I just had a sudden and unexpected pang of grief for the fact that I will never have a son. I was walking home and reading ‘The Yiddish Policemen’s Union’ by Michael Chabon (my writer of the moment), when I came across the following lines:
‘…apart from homosexuals, only chess players have found a reliable way to bridge, intensely but without fatal violence, the gulf that separates any given pair of men.’
Reading this, I was struck by how much I would have loved the opportunity to have a son, and to try, in my relationship with him, to bridge, intensely but without fatal violence, the gulf that separates any given father from his son.
I happen to be speaking this Sunday, at the church I’m a part of, about the story that the Jews call the Akedah, the Akedat Yitzchak, or binding of Isaac. In this story, God asks Abraham (the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, for the uninitiated) to sacrifice his son Isaac, and then at the last minute says ‘Only joking!’ (my paraphrase). It’s a very disturbing story, and as I have reflected on this particular father/son relationship – one which begins with the father cutting off his son’s foreskin and then almost ends with him sinking a knife into his son’s heart – this question of how men, and particularly fathers and sons, might have a relationship of intensity, but without violence, has haunted me. I would love to have had the opportunity to attempt just such a relationship with a son of my own.
But with my second daughter due any day now, and a wife who has been saying ‘Never again!’ almost every day for the past 37 weeks, I’m guessing that my experiments with intense gulf-bridging will have to be with men who happen not to be my son. I should probably start by finally plucking up the courage to hug my brother-in-law.