It’s a nice day out and you’re taking a walk in the park. As you pass the playground, you see a little boy sitting on a bench. The other children are playing happily, but the little boy seems downcast. You sit down at the other end of the bench and ask him what’s wrong.
“My Daddy never talks to me.”
“Never? Not even a little?”
The boy shakes his head. “Never.”
You don’t know what to say. As you sit there, trying to think of something, you notice he has a tattered book in his lap. “What are you reading?” you ask, just to be saying something.
“It’s a book my Dad wrote,” the boy says. “He’s an author. I like to read his stuff; I feel like I get to know him a little that way.”
“If he never talks to you, where’d you get the book?”
“Mom gave it to me when I was old enough to read.”
“But he seriously never talks to you?”
“Nope.” The boy pauses. “Well, parts of the book kind of talk to me — it was before I was born, but he wrote a lot about growing up and becoming a man. I feel like he’s talking to me in the book that way.”
Suddenly it all clicks together. Of course! The boy’s dad is dead. He must have known he was dying of cancer or something like that; his wife was pregnant. He wanted to speak to his unborn son, and this was the only way he could do it. “Your dad…” you begin, and then realize that it’s sort of an indelicate question, but you’re committed now. “He, uh…he died before you were born?”
The boy looks up at you quizzically. “No, of course not. He’s right over there.” He points at a man in a blue jacket standing a little distance away. “He goes everywhere with me. He just doesn’t talk.”
You look the man up and down. He looks normal enough.
“Thanks for talking,” the boy says. “I’m gonna go play now.” Still clutching the book to his chest, he runs off to the playground.
What sort of father would treat his son that way?
After a few minutes, the man in the blue jacket comes and sits on the bench where the boy was sitting. You feel awkward knowing how he treats his son. You want to leave, but it seems like he’ll know you’re avoiding him. You think of talking with him, but it’s not really your business. He seems to sense your indecision.
“My son told you we never talk, didn’t he?”
The man smiles at you, but you can see the pain in his eyes. “It’s okay,” he says. “I’m used to it.” The silence stretches, and he looks out at his son, climbing up the jungle gym with the book still clutched in one hand. “I do talk to him, you know,” he says sadly. “But he doesn’t seem to hear me. If he didn’t read that book I wrote, I’d barely have any input in his life at all.” He turns to look at you. “I’m glad I wrote it — it’s the only thing that seems to get through. But sometimes I wish he’d just listen to me, you know?”
You are unsure how to respond, and the silence stretches again. The boy comes down the slide, but as he gets off at the bottom he stumbles and falls, skinning his knee. The father bolts off the bench, picks up his son and dusts him off, holding him close. You can hear the boy crying. Gradually the tears fade; you notice that although the father is attentive to the boy, the boy never really looks at his father. Odd….
What sort of son is this? Is he cruel? Developmentally disabled in some way? Certainly there’s something wrong.