Friday, September 21, 2012

Book Review: "East of Eden" by John Steinbeck (pt. 2 of 2)

Life east of Eden is a varied mess of intentions and attentions.   We desire to be loved and carry the wounds of those who have rejected us.  We carry the weight of our sinful hearts and the feelings, actions, and attitudes that result from its heavy presence.

Steinbeck is a fantastic author and storyteller.  I just finished "East of Eden" this evening and I could not be happier/sadder . It's that familiar feeling of seeing the end coming and being excited and anxious all at the same time.  Anticipating the end in sorrow while anxiously speeding through the material to find out how it all resolves.  Life under the sun is a messy thingy and Steinbeck places into picture the aches and aspirations of the human heart in this compelling tale.

I really enjoyed this novel.  Really.Enjoyed.

I can see myself reading it many times again in the years to come.  It captures and releases back to us in narrative the human condition in our empathy for Caleb and our frustration with Adam, our fear of Cathy and our admiration of Samuel.  Steinbeck weaves in and out of the Cain and Abel story as a template throughout the book by pitting A's and C's against each other in competition for approval and resources often hovering around a father figure.  The C's carry a curse of sorts that makes them markedly different (puns for my peeps) and incapable of breaking free from the shameful scars they bear.  The A's are routinely duped and destroyed by the C's.  The A's are often good-natured, but gullible; childlike, yet not childish per se.

In the end, we see the redemption of a C character in the unlikely person of Caleb.  We see the internal struggle and the threat of despair in failing to overcome from within that which can only be calmed by invasion from without.  Caleb needed to be released and absolved of his sin.  He needed forgiveness and blessing.  He needed these not from Abra, but from his father.  He needed them not from himself, but from one outside himself.

Sadly, the father wound is a prevalent literary device because it is such a prominent societal wound and easily readily recognizable by most.  The wounds produced by fathers who were too distant to encourage, too self-involved to pay attention, too cold to show love, too ashamed to be weak, too angry to forgive, too proud to be humble, too strong to be vulnerable, etc... are everywhere.  The failure of fathers is seen in the behaviors and vacuums of responsibility and confidence observed in every generation.  That is not to say that all fathers fail in this tragic way, but so many do.   One works hard, but hardly spends time at home.  The other is always at home because they do not provide by going out to work.  One is very involved in every activity, but fails to know their child intimately.  The other speaks kind words and boasts of good intentions, but often fails to follow through.

By God's grace I have resolved to do everything I can to avoid placing on my sons and daughters the weight of indifference.  A boy needs to know that his father loves him and is proud of him.  A girl needs to know that her father loves her and will protect her, her beauty, and dignity with all he has.  These things I intend - inasmuch as it depends on me - to work hard to implant firmly in my children as in immutable fact of existence.  I love my children and could not imagine a scenario in which they doubted on a deep, soulish level my earnest love for them.  May I never give them reason to believe or foster this lie.  May they never lack assurance that their daddy loves them.  May I speak the words "I love you" often over them, work hard to demonstrate in action the implications of them, and listen often to their needs, hurts, sins, successes, failures, and finish lines attentively that I may know them and that they may feel known and pursued by their father.

Fathers have the ability by God's grace to place within their children a powerful anchor of assurance.  Fathers also have the ability to take from their chidlren  by the Devil's guile this security.  We rarely can escape our desire to please our fathers whether it fleshes out as rebellious attempts to grab attention, insincere devotion to earn approval, or earnest accomplishment to prove our worth.  We are all too often trying to earn the eye, attention and affection of our fathers.  We inherently know we need something from outside of us to make right the inside of us.  In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself and in Him we can become the righteousness of God.  We need Him to invade from outside in order to make right the tempestuous world of our inside. My chief duty as a father to my children is to point them ever always to this reality by word, deed, and example.

1 comment:

  1. i love this book; i'm so glad you like it as much as you do. it's fun to be able to share it.

    and as i was reading the first part of this post, i was struck by how good of a dad you are. honestly - you are kind and fun and patient and authoritative, you talk to the kids about the bible and you get down and play with them. you listen to their stories and tell them about your day. you're such a great dad.