Saturday, June 13, 2015

Parable of the absent father

Once upon a time, there was a mute woman who lived in a small cabin the woods, far away from civilization.  She had six sons whom she cared for all on her own.

As long as he could remember, every single day, the youngest son would ask his mother, "Mother, do I have a father?"  His mother would just smile mysteriously, because she could not speak.

He searched long and hard for any sign of his father.  Failing to find one, he decided to ask his brothers, "Do we have a father?"

His first brother said, "I have studied science, and I've learned that it is impossible for children to be born without a father."

The second said, "After all, we are male, so there must be something about us that doesn't come from our mother."

The third said, "All of us are able to speak, while our mother cannot.  So our father must have taught us, even if we don't remember."

The fourth said, "It is impossible that we would have a notion of what a father is if there wasn't such a thing."

The fifth said, "Besides, all of us desire to have a father, and it would be absurd if that desire was for something that didn't exist."

The youngest son thought about this for awhile.  Then he asked, "What is our father like?"

The first said, "He is tall and has dark hair and eyes, like I have, only he is much taller."

The second said, "He is fair and broad across the shoulders like me, only much broader."

The third said, "He intelligent like me, only even smarter, and he loves hunting and fishing like I do."

The fourth said, "I am certain that he is a powerful, strong, and rich man."  All the brothers agreed with this.

The fifth said, "And he must love us very much, since we are his sons."  This statement too brought nods from the other brothers.

The youngest son thought about this.  It seemed not all of his brothers could be right.  "How can you be sure he cares about us, if he never visits?" he asked.

The first said, "I feel certain in my heart that he is near.  He isn't far away at all -- he hides behind trees, under the beds, and in the closet just to get a look at us.  That's how much he cares."

The second said, "I went out alone into the woods one day and I saw a bit of his cloak disappear behind a tree."

The third said, "Every day I walk alone and talk to him, and I feel he is listening.  Once I even felt he had answered, though of course I didn't hear his voice with my physical ears."

The fourth said, "Every morning when we wake up, there is breakfast laid out.  Surely our mother wouldn't be able to manage that by himself.  Father must visit us by night and supply us with what we need."

The fifth said, "There is a book inside the cabin that said Father is real and loves us."

At this the youngest boy was sad.  He said, "I have called upon the wind, I have written a thousand letters, I have sent paper boats sailing down the stream and attached messages to the legs of pigeons.  I never stop looking for Father when I am out in the woods, and every morning I look for a sign that he has been there.  Many mornings there is a fine meal laid out, but other days there is only a loaf of bread, and the rest of you eat it all before I wake up.  Why would Father show his love for you, but not his love for me?  Why does he expect me, a child, to do all of the work seeking him?  He should have been there to rock me in his arms when I was a baby, to help me tie my shoes, to teach me to shoot a bow so I didn't hurt myself so many times trying to teach myself.  A good father would provide food, not some mornings, but all of the mornings.  He should protect me against you older ones when you torment me.  Why doesn't he do all those things a loving father would do?"

The first brother said, "It's because you aren't looking hard enough."

The youngest answered, "But he is more powerful than me, shouldn't it be easy for him to make up for my limitations?  He should know that I can't see him or hear his voice, that it's up to him to make sure I know he loves me, not up to me to make excuses for him when he fails to show up!"

The second brother said, "It's because he wants to test your love for him."

The youngest answered, "How does he expect me to have any love for him at all, when he doesn't show up?  I am thankful that I exist, of course, but it's a very strange father who thinks it's ingratitude for his child to expect to see him even once in a lifetime."

The third brother said, "Perhaps he is prevented from coming.  He has been captured by an enemy."

The youngest said, "Then he cannot be as powerful as you think.  His love for us ought to motivate him to overcome all obstacles to come back to us."

The fourth brother said, "He's an adult, a few years seem like nothing to him."

The youngest answered, "But he knows a few years are an eternity to me!  Is my childhood unimportant to him, that he doesn't mind missing the entire thing?  Don't my loneliness and longing for him matter to him at all?"

The fifth brother said, "You should be ashamed of yourself.  Here you are, in a fine cabin, in the most beautiful forest in the world.  Every morning there is food for you to eat, and if that isn't enough, you are able to go hunt a rabbit for yourself.  Without Father, you wouldn't even have the breath of life.  You have no right to demand anything of him.  He is a noble, good man and you are only a worthless child."

The youngest answered, "That may be so, but I cannot believe that he loves me as you say he does if he has no interest in speaking to me or spending time with me.  There may be fathers whose involvement is limited to creating their children, maybe buying them a meal, but I don't call them good men or good fathers!"

With tears in his eyes he left his brothers and went out into the woods.  For the whole of the afternoon he searched, looking behind trees and in dense thickets, calling his father's name.  But there was no answer.

At last, voice hoarse and eyes red with weeping, he returned to the cabin and curled into his mother's arms.  "You at least are always here for me," he told her.  "And I think you must love me."

The mother gave only her sad, mysterious smile, and did not answer.


SeekingOmniscience said...

I liked this very much.

SeekingOmniscience said...

Also, I don't know if you knew, but the argument has been made from the existence of speech to the existence of God. Some French traditionalists like de Bonald or de Maestre argued that of necessity God must have taught man the first language, because people could not have invented it, because you would need language to invent it.

But, yeah, I did like that.

Enbrethiliel said...


I think that anyone who has known the pain of a broken family would be touched by this. And those lucky enough to have intact, close families would still have friends who don't: we seem to be living in the age of the Deadbeat Dad, the Single Mom, and the Fatherless Children.

I've been thinking about our digression into guilt and your belief that you can always do more, especially as a mother. And I was about to go back to that thread and say that the mothers in my family seem to be all about getting away with doing as little as possible! ROFL! I don't say that to make them sound bad, because in the same way you can ask, "Where would I be today if my mother had done less?" I can ask, "Where would I be today if my mother and grandmother hadn't absentmindedly bought me all those expensive privileges that arguably benefited me in the long run?" I don't want to do what they did, but I can't hold it against them when I turned out well anyway and have no idea how things would have been different. But one thing I do feel safe saying is that my childhood--indeed, my whole life--would have been much richer if I could have had a relationship with my father. Do you feel that God, as your Father, should have done and should be doing more?

Sheila said...

Yes, I do. My own father isn't perfect, but he DID bother to spend time with me every day! I don't know why God doesn't do this. This is all inspired by a conversation on Melinda Selmys's blog where she says she prayed to God for faith and got it. I said .... well, how come when I pray for faith I don't get it? And the answers were all the ones shown. It makes perfect sense for God to act this way if he was a distant creator with no more than a general interest in human beings, but a loving father would do more. A father is criticized if he misses a single ball game -- let alone leaving his child alone for decades wondering if he's even there! Why does God describe himself as a father and then content himself with being the sort of dad who only pays child support?

S.O., I meant speech to be a symbol for consciousness as a whole -- clearly we have several qualities that nature (the mother) does not share. You could take this as a proof of God, or just say the sons developed differently from their mother. Anyway my point here is that even if you can prove the existence of God, that's a long, long way from proving God loves us.

The mother in this story is just as frustrating to me as the father. The father claims to love his children, but is never there; the mother is always there, but never speaks. I love nature, but I've learned that nature does not actually love me back. As such, it's to be respected, but it's no comfort.

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