Tuesday, May 14, 2019

A Parable


A distinguished professor has a son who gets accepted to a prestigious university on the far side of the country. The son moves away from home and gets settled in a new apartment in a new city. School is hard, but he does well in his classes. He calls home every week to talk to his father, but his father never says anything. There’s just silence on the other end of the line. The young man would like to talk to his mother, but his father is a very patriarchal man and doesn’t allow his wife to talk on the phone. The son doesn’t know quite what to do when confronted with this silence, so he just talks. He tells his father about his new life, his new friends, and his studies. He has decided to major in the same subject his father has specialized in. In fact, his father once wrote a popular textbook, which is required for one of the son’s classes, so the son asks his father questions about various points he doesn’t understand. The father doesn’t answer, doesn’t explain the concepts he has written about, some of which are rather confusing. Every now and then, the son imagines he hears something on the phone, very faint, but he can’t be sure, and he can’t understand the sound he thinks he hears.
Eventually, the son runs a little short on money, as students tend to do. He feels awkward about his predicament, but he asks if his father might send him some money. Silence. Since there is no response, he takes out a student loan to stay afloat. Every now and then, however, at seemingly random intervals, a small deposit appears in his bank account. He assumes these deposits come from his father, so he calls to say thanks, but there’s no response on the other end. Once in a while, however, the father sends the son an unexpected text, but these brief messages are cryptic, almost like crossword puzzle clues, and the son doesn’t know quite what to make of them. He tries to interpret what his father is trying to say, but he usually ends up scratching his head, not really understanding these enigmatic missives. A couple of times he takes these text messages to a linguistics professor whose class he has taken. The professor comes up with an ingenious interpretation, but the son isn’t convinced the professor knows what he’s doing. As time goes on, the son feels more and more estranged from his father. He wonders whether he should just give up on the relationship, but instead he keeps making perfunctory calls, hoping that someday his father will answer him.
A friend of his father’s from his hometown comes to visit. He assures the son that his father loves him and would do anything to help him succeed at school. He claims that the father is actually answering his calls, but that the son just isn’t listening hard enough. The son doesn’t know what to make of this. He’d like to believe it, but it just doesn’t make sense to him. It seems to him that his father has just lost interest in him.
Eventually, the son nears graduation. He has done well, but he has not lined up a job, so he knows he must return home. His student debt has accumulated, so he has that to worry about. But his bigger worry is about his father. What will it be like to return home? Will his father be pleased? Will he allow him back in the house? The son isn’t sure, but he is resigned to the fact that whatever will be will be. So he dresses in his cap and gown and gets ready for the big ceremony.