Told in black-and-white photographs with short-sentenced captions, Daddy and Me, by Jeanne Moutoussamy-Ashe, is a gentle, domestic father-daughter love story with a powerful difference: this father is Arthur Ashe, the tennis champion and gentleman who died of AIDS in February 1993.
“Daddy and Me” is about reassurance and about connectedness to a parent who, because of illness, will not be there in his child’s future, but is living and sharing the present they have.
What is so potent and is captured so movingly in these intimate, un-self-conscious photographs is that on her father’s “bad days” of reactions to medication and feeling ill, the child is able to support him.
The photographs will help Camera Ashe remember, and can help the rest of us who knew her father only as a public figure understand something important about children living with seriously ill parents.
Ms. Moutoussamy-Ashe introduces us to Camera clowning as her father, seated on a park bench, hugs her. The photograph establishes the tone of their relationship, one sustained as we turn the pages and repeated as the book ends with a similar image.
We see “good days” when Camera and her father spend time together just hanging out, going through the everyday motions—reading books, pumping gas, stringing beads. Whatever else is happening in life, there are always baths and hair combing and bedtime prayers.
Camera’s father has no fairy-tale illness; she knows that, and so do we, and we can explain to our children as we read with them. The pictures show his visits to the hospital for blood tests. There is medicine, and there are machines. All along, Camera is there, a part of it all. The pictures say to both children and adults that when a child gives her father his medicine, it is as helpful to her as it is to him.
Many adults trying to explain AIDS to children are caught up in moral quandaries. Ms. Moutoussamy-Ashe’s text uses a clear, simple voice to describe Camera’s perception of her father’s experience of the illness (“Sometimes Daddy runs a fever and feels very tired. Like when you have a stomach ache. You just don’t feel very good”). She has made “Daddy and Me” a gift to her daughter and to the rest of us.