We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
And now you'd throw us all aside, put us all away
Oh, what dear daughter, 'neath the sun could treat a father so?
To wait upon him hand and foot yet always tell him "No"
Tears of rage, tears of grief
Why must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know we're so alone
And life is brief..
The father-daughter relationship presented here is complex. The father-narrator carries memories of his daughter that have great pertinence to him; they are conflated with a sense of national identity. It would seem that, by betraying him, his daughter is betraying her own national identity; yet what the daughter clearly wants is to live out the ideal that this country was founded upon: freedom. This sense of conflicted tradition may be one of the reasons that the narrator is weeping: he cannot reconcile his own ethical code with the way that things have changed. His daughter comes to signify this change, and possibly a new level of national identity, that is beyond his reach. This song was written and recorded in the late 1960s: feminism was just beginning to make its presence felt, and the scenario being enacted in this song was being replicated in miniature all over the country (and the world.) Notice, however, that the father himself is a complex character; far from being a macho he-man, his reaction to his daughter's desertion (which is not physical but emotional, and thus all the more devastating) is to break down and weep. The sensitivity that could allow him to understand his daughter's desire for freedom instead turns to sentimentality and self-pity. This is a variant of Paul McCartney's She's Leaving Home, released a year before and charting similar terrain. The difference is that McCartney's heroine really does pack up her bags and leave; Manuel and Dylan's creation stays near at hand to the narrator, but continually (and often indirectly) denies him. The narrator and his daughter seem to be playing a high-stakes guessing game, and there is no easy resolution of the type that McCartney employs. The second verse suggests that the narrator, his sensitivity aside, takes a condescending view of his daughter's intellectual and social emancipation:
It was all so very painless
When you went out to receive
All that false instruction
Which we never could believe
And now the heart is filled with gold
As if it was a purse
But oh what kind of love is this
Which goes from bad to worse?
Notice that this narrator is forced to take shelter behind other members of his clan: insecure about his daughter's pursuits, he asserts that "we never could belive" the "false instruction" that his daughter received, whatever it might happen to be. Given the context in which it appears, "false instruction" could be a reference to feminist doctrine, or atheist doctrine, or some sort of pseudo-religious doctrine. Whatever the doctrine is, it has caused a rupture so that a cherished family member, who used to be accessible and thus subservient to the narrator, is no longer either accessible or subservient. What is interesting about this song is how clearly it demonstrates the faults of this father (his narrowness, his inability to change), and yet how poignantly we feel his pain in the chorus. This is a man that is acknowledging his feelings; rage and grief. Because he can face up to the way he feels, we are able to forgive his condescension, his willful misapprehension, and his aversion towards an ineluctable change in national identity, as embodied in his daughter. It is one of the joys of this song that it picks up and represents a position that is rarely acknowledged in popular music; that of the elderly, the experienced, the humbled. Even more interestingly, in the final verse the narrator shows signs of affirming his daughter's sense of agency, even as he tries to negate it:
We pointed you the way to go
And scratched your name in sand
Though you just thought it was nothing more
Than a place for you to stand
I want you to know that while we watched you
discover no one would be true
That I myself was among the ones
Who thought it was just a childish thing to do
This family is watching this young women from afar, letting her make her own mistakes. The narrator makes an attempt to step back and judge her objectively; when he does so, he finds her behavior "childish." Yet we, as an audience, do not have to be fooled; there are two sides to every story, and it would seem to be a safe bet that this women would have her own version of events. The narrator's very unreliability makes him even more touching; he wants so badly to be right, and to have his daughter back the way she was. Yet the total impression is that he is rebuffed on both counts; he is unable to convince himself that he is right, and he is equally unable to make his daughter return to her former, innocent ways. It is this sense of a double failure that makes the song so complete, and so heartbreaking. Many other Dylan songs do not have this multi-dimensionality; Hurricane, for example, wants us to feel something, but Hurricane himself never seems like more than a cardboard cut-out. You don't get much of this richness in most Dylan, or anywhere else, for that matter. McCartney's piece, also, is comparatively simplistic. It must also be noted that, as complete as the lyrics are (though the tensions in them remain unresolved), the song has a gorgeous melody and is beautifully sung by Manuel. It also begs another question: why didn't Manuel and Dylan do more writing together? Alas, by the Band's second album Manuel had faded into the background, and Robbie Robertson had emerged as the Band's main musical auteur. A shame. But this song, an anthem of ambivalence, tenderness, and defeated impulses, is a real contribution to the lexicon of popular music, and ought to be around for as long as there are families, which means forever.