Study Guide

Ray Lambert (Dad) in Story of a Girl

By Sara Zarr

Ray Lambert (Dad)

The Root of All Drama

If there's one character in Story of a Girl about whom it's really difficult to say anything nice, it's Deanna's dad. He's a thoroughly miserable human being, and he's made himself that way by refusing to forgive. He hasn't spoken more than a few words to Deanna since the night he caught her with Tommy, to the point that she imagines him on a special episode of Jerry Springer while watching TV: "I surfed through the talk shows and pictured my dad on the screen. Today's topic: My Daughter is a Slut. Tommy could go on, too, and tell the story to an international audience" (9.18). Ugh, right?

He also keeps drama stirred up around the house by constantly fighting with Darren's girlfriend Stacy, for no apparent reason other than that he wishes Darren hadn't gotten her pregnant and she hadn't moved in. Deanna doesn't butt into their arguments; she knows that after Stacy, she's the second-most-reviled member of the household. Instead she—and her mom, and Stacy, and Darren—just try to stay out of his way.

How Exactly Do You Get to Be That Mean?

So the obvious question is, what happened to Deanna's dad to make him such a jerk? Deanna thinks it's losing his job a few years back: "What if National Paper had never laid my dad off? Would that have made it easier for him to be the other kind of father?" (5.25)—she means, of course, the loving kind; the kind who hasn't just given up. After the layoff, she tells us, "it seemed like all he did was hunt for jobs or temp or sleep" (6.94).

So yeah, things have been tough for him, but he's making them even tougher with his attitude. As Darren tells Deanna,

"He can't forgive you, or me, or Stacy, or the paper company, not really. Or himself, you know? He can't get past any of it and actually live a life. He can barely sit at the dinner table with all of us without looking like he's gonna have a stroke." (14.39)

Whether it's misguided pride, embarrassment at the state of his home and family, or just a generally rotten disposition, Papa Lambert has chosen to let anger ruin his life. His house is run down; he can't even provide a decent place for his family to live. If National Paper hadn't fired him, perhaps he could have made some repairs, or helped Darren and Stacy (maybe even Deanna) move out.

And then there's the whole little issue of him being the one who caught Deanna and Tommy together—he tells Deanna's mom that if she'd seen them, she wouldn't be able to forget it either. It must be awful for a dad to catch his daughter in the act of losing her virginity—it definitely shatters the illusion some parents need to maintain that their daughters save themselves for marriage, and it may even feel like an act of betrayal—but we agree with Deanna's mom that it's no excuse to ignore her for three years.

Is There Any Hope for this Dude?

Well… sort of. Maybe. A little. He still can't bring himself to say I love you to Deanna, but he does show a little bit of affection for April when Stacy leaves. When Deanna sees him holding the baby, she thinks,

The last three years could be a bad memory. I could say, Dad, let's just try, and he could look at April in his arms and nod quietly, and everything could be different, couldn't it? (7.45)

But then he hands April back to Darren and walks away stiffly, and Deanna's hopes are dashed.

The most change we see in old Pops is when, at the end of the book, he hands Deanna a spoon to stir her coffee. Then he says, "Your mom said you've been saving your paychecks. Maybe we can find you an old car" (15.6). It's like he's realized after the Stacy-leaving debacle that he has to at least try to be slightly less of a jerk. Mentioning car shopping isn't exactly an apology and a hug, but it's a big enough gesture to make Deanna smile, even as her dad walks stiffly out of the room.