so gorgeous they "consider beauty a sufficient end"; that they just coast through life, read the weather on TV, marry rich and add nothing to the world but methane.
These people, though desired by many and sainted by magazines, are also some of humanity's most secretly despised because, through no talent or effort, they've been delivered a genetic jackpot; seemingly a free-pass through life.
Witness the ferocity of attacks on anybody who is good-looking "and knows it", such as British columnist Samantha Brick, who recently made the mistake of suggesting women hate her for "being beautiful" and instantly became the most reviled blonde on the internet.
However, if you shut your mouth and feign humility about your fantabulous looks, you'll be forgiven almost anything. Like Mad Men's Donald Draper, you can be despicable, near irredeemable, but women will still drool over you and men will be your buddy, simply because you're handsome.
In The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald also makes the observation that "there was no difference between men, in intelligence or race, so profound as the difference between the sick and the well" but I wonder if the gulf between the beautiful and ugly is just as unfathomable?
Unless you've been shunned for your looks (I suggest Charles Bukowski's novel Ham on Rye as an insight), you'd never understand, could probably not even comprehend, the way it can shape and often limit your world, as well as your personality.
For every homely Danny DeVito or Kim Clijsters - superstars who've risen to the pinnacle of their profession based on talent alone - there's the tubby 35-year-old bus driver who's never had sex, an acne-scarred accountant who hates herself because of her ravaged skin.
Of course, there are also countless individuals blessed with good looks whose lives are still racked with insecurity, who measure their value by this standard alone or, stare into the mirror and can't see the beauty others do.
And this, I guess, forms a tightrope I somehow hope my daughter will walk; accept and rejoice in your beauty ... just don't let anyone else know.