Saturday, March 26, 2016

Fear and the father

I'm making my way through Volume 3 of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle now. This tome tracks the young Karl Ove and his family as they move to a new subdivision on an island in southern Norway and begin a new life, in his case, school. So it starts when he's 5 or so.

As with the other volumes, it rings true emotionally. In particular Karl Ove's fear of his father, his self-consciousness moving around the house, his concern that his dad my blow up at him at any moment. This is really the primary shading of our narrator's life, the fear of being chastised for just about anything, the cold distance of the father.

One episode in particular stands out. Karl Ove and his dad are alone in the house before school, and his dad feeds him some corn flakes (about which he had already waxed poetic) for breakfast. The milk his dad had given him had gone bad, but Karl Ove, fearing his dad's temper, eats his bowl of cereal anyway. Then his dad sits down to join him:

"Ugh!" he said "The milk's off! Oh, good grief"
Then he looked at me. I would remember that look for the rest of my life. His eyes were not angry, as I had expected, but amazed, as though he was looking at something he could not comprehend. Indeed, as though he were looking at me for the very first time.
And here it is as if Knausgaard has pulled the curtain back on a whole new layer of consciousness, the father who cannot begin to fathom the level of fear he instills in his son.

I get it. As an adult I am still driven by my own demons, my own insecurities, despite the profusion of grey hair on my head, and it is hard at times to imagine how my own behavior is perceived by my kids. What is it they say: "There are no real grown ups." We just look like them, we just play the roles.

Anyhow, it is now time to go play the role. If I can get dinner nudged through quickly enough, there might just be time enough for me and Graham to watch an episode of Next Generation. Or we can just lie on the couch and read with our feet under the blanket.

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