Guest Author - Siobhain M Cullen
Book gifts for Dad can be different, thought-provoking and touching. He may even have an elderly dad himself who would like a copy of the emotional My Father's Tears by John Updike. If so, he will readily identify with the heart-rending struggles of having to sometimes say goodbye.The sight of tears in another person is a deeply moving and upsetting sight, but all the more shocking when the tears are those of a man – especially if that person is a dearly beloved father approaching old age.
This book recommendation is mainly based on the short sad story which gives the collection its name ‘My Fathers Tears.’ Many readers will find themselves shocked by the raw emotion the story evokes from the very first paragraph. Here, John Updike describes a leave-taking on a station platform so vividly that readers can almost see the shining of the tears and find themselves welling up as they read of the train pulling away.
John Updike presents a strangely split and refracted vision of the parting between himself as an eager student and that of his father – a doting dad who now feels as if his little boy no longer exists. This refraction symbolism is to glimmer on and off all through the rest of the short sad story.
All this emotion is achieved without a jot of sentimentality. In fact, Updike the student shows not the slightest regret at leaving his father and so the two perspectives on the farewell are in direct contrast.
At first readers may wonder at the perceived callousness of a son’s peremptory hand-shake with the father who spent his life raising him. Yet, as the story unfolds to compare two fathers, readers learn that the short farewell is not a deliberate act calculated to hurt. It is merely an oversight by a young man eager to start a new life which can’t arrive quick enough – like the train! In his unintended self-absorbtion, it had simply never occurred to the young Updike that his father might be sad to lose him.
The resulting narrative is so poignant that those readers who have ever had to leave behind dearly loved fathers will feel that Updike speaks their mind and thoughts.
Like the ’ashphalt’ mentioned in Hemingway’s The End Of Something, the humdrum yet homely environs of the station seem to signify finality – Updike’s childhood days with his father are already fading from view. It is with shock that he (and the reader) notices his father’s eyes glittering. They are full of tears.
Glittering and other imagery concerned with the effects of light are a constant flicker throughout the short sad story. Tears, eyes, iris color, splinters of light, the glittering waters of the lakes of Conneticut, rainbow prisms, glinting bevelled mirrors, Ariel, transparency – even holy water are all used as a constant reminder of the profound sorrow that an aged father finds hard to express, and that of couples trying to reconcile differences in order to reconnect.