Book 6. The Family Book (2002)
How to bridge the gap?
I could not talk with my son any longer. Everything I said he automatically checked against his ‘concept’, with which he easily distinguishes between truth and falsehood. He even discredited the conclusions of the historians outlined in the textbook. There was no question here of a father’s superiority over his son. The conversation did not endow me with any
more authority and probably erased the authority I had before thanks to Anastasia. Moreover, his unusual confidence in the power of thought frightened me and put a gap between us. We were so different. There was no father-son contact with the child. I could not feel in him my own birth son. On the whole he seemed like another being to me.
We didn’t say a word to each other. And then I remembered Anastasia’s words: With children one must be absolutely sincere and truthful. I even felt anger over the hopelessness of the situation. So, I’m supposed to be sincere? I’m supposed to be truthful? I tried to be that way, but what came of it? Indeed, if I were to be completely sincere and truthful, then in the present situation I’d have to resort to some pretty bad language. So I said, spilling it all out on one breath:
“Volodya, if everything is to be said absolutely sincerely, you and I cannot hope to have a father-son conversation. We are different, you and me. We have different concepts, information and knowledge. I do not feel as though you are my son. I’m even afraid to touch you. In our world a father can show affection to his son pure and simple, and even punish him or strike him for insubordination. But doing anything like that with you is something I can’t even imagine. There’s an unbridgeable gap between us.”
My outburst at an end, I sat silently, not knowing what to say next or how. I sat and looked at my little son, who seemed to be lost in thought — and what strange thoughts he has!
At last he turned his curly little head in my direction, and reinitiated the conversation, but this time I could feel a note of sadness in his voice:
“Is there some kind of gap between you and me, Papa? You say it is hard for you to accept me as your own birth son? You spend a long time in that other world, where things are not exactly the same as here. I know, Papa, that parents there sometimes beat their children... Everything is a bit different there. I have been thinking, Papa... Jnst a moment...
He quickly got up and ran off a little ways. He returned carrying a branch with dry needles and handed it to me.
“Take this branch, Papa, and beat me with it. The way parents beat their children in that other world which you spend so much time in.”
“Beat you? Why? What have you thought up now?”
“I know, Papa, that over there, in the world you have to spend so much time in, parents beat only their own birth children. I am your birth son, Papa. You can beat me so you can feel yourself to be my birth father. Perhaps it will be easier for you that way Only do not strike this arm or this leg — this arm will not feel pain and this leg will not feel at all — they are still a little numb. But all the rest of my body will feel pain. Only I probably shall not be able to cry the way children do. I have never cried in my life.”
“Nonsense! Sheer nonsense! Nobody ever beats their children, not even in that ‘other’ world — as you call it — without a reason. Sometimes, yes, they punish them, and give them a light slap. But only when children do not obey their parents, when the kids don’t do as they’re supposed to.”
“Yes, of course, Papa. When parents decide that their children have behaved improperly”
“So, Papa, I want you to consider something in my behaviour improper!”
“What d’you mean, you want me to ‘consider’? When be-haviour’s improper, it’s clear to everyone that it’s improper — it’s not up to the parent to ‘consider’ it proper or improper. Everyone should understand that it is improper.”
‘And the children who are beaten should understand?” “The children too. That is why they beat them, to make them realise that they were wrong.”
‘And cannot they understand this before being beaten?” “They can’t, obviously.”
“Even when parents explain it to them, they cannot under-stand?”
“They cannot, and that’s why they’re at fault.”
‘And the one who did not explain it to them understandably is not at fault?”
“Well... no... that is... Now see how you’ve thrown me off completely with your misunderstanding!”
“Good! Now that I cannot understand, that means you can beat me. And there will be no more gap between us.”
“Oh, why can’t you understand? Punishment comes when, for example... Well, for example... Let’s say Mama tells you in no uncertain terms: ‘Volodya, don’t do that.’ And in spite of her telling you not to, you go ahead and do what she told you not to. D’you understand now?”
“Have you ever done something Mama told you not to?” “Yes, I have. Twice. And I will do it again, no matter how many times Mama Anastasia tells me not to do it.”
My conversation with my son continued to unfold quite differently from the way I had planned. There was no way I could present modern civilised society — and, consequently, myself — to him in a favourable light. I got so upset over my son’s latest arguments that I banged my fist on a tree-trunk. I spelled out to him — or perhaps more to myself:
“Not all parents, even in our world, punish their children by beating them. On the contrary, many of them look for a better system of child-raising. I tried to find one, but it didn’t work out. The last time I saw you here, you were still quite little. I wanted to hug you and squeeze you. But Anastasia said I shouldn’t interrupt a child’s thoughts even to give him a pat on the head. She said a child’s thought-process was an extremely important matter. And so I just watched you, and you were always busy with something. And now I’ve come to the point where I don’t know how to talk with you.”
‘And today, Papa, you no longer want to give me a hug?”
“I want to, but I can’t — my head has been turned upside down with all these systems of child-raising.”
“Then may I do it, may I give you a hug, Papa? After all, our thoughts are the same now.”
“You? You want to hug me too?”
He took a step toward me. I gradually lowered myself to my knees — it felt as though my whole body was sinking to the ground. He grasped me firmly around the neck with one arm and pressed his head to my shoulder. I could hear his heart beating. My own heart was beating fast and irregularly I started finding difficulty in breathing. It must have been just a few seconds, though — a minute at the most — before my heartbeat began to even itself out, as though tuning in to the rhythm of another heart. My breathing became natural and gentle. In fact, my whole feeling of well-being suddenly changed. I wanted to say or cry out: How wonderful everything is around! How splendid Man’s life is! Thank you to whoever thought up this world! And I felt like saying a whole lot of other good things. But the words came together only inside me. I stroked my son’s hair and asked him, for some reason in a whisper:
“Well, tell me, son. What could you possibly have done that your Mama told you not to? And that you would still do even now?”
“It was once when I saw Mama Anastasia...” he replied, also in a whisper to start with, without raising his head from my shoulder. “It was when I saw...”
And at this point he detached himself from me, sat down on the ground and stroked the blades of grass with his little hand. “The grass is always green when it feels good.”
For a while he didn’t say a word. Then he raised his head and continued talking.